Purchasing rights of international tournaments is always treated with uppermost caution and fear by stakeholders in the entertainment and sports industry but to the Managing Director of Optima Media Group, Mr. Rotimi Pedro, what matters is for the initiators to understand its dynamics. He spoke with Raheem Akingbolu and Obinna Chima on the economic advantage of such a transaction and the need for financial institutions to buy into it. Excerpts:
What were your thoughts when you started Optima Media?
Before I came in with Optima Media, I thought that the sports media industry in Nigeria was riddled with so much piracy and I thought with my law background and understanding of how it worked in United Kingdom market I should be able to make a difference.
Coming from the UK, where media rights were respected, I started acquiring rights and made sure the right amount was paid for the IPs, which were intellectual properties. I was determined to make it properly commercialised and made sure that the commensurate return got to the owners of the IP; whether the Olympic, the FIFA World Cup or whatever it is that we are involving. I wanted to be sure that proper returns were made to the IP owners.
Later, we moved into International IPs like reality show. Now we are doing the financial services, Bloomberg IP, which we now represent across Africa. We have the responsibility of commercialising, localising and monetising both in Nigeria, South Africa and East Africa. That is the task before us. You can see that ever since, we have been able to live up to expectation by making sure there is African content in sports, general media, entertainment and business news.
Do you intend to go into general news with time?
No, like I said, what we have with Bloomberg is the task for the project localisation. We were saddled with the responsibility to infuse a number of local contents into the channel; at least 7 hours a day. This explains why we now have 24 hours local content in Africa. We have acquired the franchise since January 2012 for 14 years and it took us above 18 months to reach where we are now, hoping to launch in June.
Having experienced many markets, how do you contend with piracy in Nigeria?
Talking about copyright law, the laws are there, the courts are there, and they are willing to entertain cases of copyright. If one get the right lawyer and take the normal approach, the rest will be history.
Talking about IP law therefore, I think it is a bit complicated but the truth is that Intellectual Property (IP) is protectable. But in fairness, we have not encountered any problem and in fact, most of the IP owners are not just in their operational basis alone but also have representatives in other market, which makes dealing with them easy.
For instance, FIFA is not only in New York; it has representatives here in Nigeria and so for other owners. Again we live in a global village, now if you appreciate the way information flows, you will agree with me that the fact that we now live in a borderless world makes things easy to deal with. From anywhere one chooses to look at it, I think globalisation has boosted market understanding.
Today, you can assume about the way Coca Cola sells in other market, using Nigeria as a case study, so for home grown brands. If a brand resonates here and goes elsewhere, if it is doing well here, there is possibility that it will do well in other markets. There are international laws that protect the ownership of the IPs and as far as I understand, the most important thing is to have a financial partner that understands IP and understand media.
In this regard, how have you been coping in Nigeria?
In our own case, in the last seven years, we have been dealing with Keystone bank, first as Bank PHB. Before we finally struck the right chord with Keystone, it was difficult at the beginning. It was difficult to sell the idea as many wondered about the asset we were planning to finance. It was common then to hear people ask; where is the asset you want to finance? Because it was not tangible, it was difficult at the initial stage to get funding.
And here, one is talking of a business that is capital intensive. Those rights are not cheap, they are very expensive and the bank needs to understand the instrument with which to put security behind the IPs. For me, the moment you get a bank that understands what to do, the rest is history. Again, the first stage is to know that there must always be a learning process to educate the bank. Look, this is what I am buying, it is not going to come in cheap but I can assure you that it is secure and I can monetise it.
And I believe Keystone understands it very well. The bank understands all the nitty-gritty of how to raise fund guarantee to fund intellectual properties. Since 2006 World Cup, they have been funding our intellectual properties for Nigerians to watch matches and there hasn't been any hitch whatsoever. We have tried other banks but it just didn't work. The fear has always been: why must I finance this? Where is the property coming from; forgetting that the property can easily be sold. In short, it takes a while for banks to understand.
But there are insinuations that nationalised banks are not strong enough to give some supports. Having worked closely with Keystone Bank, what is your take about this?
Of course, that is just the thought of armchair critics. I say this because I am aware that international banks even see the three nationalised bank as being the strongest in this market. Both as Bank PHB or Keystone, I have enjoyed unflinching support in terms of funding from the bank and nothing has changed despite the change in status.
