by Chude Jideonwo
Think about this for a moment: the young man called FalzTheBadGuy (Folarin Falana, 26).
This one year, he won two of the continent’s most coveted culture prizes – the MTV Africa Music Awards and the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. In one year, he was both a top act in music and in movies. And altogether, it took him less than three years in the scene to achieve both.
To put that in proper perspective, you have to understand that barely 10 years ago this would have been completely and utterly impossible, and even now it is such a rarity that I spent almost an hour wrestling this down with my students only a few days ago.
What did Falz use to make this miracle happen? The fact is: we don’t have a name for it yet.
No, you don’t have a name for what Falz does. It’s not music that made him Falz. He became Falz and then moved into music. He wasn’t an actor before he made Jenifa’s Diary finally watchable; he became Falz, and then was inevitably the top choice for the role of Segun the hairdresser.
There is nothing in the vocabulary of the media, of entertainment, of any of its varied streams and disciplines, that was ready for and then captures what exactly Falz is about. What exactly it means for an extremely well spoken law graduate to pick up a phone, and proceed to mangle the English language for 15 seconds, his face tilted and scrunched in synchronism with his words, altogether creating a delightful spectacle that, to this day, never fails to crack me up.
Again, you have to understand: Funke Akindele became Jenifa because of a movie. Igwe Tupac became whatever it is he is because he was already in a movie. Gerrarahia came out of one of Nollywood’s Asaba mishmashes. Vic O came out of something that looks like music (and it did come in a conventional, even if execrable, music video).
Yet. I am undoubtedly, unashamedly, irrepressibly a fan of Falz. I am a CD-buying, music-video-watching, TV-series hooked fan of a young man whose genre – whatever it is – didn’t even exist two years ago. I utterly love Falz and what he does – and I am in fact in awe of the depth of that talent.
That came out of nowhere that we know or we can even properly define.
The closest to it is: content. Whatever it is that Falz created, that is yet undefined, that has given way to a string of imitators or corollaries across social media, from Nedu’s female alter-ego, Sister Nkechi to any of Maraji’s genius imitations, the one thing that we can correctly define it with. The only thing: is content.
As you know if you pay close attention to the group-think that routinely emerges from the hallowed chambers of the global tech ecosystem, no one captured this revolution more efficiently than Bill Gates 20 years ago this year.
It bears repeating full paragraphs, even if to remind yourself that nothing exists in the world that humans cannot, with empirical precision, predict.
“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting,” he wrote in Content Is King on the 1st of March, 1996.
“The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.
“When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of ‘content’ becomes very wide. No company is too small to participate. One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet.”
Of course, it is entirely probably that Falz doesn’t himself understand the essence of the prophecy he has come to fulfil. More likely than not, this was a play for a space in an industry that many thought saturated, and essentially a play for a career and revenue (which is paying off handsomely, as anyone who has paid him – and others – for influencer marketing spots on social media would know).
But the implications of this unnamed thing he and others have jointly created, and which he has become a face of, are huge.
211 million. That’s how much online content is created every minute in the world today, at the minimum. At the end of 2014, Instagram users posted nearly 220,000 new photos every minute and YouTube users uploaded 72 hours of new video content.
Kraks TV, Maraji, Twyse, Immanuella, Akah Nnani, Chief Obi, Oluwakaponeski, FunnyAfricanPics, Chuey Chu, AmbodeObserver, TheTrailerJamShow, the original Emma OhMy God and others are part of a leading cadre of creatives and creators, and they are pushing the boundaries of what we consider to be media, to be entertainment, at that convergence of creation, distribution and marketing, at the confluence of media and entertainment that we call content.
In doing so, they have rewritten the rules – of creation, of distribution, of curation, of collaboration and of ownership. Actually, like I told my students, there are in fact no rules.
How can there be rules for something nobody understands yet, and even if we predicted we were certainly not prepared for?
Copyright rules, intellectual property agreements, institutional conventions, the interplay of strategy, legal and operations were based on a particular kind of format, where one man was never enough to create content that could captivate millions, and it took a village to make available compelling content.
Corporates, collectives and governments formed rules that guided each of these steps and ensured the walling off of others in favour of the privileged few who could sit in the room and dictate tastes, trends and titles.
Those times are now gone, and they are completely gone for good, thank God.
Content is King, not just because of what it is, but especially because of how it is. It has become an intensely personal experience for the billions across the world who speak a new language of co-creation and cooperation; who will no longer be dictated to re what they will consume but have now become active participants in that consumption and in trendsetting.
In the process, nothing today will look like what it was yesterday. The music of tomorrow will not look like the music of yesterday. The television of tomorrow will not look like the television of yesterday. The filmmaking of tomorrow will not look like the filmmaking of yesterday. And the journalism of yesterday, as America’s elite were wont to discover in its November Surprise Elections, is not the same in scale, reputation and impact, will not be the journalism of tomorrow.
In the process, new rules will evolve, that define terms of engagement and size of scale. These new rules will come from the bottom up and they will work tirelessly to protect the fierce independence and open-source essence that made the distribution of global opportunity possible in the first place.
The consumer is spoilt for choice.
Which in turns puts everyone under pressure, to be honest. In a place of abundant options, where everyone is a content creator, with an audience that appears deeply thirsty for more and more and more content, across forms and platforms, in every and any way, with data cheaper than ever and everything, mostly, free of charge – how do you stand out? How do you garner an audience? How do you keep them? How do you keep up the pace?
That’s the new reality of the future that you live in. That’s the new survival of the fittest – the content contest.
Where will all of this go? How will it end? Is this the end of TV, radio, record labels, film networks, the world? Stop asking me questions that I don’t know the answer to. Or frankly, don’t care about.
It truly doesn’t matter where all of this is leading as much as the fact that it even exists at all – this democratisation of opportunity, of creativity, of being. It’s fine as chaos because it is from chaos that new forms of expression, that endure through decades and centuries, have emerged over the course of human existence.
It’s enough to enjoy. It’s enough to appreciate it. It’s enough to adore it the effect and impact of it.
“Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products-a marketplace of content,” Gates presciently said those many years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen of the new content universe – kindly propel away.
Named by Forbes as one of Africa’s 30 best entrepreneurs under 30, Chude Jideonwo is Managing Partner of Red Media Africa (RED) – which owns the continent’s largest portfolio of youth media brands. RED’s brands include The Future Africa Awards Africa, Y! Africa and YNaija.com.
This article was first published on TNC in the series Leaders of No Morrow