21 April 2017

Togo: Yobo Studios Pioneers Short-Format Series Content for Broadcast and Online

London — If you're a regular visitor to Discop Africa (the largest TV trade show in Africa), you may have noticed her. Or maybe you know 'Zem', her mini-TV series that was a hit in Africa and with the african diaspora.

Half Togolese on her father's side and half from Guadeloupe on her mother's side, Angela Aquereburu Rabatel founded the company YoBo Studios with her partner Jean-Luc Rabatel in 2009 (the year of the first Discop Africa's edition). She explains her career and describes her productions to Sylvain Béletre/BalancingAct - April 2017.

Based in Lomé, Togo, YoBo Studios is an audiovisual production company - now one of the largest production companies in the country - whose "objective is to provide original and exportable content". The other ambition of her team: to bring a different perspective on Africa today.

Q. Before becoming a producer, what was your background? Have you done other things?

A. I went through the ESCP (Ecole Supérieure de Commerce) in Paris to obtain my specialized Master in Entrepreneurship. I worked in measuring instruments and then in an HR consulting firm before turning to the audiovisual sector. I trained on the job: I read a lot of books and viewed many tutorials to learn the trade. Moving to Togo quickly became obvious.

Q. How did you land in the television sector? And why did you choose Togo to establish yourself?

A. My father is already a 'television dinosaur' in Togo, as he was one of the first to set up satellite dishes in the region for Canal + Horizon and CFI. My partner, Jean-Luc, was a comedian in Paris and had full-on projects. My father said to us: "Why do you waste your time in France when here the sector is damaged! Look at the mediocre content on television, which does not look like us! "That's how we decided to do the Zem pilot.

My family lives in Togo and has developed facilities that I can benefit for my productions. Without this family base in Togo, I think we would have had a harder time getting started in audio-visual production ...

Q. What were or are your biggest challenges? And your biggest hits?

A. Our greatest popular success: ZEM. Our 'challenge'? The financing of our productions, our financial margins.

A. Tell us more about YoBo Studios.

Q. We produce fun, entertaining and aesthetic content: TV series, commercials, 3D animation and soon feature films. The company was called Caring International. We then changed our name to something more authentic. The Yo comes from the mina (Togolese dialect), the yovo which means 'person with white skin'. And the Bo comes from the word ameyibo which means 'a person with black skin'. A nod to our partnership - Jean-Luc and me - and on cinema ... black & white.

Q.What are your main production projects today?

A. This year, we produce Zem Season 3, and "Oasis", a new drama for Cote Ouest. In 2018, we plan to shoot the "EXPAT" series, which is currently under development, and another series project for the moment confidential. Beginning in 2019, we would like to produce long feature films that cross borders ... broadcast on television and in cinemas.

Q. Please tell us more about these new projects.

A. Oasis and Expat are series projects under development. Oasis is a fictional 20-minute episode of 26 minutes in development for Cote Ouest, which has obtained support from the OIF. The series tells the story of a woman who integrates a real estate complex to do industrial espionage, but whose mission will be compromised when she goes back to a knowledge watch. Expat is a 'drama' of 10 episodes of 26 minutes that tells the story of a French couple who believes they are leaving in 'expatriation', while they land in Porto Novo, Benin ...

Q. How would you define ZEM, this series which was the first success of your company?

A. ZEM is a short format series (3 minutes), whose purpose is to establish a humorous dialogue between several motorcycle taxi drivers and their entourage. I think this series was a success because it was the first time at the time that we showed on television in 2009 a short African format shot in HD with actors who had a smooth and fast rapport.

The pilot first made a buzz on Dailymotion France with more than 50,000 views on the first day (at the time it was a lot for African content!). It was also the first time that Canal + Overseas made co-production on a series. Season 1 of ZEM has 26 episodes, Season 2 is 50 episodes and Season 3 has 60 episodes (in preparation). The Season 1 was broadcast on January 4, 2010 on Canal + Afrique and on July 4, 2010 on Comédie (France), Ma Chaine Etudiante (France) and TV5monde in 2012, then the A+ channel in 2016. The Season 2 appeared to the public 12 September 2016 on TV5monde. Zem received a special prize at the Festival Vues d'Afrique in Montreal in 2012.

Q. Hospital IT (pronounced 'Hospitalité' in French) is about the medical world, correct?

A. This series of fiction describes a facet of the medical world in Africa. It shows the ambivalence between traditional medicine and Western medicine. The series is coming out this year.

Q. Who distributes your programs globally?

A. Zem and Palabres belong to YoBo Studios, we distribute them. Mi Temps is distributed by Canal+. The rights of Hospital IT and Oasis belong to Cote Ouest which distributes them.

Q. Is brand placement important to the survival of your company? What percentage of the total budget?

A: Yes, it is important funding for some of our productions; today, our partnering channels deal with the placement of trademarks in our productions, when our content has been pre-purchased by a channel that is linked to an ad planning agency (e.g. Canal+ Advertising, FTP). Product or brand placement represents today about 5% of the budget of our productions, at best.

Q. Do you think that the development of the audiovisual sector is important for Africans, and if so why? (In comparison with other sectors and infrastructures - health, water, electricity ...)

A. For us it is as important as the rest, but for governments it is not an urgent priority. However, audiovisual programs make it possible to pass on many messages to the population, and not only in an autocratic way. The development of the audiovisual sector is essential: Watching television is the only entertainment that exists for the big mass, outside drink... As a result, the audiovisual sector is a decisive tool to convey strong messages of health, ecology, democracy ... In short, we can inform and educate the populations through audiovisual programmes. But it would require a real political will to improve this sector.

Q. How do you think the African audiovisual sector has evolved since 2009?

A. It is a sector in full evolution: I see programs of better quality with more variety. Financing and margins remain the weak point.

Q. What are the current trends in terms of audiences across Africa right now?

A. Mobile TV is growing all over Africa. African people watch a lot of videos on their mobile phones. Some - the most connected - subscribe to VoD services: iROKO, Netflix, etc.

Q. What challenges do you see in the sector? And how do we deal with them?

A. Financing is key. To make exportable and cost-effective content, a minimum investment is required.

Q. Who do you think are the main leaders of the sector in French-speaking Africa? Those who really invest ...

A. Local producers and broadcasters, Cote Ouest, Bolloré / Canal+, OIF, TV5Monde, RTI ... There are not enough, at least on the French-speaking side. TV5monde has a genuine investment policy on African productions, they also make local 'coups' with real action points. RTI (Radio TV Cote d'Ivoire) can be very aggressive in its content acquisition policy but focuses mainly on Ivorian productions when it comes to pre-purchase; The Canal+ group with Canal+ Afrique, the A+ channel, NollywoodTV are key buyers in the sector... And finally Cote Ouest, which has always been a leader in distribution in Africa, but for the last 2 years has started (co-)production.

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