Almost nowhere in Africa has seen such a blossoming of online content as Nigeria. Traditional publisher sites, blogs and news aggregators jostle for the attention of the country's restless mobile phone millennials. Russell Southwood spoke to Big Cabal Media's Seyi Taylor about what it's like in the bear pit and what you have to do to win.
Alexa.com's top ten Nigerian content sites (as opposed to services sites like Jumia and Konga) are by volume of daily views as follows: Nairaland.com (7.8 million daily views); Jiji.ng (5.85 m); Linda Ikeja's Blog (4.79 m); NaijaLoaded (4.58 m); Naija.com (3.47 m) Punch.ng (3.45 m); Tooxlusive (no 1 music site in Nigeria - 3.24 m); Vanguard.com (2.69 m); Daily Post (2.49 m); and Blogspot.com.ng (2.01 m). Nigeria's online media space is a boiling mixture of traditional upscale newspaper sites and tabloid celebrity gossip, music, Nollywood and fashion.
Seyi Taylor, Big Cabal Media is a young, upstart challenger who cut his teeth in digital advertising and marketing in Nigeria. The idea for Big Cabal Media came out of the massive changes that have taken place in the online space in Africa over the last 5 years:"It was a very simple idea. There were trends in the media landscape: firstly, there was a lot of Internet-based content consumption and secondly, a lot of the traditional media were not making the transition to digital effectively. Young Africans consumed local digital content like Nollywood and music shows this but it was not media content".
In 2013, it launched a Nigerian tech site with a continental reach called Tech Cabal (Watch Tech Cabal's Bankole Oluwafemi talk about it at the back end of this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lakC5CNSZEo):"It took about a year to get 100,000 readers but it was a niche publication. It's now a bit over 200,000 spread across different platforms. It answered the question we set ourselves: could we create content consistently? If we could, then we could figure out the monetization".
But getting advertising for niche online is not easy:" Advertising does work but not as nicely as it might. We need to make changes to the platform". It has also started to get income from events and consultancy work".
"The tech media is an interesting proposition. By definition, it's very niche, even an exclusive niche. There's an unspoken cap on how much you can charge for ads. But there are other ways to capture value in the system. Fundamentally it's about helping connect people. We want to focus on people making interconnections in the space". He has plans but is understandably cagey about putting them in the public domain.
His second online media child is Zikoko that they thought of as the "Buzzfeed of Africa. The idea was to see what content people wanted and to give it to them:"We're creating a platform to capture the best African-centred content and share it with the world".
The headlines on its feed give some feel for what that content is: 8 Nigerian Songs To Listen To While You Prepare For The Weekend; The Zikoko Guide To Having The Perfect Friday Night That Will Cost You Nothing; 25 Things That Happen When You Like a Boy But You're Trying To Respect Yourself; 6 Types Of People You See At Every Gym; and These 12 Nigerians Have Only Hilarious Things To Say About Serena Williams' Pregnancy.
Big Cabal Media spent most of July rebuilding its CMS from scratch so that it could handle user generated content; put viral content at the top of the feed and be better at mobile purposed content. Their original Wordpress site was not designed to do these things.
So what content is really liked?:"There's little one size fits all. The idea is to provide a personalized feed: Zikoko for you. Web publishers have worked with the mindset of newspapers. The editor will show you the content. But a small story for one person is a big story for another one. We're creating a wider pool of content".
"We needed to decouple the front end from the back and do posts in order of popularity. Also we needed to find the next posts you should be reading and add infinite scroll. We can take the parameters you present and present you with a selection you might like".
The topics include: Entertainment, Nostalgia, Inspiration, Tips and Life Hacks, Humour, Food, places, celebrity culture, politics, women, beauty. The aim is to expand the areas of content.
The site currently attract plus or minus half a million unique views a month. Like many online publishers he bemoans the ineffectiveness of Facebook advertising. It seems to generate larger numbers of new users but they never seem to stick around:"I remember Jason Njoku (iROKO) saying to me 'stop' The traffic shrank a bit but stayed steady." He is now looking at using word of mouth and reader loyalty more effectively. 91% of people accessing the site are using mobile phones."
On the content side, he is creating a rating system for writers and will give greater rewards to those who produce widely liked content.
And who does he see as his competitors?:"Obviously OMG Voice from Ghana and the sites trying to capture millenials like YNaija. The biggest competition is lethargy. Do you feel my competition is compelling?"
The video content side of the platform is growing. Every month it gets between 0.5 million to 1 million views on Facebook and You Tube. It has attracted some direct sponsorship deals and it's talking to brands about doing more.
"The advertising side (on Zikoko) is interesting. It's not just about revenue, it just needs to be going up. We have some revenues from advertising and content creation (Why don't you help us do X, Y or Z?)".
So what is the potential for the site?:"Last year there were 16 million Facebook users in Nigeria. We're only half way through the year and there are 19 million so far; of which 16 million are in Lagos. How many of those? A quarter? A third? This is day zero, day one. This is why it's been critical to ensure we've built the structures that will scale".
It has had investment from angel investors in the Lagos Angel Network and Taylor says:"We will be raising money in the future". It has ambitions to grow beyond Nigeria as Nigeria content has the capacity to travel across the continent".
My parting shot is: are you different from Linda Ikeja's blog?:"Yes, in the way we check about people's consumption patterns and those consumption patterns are more Facebook and Instagram than Washington Post".