One of the main goals of any online media firm is to build a fandom that consumes the content they create and self perpetuates, convincing other people to join the fandom and organically promoting the content the media company makes. Online fandoms have existed in the developed world for as long as the internet has existed, starting as rudimentary fan sites and forums and evolving into the complex and often volatile system that exists today.
But Nigerian media companies took a while to reach this conclusion that online communities were important, nay, vital to the growth and financial viability of their businesses. That is no longer in contention, fandoms have propelled Nigerian music and film giants into stratospheric levels of success and helped them gained recognition for their work. Then of course, there is Naira Marley, the latest Nigerian celebrity to reach critical mass almost entirely on the adulation of his fanbase. Fandoms have become almost as important as careers for artists and Nigerian media firms are finally taking notice.
But nowhere has the idea of the Nigerian fandom shown its true potential than in the new season of Big Brother. Since Endemol decided to reboot their Nigerian franchise after nearly a decade in limbo, the country has seen an unprecedented spike in fandoms. Each year, a block of three months becomes unpassable for any other franchise, business postpone their programmes, companies plan their annual calendars around this flagship. With Big Brother Africa, Nigerian fans only had one person/two at the most to root for and throw their naira behind, but BBN multiplies those odds and the votes that follow.
Every single person that has entered the Big Brother Nigeria house since its reboot has left a celebrity. Even housemates like K-Brule who left the house in his second week has amassed a massive fanbase after the show. The fandoms are very vocal, extending their support for their chosen housemate long after the doors close. The second season seemed almost manic in how it was able to captivate the show’s collective fanbase, with fandoms buying clothing, cars and other gifts to show their loyalty to housemates. Housemates with businesses have found themselves selling out their products in hours purely off the back of their housemates.
Housemates find out very quickly that while the fanbase is incredibly loyal, they are also quite demanding. Fandoms resort to trolling to gain the attention of their idols, with many of the interactions that result being negative and becoming a part of the newscycle itself. There is also the added scrutiny to show signs of success/progress. Efe purportedly spent a chunk of money releasing singles to appease his audience base, Cee-C and Leo DaSilva faked a romantic date for Cee-C’s wedding party, even though they were clearly not in a relationship, and Alex had her own litany of poor judgement calls that kept her in the news almost non-stop. The housemates also felt pressure from their fandoms to participate in the 1 month extra-vaganza that was their reunion show. Many stirring up fake drama to milk a last smidgen of attention before the new season and its housemates took over the limelight.
The fandoms are fickle, but to the internet savvy housemates of the new season, also a great advantage. There are rumours this season’s housemates hired public relations firms to handle communication around their time in the house, a trick learnt from Tobi and Femi Bakre’s leveraging of social media to spin his narrative in the house. Fan accounts were opened before the housemates were even introduced and bitter rivalries between the fandoms make many question why anyone would want to be the eye of this particular maelstrom.
Money is the simple answer, but also an answer that is largely wrong. Many BBN and participants in other reality shows do it for the attention, the access and the influence that they can leverage towards their actual dreams. Hopefully, they dont have to get chewed out by their fandoms once they reach there.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.