The Business Year

John Ugbe

NIGERIA - Telecoms & IT

Culture Club

Managing Director, MultiChoice Nigeria

Bio

As Managing Director of MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe is responsible for developing strategies that have resulted in the growth of local content and increased capacity across product portfolios. In addition, he has driven a mass-market strategy that has recorded substantial business expansion in a very short time. His leadership has given rise to increased customer touchpoints across Nigeria, thereby easing the burden on MultiChoice customers by building a distribution network to effectively manage and shape customer buying patterns. Also along the lines of easing the burden on the customer, John spearheaded various payment initiatives, ensuring that customers could now pay their bills at their own convenience. A key focus area for John as Managing Director of MultiChoice is sports development in Nigeria. For him, sports is a natural tool for youth engagement as it keeps them focused on a viable extra-curricular activity. The quest to raise awareness about sports in Nigeria has led to the sponsorship of the increasingly popular sport basketball and the rebirth of the one-time national favorite; boxing, which had gone into near extinction. John Ugbe is an active fundraiser for community development causes.

"In the entertainment business it is all about emotions."

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. Nigeria is a cultural powerhouse, and is attracting greater interest from around the world, with the ongoing cultural revolution. MultiChoice has been at the forefront of taking what the country has and distributing it beyond our borders. Through the AfricaMagic group of channels, we have showcased our locally developed, bought, and acquired content around Africa. This makes Africa integrate better because now we are more aware of one another’s cultures, and are breaking down barriers across Africa.

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 didn’t 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. We have a lot of people in the industry. People only see the actors, but there are all sorts of people—carpenters building the sets, wardrobe people, people holding mics—we’ve seen notable growth in the entertainment industry in 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. Once the quality begins to match the quantity, we will have a much bigger movie industry coming out of Africa.

What percentage of MultiChoice’s African business does Nigeria represent?

It is growing relative to the total share YoY. One way to look at it is at the amount of content coming out of Nigeria. The content generated here is being consumed across the continent. That is testament to the sheer opportunities that exist to grow the business locally. We have not peaked yet.

What are your plans to move content to a global scale?

We have an offering that is serving Europe and the US with an online VOD content. I think we have managed to develop a taste for the content beyond the continent. We have always believed in Africa and that is why we operate in many African countries. We believe in Nigeria, which our operations here confirm. We have impacted the quality of screen media through classes, commissioning, training, and equipment. We have implemented the AfricaMagic Viewers’ Choice Awards to reward hard work and help people to aspire, which can positively affect the quality because now people are hungry for success.

How do you adapt to the online content trend?

I do not see us as “adapting;” we are ahead of the curve. We set the pace. When we introduced mobile TV through our mobile brand, Nigeria was the first in Africa to do so, and actually ahead of Europe. We have an app for phones called DStv, which enables DSTV premium subscribers to watch their favorite programs and take the content with them. We think ahead and strive to give our subscribers the best. We are a paid-for entertainment company, which means we are not tied to one platform or the other, but we need to ensure that we study the habits and give the best service to our subscribers.

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 fulfil 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 size of the economy will grow. And as long as you are effective in business you, too, 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 here 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 investment and curatorship. 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 you to rent a movie from your couch, that’s our BoxOffice. Nollywood has struggled with distribution and piracy—the key challenge in our industry. Our product allows the movie producer 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.

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