Back to the issue of understanding or non-understanding of financing rights, can you reconcile this with the way Nigeria was blacked out in the broadcast of the just-concluded 2013 African Cup of Nations?
Yes, it still boils down to the fact that we didn't understand the dynamics. Nigerians were not able to watch the African cup of Nations on terrestrial televisions because the people that organised it didn't understand the dynamics. There were discussions around the payment of 45 million Euros.
Based on my experience, one is not supposed to take the amount meant for the right to the owner five days to the tournament rather, that was supposed to have taken place months before then. It is just a matter of getting a financial institution that will understand the dynamic for security. After concluding on how much would be paid, you will now go to the market to raise your money. In most cases while we are in this stage, our financial institution steps in between us and the rights owner.
Can you quantify what Nigeria lost due to the black-out?
AFCON is a big investment that is worth about $6 million. Therefore, our direct losses were about $6 million while the indirect and other benefits cannot be quantified. For instance, calendars, vests and other souvenirs. Why we can't quantify this is the fact that we also lost the opportunity of using the platform to mentor upcoming players.
In those days, after such matches, you see school children on the street carrying balls and trying to do what they saw footballers do on the pitch in their own little way. Children will want to try the skills and by so doing, they get motivated.
Can you describe the advertising industry in Nigeria, especially in the light of the fact that we hardly win international laurels?
Attitude is changing and the market is maturing; it is going experientially too but I know it can still be moved forward. The major challenge I notice is in the area of measurement. It is still difficult in Nigeria for ad practitioners to assure their clients that by tomorrow morning, a particular number of people would have viewed their materials or state how many people will listen to a particular commercial on Radio.
For example, we don't know the total amount of Nigeria that watched AFCON. So, we still have this problem of measurement. Elsewhere, there is advertising measurement. In the UK for example, if a match is played this night, by tomorrow morning, the total number of people that watched it can be determined and its financial implication on the economy can be worked out.
Advertisers should be able to know if they are getting value for what they are paying for. As it is, it looks like a stab in the dark. Nobody, for instance, has attempted to measure the audience reach of NTA network news. These are some of the things there are still challenges in the industry but beyond that, I think that our people's attitude have changed.
Payment too is still not well structured but in terms of value in the industry, things have changed positively. Also, the growth in the middle class is a positive development. There are more cinemas in the country now than when we were growing up. All these influence marketing trend.
On international award, I think the problem is majorly interpretation; those who are evaluating our concepts cannot appreciate it well because of the difference in levels of development. To me, what is important is to communicate with our people and worry less about international award. What we resonate here in Nigeria is not what it is resonated in the UK.
In communicating with our people, we need to be a little direct in our communications because we are not yet as sophisticated as those markets we are competing with. Again, it is not only in Nigeria; all over the world, one must always strive to make sure that he speaks and is heard. That is the beauty of communication.
Fortunately for us, we fit in a position today where we can culturally dominate the world. In the 60s, 70s and 80s, the reason why the US won a war without firing a single bullet was because they had goodwill. By then, they had successfully dominated our minds; we loved their music, we borrowed their culture.
Critically studied, Marxism and communism look far better than capitalism but because America has a good cultural approach to it, it was easy for them to win the sympathy of the entire world with their capitalism. So today, Nigeria is in that position to dominate the world because other nations are beginning to listen to our music, watch our movies and so on. We can sit here today and know the way the Kenyans wear their trousers.
Today, the reason why some of us are now wearing jeans is that someone has put it in our head that sometime, Jeans would be the way to go. As you can see, DBanj is now a global phenomena, so for some of our movies. If we go on like this, interpreting our materials by international jurors will not be a hard issue. The moment people start consuming your music and your culture, you have their minds. Having said this, I think there have been a few Nigeria ads that are of global standard.
For instance, look at bank PHB commercial; 'One day, cars will drive themselves'. It was a global ad that can stand anywhere. Like that, we have seen a few cross -over adverts that can be appreciated anywhere in the world.
Rotimi Pedro had his primary and secondary school educations in Nigeria before he travelled to the United Kingdom where he qualified as a Solicitor in 1994. Before he established Optima Media Group in Nigeria, he had worked in the UK for close to five years.