LONG READ: The subtle decline of TV culture in Nigeria

8 pm every Thursday in Lagos and probably every corner of Nigeria where there was electricity and NTA coverage, Nigerians were hurdled up in front of their TV sets or any place where they could get a peep of National treasure TV show, Super Story by Wale Adenuga. Save for the ever present rowdiness on major Lagos roads, the Lagos streets were mostly quiet. Wale Adenuga established himself in the hearts of all TV watching Nigerians as the most talented person in the entertainment industry. Previously releasing Ikebe Supa the graphic novel on which Papa Ajasco and the other characters were loosely based on, he moved to TV with Papa Ajasco on Sundays and Super Story, most especially the Toyin Tomato story both airing on prime TV time.

But TV was not limited to Wale Adenuga and his creative exploits. Nigerian TV boasted of a colourful curriculum of incredible films, sitcoms, TV series and cartoons. The homegrown content was intense and beautiful. In the absence of Computer-generated imagery (CGI) or the budget for big stunts, deeply Nigerian and African stories had to be told; albeit diminishing of the other 400+ tribes, cultures and languages in Nigeria. The millennial generation grew up on Fuji House of Commotion, Family Circle and the soothing voice of Cyril Stober on NTA by 10 pm every day. But telly was more than what was shown on it. Television became a religion of its own. TV time was enjoyed by families as proper family time and it provided basic knowledge to life and how to live. The introduction of mobile telephony and the subsequent democratisation of Internet access changed the game for telly culture among Nigerians especially Nigerian youth.

Long before the benefits and offerings of the internet were to be enjoyed, there was the problematic electricity. Dating as far back as the early 1970’s, there has been faulty electricity in Nigeria. With the allotted ‘generator’ time in Nigeria pegged between 7 and 8 pm, other TV shows and sitcoms allotted outside the electricity zone were left to suffer. While on paper this seems inconsequential, TV shows air on a budget. TV shows are put on the TV by the revenue gotten from advertisers. There is no such thing as free money and when advertisers are not getting value for the monies they have put forward in the form of increased market share or even capturing of market capital, other channels like billboards are looked it. Beyond cancellations, the absence of electricity meant that genuine interests on the TV shows might never have been built. So many good TV shows ended up misplaced and some never even noticed.

Despite Nigeria’s ‘Giant of Africa’ and “Third biggest film industry in the World” status, the quality of the bodies of work put out did not diversify or improve. With movie Slow Country proving to be one of Nigeria’s best thriller movies, a backdrop of the development of the movie and TV industry is glaring. Slow Country while having powerful characters and an almost good story telling gives a really sad audio production and visual effect. In comparison to the quality of visual effects present in American sitcoms and TV series. A diversified TV offering might have prolonged the impending decline in watching patterns. There were no TV shows that moved beyond the genres of comedy, family and romance. While Super Story might have continued for a couple of years, the quality of the stories told did not improve, instead, they took a sharp decline. Papa Ajasco fared no better after seemingly losing stories reduced itself to crass humour and outbursts of “Ojigbi jigbi jigbi”

Satellite TV also became a big thing in Nigeria. DSTV brought with it not only the EPL and the Champions League but also TV stations showing the best of other worlds. Loyalty is fickle and the now exposed Millennial generation became engrossed with better-produced shows with better CGI and better-told stories. This shift from the traditional Nigerian television programming presented a Nigerian culture shift. A new market of American music and American shows led to new fads. To be cool meant to have DSTV, wear baggy pants, sag and have the best American ‘rap’ accent. Where Nigerian telly didn’t contribute to pop culture, Satelite Television brought American television that thought us everything; from pop culture to acceptable kissing, to late night movies with sex scenes.

They brought the death of ‘African modesty’ as the older generation will love to call it and the much hated ‘globalisation’ was born.

Mobile telephony and personalised Internet brought with it everything – First, Youtube, then Social Networks, then Netflix. By this time, TV became dead. The Nigerian economy changed everything also. The middle class began to disappear and in order to maintain some sort of status quo, life became serious. As at 2011, YouTube had 490 million unique users worldwide per month, who racked up an estimated 92 billion page views each month. The allure of Youtube was – Interesting content at any time of the day you wanted it. Youtube broke the rules of regular TV and with a humongous quantity of quality TV content, the Millennial with access to the internet enjoyed their fair share of everything. Nigerian musicians stepped up their game to uploading their music videos on the Video sharing website as they noticed a shift in patterns of their target market. Social Networks came to the forefront just a little after Youtube gained prominence. While Facebook didn’t allow for uploading and sharing of videos until much later, Twitters open source API allowed for a little more freedom. Vine launched and brought hilarious six-second videos that summed up the attention span of Millennials all over the world. By this time, TV had lost its appeal.

The democratisation of internet access meant cheaper data rates. While we already downloaded popular TV shows one day after they had aired in the US, Canada and UK, the Nigerian counterparts lagged behind. Very recently, Netflix opened its internet doors to Nigeria and this has signalled the beginning of the end of TV Culture especially for Nigerian millennials. Netflix and cheap internet access have provided us with our personal TV screens everywhere and at any time. Only limited to the quality of internet data provisions, Netflix has taken over the market.

While a case can be made for programs like Big Brother Africa and Big Brother Nigeria, they are freak shows. All of Africa and Nigeria goes abuzz in support of the super likeable contestant, much like election coverage period in any African country. Super Story has been on for years since the first Toyin Tomato story but is rarely watched these days. There are no new original ideas on Nigerian television. Over time, there might be a switch in TV culture, but it is very unlikely. The internet of things and its many offerings is not slowing down anytime soon. Without a revamp in the power sector of Nigeria as well as a significant investment in television in Nigeria, traditional television will soon die off. Children have access to the internet with their iPads and tablets albeit with parental control.

TV as we know it might be dying off, and it’s perfectly alright.

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