Jan. 13, 2016

John Ugbe


John Ugbe

Managing Director, MultiChoice Nigeria

TBY talks to John Ugbe, Managing Director of MultiChoice Nigeria, on the video entertainment business and the rise of Nollywood.


As Managing Director of MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe is responsible for developing strategies that have resulted in the growth of local content. He has driven a mass-market strategy that has recorded substantial business expansion in a very short time. A key focus area for MultiChoice under his management is sports development. The quest to raise awareness about sports in Nigeria has led to the sponsorship of increasingly popular sports and the rebirth of the one-time national favorite, boxing. He is an active fundraiser for community development causes.

How has the business evolved to its current stage?

MultiChoice Nigeria has been in the country for 22 years. From the beginning, we believed in bringing the best entertainment to people's screens. We are a video entertainment company, so even if it meant initially bringing in foreign content, we then started developing local content—music, movies, sports—that met international standards. Over the years, we have been able to build a local business, one that both imports and exports content.

What are your greatest successes in Nigeria in terms of content creation?

The soap opera Tinsel is a good example. Over 1,500 episodes have now run, making it the longest-running content to come from Nigeria. It is a large-scale production—it has literally impacted Nigeria's GDP, as it has created jobs both in front and behind the camera. The projection of the next five years is around 70% growth in our sector. We created a market—which did not exist previously—and, in turn, we created demand. With demand, we now have people keen to work and put content on the table. Some people were willing to buy, and we were the first to buy and commission local content from Africa. Initially, this market didn't exist, but now people are suddenly recognizing the growing contribution of entertainment on the economy. We are still in our infancy, and need growth, development and supervision to ensure that we create quality that can compete internationally. “Nollywood" produces more movies than Hollywood per annum.

How do you package the content to fit the taste of a country as diverse as Nigeria?

We cater to the market not only from a pricing perspective—we have a variety of subscriptions, from affordable to premium, so that we do not leave anyone out—but also by taking region and language into consideration. We have AfricaMagic channels in Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo. We also study the trends, establish what needs there are, and introduce programs that meet demand.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

In the entertainment business it is all about emotions. The change in government promises exciting developments in terms of new infrastructure, which will positively impact our organization and every business in Nigeria. Everyone is looking forward to better infrastructure because, with that, the economy will grow. We will be developing more content. We launched a new Igbo channel some months ago, which has substantial demand for content. Many content producers had not been producing in the Igbo language, yet now we have created demand for a new class of movies, documentaries, and other content. We will also be opening new studios shortly in Lagos. That again confirms long-term commitment. Innovation being developed, we believe, will expedite economic recovery. Through Nollywood and other productions, Nigerians have proven their creativity. We may not have the biggest industries and we may be behind the curve in certain sectors, but we can get ahead in terms of entertainment through the right investment and effective curating. In terms of Nollywood, we consume more than 80% of what is produced. We are the enterprise that puts the Nigerian movies and content into African markets. That industry is only going to grow, and we are developing a structure. For example, we have a product that allows viewers to rent a movie from their couch, that is our BoxOffice. Nollywood has struggled with distribution and piracy—the key challenge in our industry. Our product allows movie producers to have their movie rented from someone's couch, which means he gets paid for rentals. We think that structure is an example of what will drive growth. As producers get paid, they have the confidence to produce more content. And as they do so, quality improves, allowing us to compete with Hollywood.