Nigeria’s news satire show The Other News hits audiences of 2 million and brings in new types of viewers for Channels TV

13 July 2018

Top Story

Many countries in Africa love news satire programmes because they allow difficult issues to be talked about with a smile and puncture the pomposity of the political elites. Kenya had the XYZ Show and South Africa its Puppet Nation and news satire attracts good audiences. At the Global Media Forum Russell Southwood spoke to

Neil McCafferty, Pilot Media Initiatives about Channels TV’s The Other News.

The idea for The Other News format goes back to a group of people who were working on media development initiatives in Kyrgyzstan:”My colleague Dillon Case (Co-founder and CEO, Pilot Media Initiatives) was working on a project with substantial media impact. He was very interested in satire and had a lot of contacts with the Daily Show (in the USA). He launched a show called Studio 7 which ran for several series on a local TV station. And it was out of this experience that he set up Pilot Media Initiatives.”

So Pilot Media Initiatives were in touch with John Momoh, CEO, Channels TV who wanted to a satire show like The Daily News but was unsure of how best to do it. The Open Society Institute West Africa became interested in the project and took on the initial funding with the idea it would become commercially sustainable in the medium to long-term.

”It was quite difficult to get people to back it initially. It’s quite off-the-wall and doesn’t fit with the usual development project scenarios. So it was through persistence and exchanging documents for 18 months that we got it sorted out.”

The idea was to provide enough outside help to make it happen but not to make it so much that the project required on-going external skills. Pilot Media Initiatives did some preparatory research in Nigeria on skills available, audiences and other issues and recruited some of the staff, particularly writers. It then put a team on the ground for just 3 weeks.

The set was built in the USA and shipped in but everything else was local:”We were pulling the team together and getting the set sorted out so we could get cracking from day one. We ran a non-broadcast pilot and were there for episode 1 and somewhat for episode 2.” After that, they were available to provide phone advice but the Nigerian team were on their own.

The show’s creators traveled through the “valley of death” familiar to those who work in the Nigerian broadcasting industry. The “internals” for the new studio building were not finished, a generator had to be put in and there was no water for one day:”It was a struggle to make things work.”

“With comedy and satire, everything’s in the timing. All of that was quite challenging (for a new team). We simplified the concept a bit. So it was not only a new building and new staff but a brand new concept.” The live footage inserts that you get on the Daily Show did not survive the rework:”The camera staff were mostly used to shooting news and not shooting where you make creative decisions.”

“Two of the external team who set up the show had no direct experience of Africa but approached it as they would any other piece of commercial work. Pilot Media Initiatives deal with the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that the funders needed.”

“If you do it like that you can turn someone who who’s never worked in TV into someone competent very quickly. We wanted to provide the minimum necessary support and offer some follow-up help but then it’s their show. The business model was done with a view to getting sponsors so that it would last after the initial funding.”

The first series did incredibly well and got 1-1.5 million viewers in its time slot. The biggest competition was from football and by the end of season 3 it was pulling up to 2 million viewers except when there were major football matches.

In audience terms, it was doing two things for Channels TV. Firstly, it was bringing in people who were not politically engaged or who watched the news: this was extremely helpful as Channels TV is a news channel. Secondly, there was also a female bias in the new audience, again something that was helpful as news watching tends to have a male skew.

“The (female) audience is one that the sponsors actually love. It helps build the commercial sustainability of the programme. It happened because it’s Nigeria and despite the oil price crisis, there was no difficulty selling to sponsors.” The principal sponsor was Nokia.

“Channels TV were really up for it. But on the morning after the first show I had this worry: were the police going to come to the hotel for us? But they didn’t and there has never been any pressure on or interference with the show.”

He stresses that it was important to understand where the “red lines” lay in terms of discussions about different issues:”Local staff and advisers knew where the dangers lay and we met in the middle on many issues. There were no cheap jokes. It’s crafted satire and that probably helped.”

It’s interested in talking to other African countries about doing similar but different news satire format shows:”Each country has its own political dynamics. It helped it was an Anglophone country but we could look outside of that. The continent’s also a good place for developing digital programme versions. Something very big is happening across the continent and we’re looking at projects in places like Kenya: “The host/guest format works well and is relatively cheap so all sorts of iterations of the format are possible.”

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