By Ayo Onikoyi
Petite Femi Ogundoro is the Chief Executive Officer of Maxima Group, owner of Views Channel, currently running on StarTimes platform. The channel is a general-purpose, youth-themed channel with focus on lifestyle, entertainment, food and other sundry interests.
In this interview with Potpourri ,he examines the challenges of digital TV and its future as well as the journey he had made to own a television station in Nigeria.
What do you do?
In simple terms, what we basically do is integrated media and marketing communications. It might be a group, yes, but it is integrated. So, if you check the companies within that group, from Maxima Productions, which is the production agency that tells the stories through audiovisuals to Maxima Integrated Media which is the creative shop and media marketing services, to your timeless value services which create branding for multinationals and we produce those things. We were initially just creating ideas and giving it to people to produce but we realized that they were not getting it right. So we had to move from just conceptualization to implementing those things.
Experiential was one of the key things I was doing between 2005 and 2007, we got our big break in 2007 but for experiential you’ll need a lot of money and at that time we had three businesses. I had a production company with content for TV, experiential and branding and I was struggling because I couldn’t finance the three businesses at once, unlike now that everybody wants to give you money. Nobody was willing to give you money. Banks will only take and not give, so I had to shut down the experiential and focused more on TV and branding. We’ve been able to grow each of these things to what we call Maxima Media Group and within that group, we have five different businesses.
At what point did it become comfortable to run five businesses?
It’s been a journey and it’s not like we just started running the five, all of a sudden. First of all, I have been building capacity to be able to do such, in terms of education and exposure. I’ve volunteered in different projects for free just because I wanted the experience. A lot of people will want you to pay them so they learn under your roof and when they are done, they want to move to the next place with what they’ve learned from you.
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It’s a very messed up system!. We have done it one at a time; we have done content on TV and we have done branding and we ran them as businesses, one after the other but I was ploughing back 100 percent of everything. I come from a background where I saw everyone that started a business in the 80s or 90s fail. I saw businesses that as soon as the owner is gone, the business dies.
I said in my mind that I was not going to run that kind of business, so from the beginning, I didn’t receive an allowance from the business for a long time. So any money we made was plougfhed back. For you to run a production organization, you need to know about finance, marketing, sales, and production. For you to run a branding company, you need to know about it, understand it and get involved. I do my marketing during the day and at some point, I lived in my office. I wasn’t spending the money made, I was saving.
At what point did you start thinking of Views channel as a 24 hours platform, what need were you trying to satisfy?
In 2009, that was when it became very clear. You can’t talk about Views Channel without talking about Views and Tunes. It was also a journey in two phases: the first phase was Views and Tunes, which was borne out of the fact that artistes in the industry at that time didn’t know so much about the business side and didn’t have a mechanism or channel through which they could receive feedback on anything.
So, I created a platform where everyone could plug in at the same time. We take you as an artist and your video to the street and ask people about it but the only guys that could do that at that time were the multinationals that had money.
We will get feedback from the street and we will bring that feedback to industry people. That was basically what brought about Views and Tunes. So on a TV show, you are going to see a question and answer about the industry and it was experiential. That’s using 360 degrees to tackle one piece per time. It caught up very quickly; we started on Super Screen and MBI and before we knew it we went to 7 stations, then to 14 stations, we went to Ghana and within a quarter, it became number two after Foresight TV in Ghana running on VarSat1.
The format was fantastic. But when Facebook came in, we used it to promote the show and remind them to watch on TV but then Facebook and the social media, in general, became the portal where people wanted to go to because there was no light. So people were gravitating towards digital and at that point, the relevance waned significantly.
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But because that was not the only thing that we were doing, we flipped the script, went back to the same target audience and we realized that they wanted to still express themselves and still be on TV, they wanted to be stars but there was no platform even though the social media was now there. So we pulled back and re-focused on the platform because it was more of the expression of the passion of young people.
Fortunately, the whites had already started describing a generation of people called Gen X Millenials and since this was the set of people we’ve been trying to speak to we keyed into it. We rebranded it as Views channel, where young people, millenials, between 16 and 35 can truly focus and let them know that education is very important but one crucial thing that needs to be checked is what you are passionate about.
The Views channel is on Startimes. Why not DSTV?
I went to DSTV three years ago and they looked at my size and you can tell from their body language that I didn’t look like who can own a TV station. I even went back and called the then Brand Manager and it was more or less the same because he felt owning a station on DSTV was way beyond me. So I went back and told myself not to worry, that I’ll do what I do. I noticed that in life when you create value, people will gravitate towards it.
It might not happen instantly but with time, they will come towards you but you need to understand your USP (Unique Selling Point). We moved on when DSTV didn’t accept us at that time and went on to present to two of the MDs at Startimes and I didn’t really see the picture I envisaged. First, they are Chinese, so the language barrier is there. I explain something about my market but they didn’t understand it, it was the guys around them that understood a little bit of it but, they were not in charge. I got on the plane and went to South Africa for a five minutes meeting with their overall MD in Africa to pursue this. The guys in Nigeria were still grumbling and when the MD was in Nigeria, he asked to see me. We met a number of times and he approved it.
So, what kind of content is on the channel?
The kind of content you find there is borne out of the feedback from the millenials. So, if you look at the young people and what they want, because the terrestrial TV wasn’t giving them what they wanted anymore, they moved to YouTube.
They don’t want just music even though they love music; two things young people love the most are movies and music and number three is food. And we are sure of what we want to do after Views channel; in fact, we’ve been working on it for three years. It’s called Food Bae. It’s the first of its kind in Africa. We serve a variety; it is for Millenials and Generation Z. So that informs the kind of content we put into it.
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How do you make money from all these?
We get advertisers and that’s a means. It’s been grace for us, that is how I’ll describe it. Views channel will be a year old in August and we’ve had over seven brands advertise on this platform. In fact, Startimes called me one day to ask if I was running the adverts for free and I said no. f Fr us it’s not so much about the money because we are not where we were a year ago.
Don’t you think Digital TV is likely to be endangered in the future?
It’s already endangered but content is king and content is the future. If you have compelling content, people will gravitate towards it. It’s also a function of what you do with the content because you can have good content and if it is not rightly marketed, it’s like you are blinking in the dark.
What are your projections for the future?
It’s all about value for me. The refusal of certain people to adapt to change is what has led to their death. So, for us, in as much as there is value in it, we keep moving. On the media, for instance, you want to create platforms that can inform, educate and entertain as you go along.
As for the group, I’m not going to continue to run it, so the big picture is getting people that can run it better than I presently do. The dream is for us to be listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange market. Look at Universal studio, CBS and TBS. There is a network. Those that built them have built what will outlive them. Can we do the same? These guys have been there for decades and they are still there and they don’t seem to be going anywhere.