If there’s one thing that unites Ivorians, aside from football, it’s complaining about the state broadcaster RTI. Sometimes this is unfair (if you have CANAL satellite you can check out some of the other West African state tv channels, which look far worse), but there’s still a fair dose of amateurism. For me, until the news cameramen start using tripods I won’t have much respect for what’s produced.
For decades now, the various governments have promised a privatization, but despite all the noise, we don’t seem to have gotten anywhere. From the position of being in power, there’s something very attractive about having just one broadcaster you can control. The Ministry of Communication seems to feel it has enough on its plate handling the digital switch-over. But the recent award of three new private commercial radio licences are a step in the right direction, and the expansion of foreign outfits like A+, Vox Africa and TRACE in Abidjan suggest the city is becoming an audio-visual base, ahead of any liberalization.
Meanwhile, technology is offering new alternatives, from the increasingly cut-price satellite platforms, to the availability of internet speeds that can support video-streaming. On the creative side as well, video editing software to do most basic tasks comes free on computers, and increasingly affordable SLR cameras can capture stunning HD footage.
The sorts of things we’re likely to see more of include projects like ‘Sa c koi sa enkor’ (something like ‘what’s this again?’), whose team I met at the end of January while in Abidjan. They produce a regular web tv series for the Ivorian youth platform ivoirmixdj, and are building a following (18,000 and growing) on Facebook with a page, and regular short clips in between the big web-series releases. The content is comic and youth focused, but it’s attracting a growing buzz.
For me, with social media, YouTube and good use of accessible technology (especially where creatives can get to grips with getting good sound), there are huge possibilities to bypass the existing television monopoly and produce parallel audiences for Ivorians both in and outside the country. Clearly, the youth market is the one to target for now given the popularity of social media, and comedy is a good subject area as well. A parallel success is already working out for Ivorian humouristic site La Rigueur Bino.
Below is an edited version of my discussion with the ‘Sa c koi sa enkor’ team: Ange Emmanuel Kouakou (producer), Wilfried Nanga (actor), Jennifer Kissi (actress) and Salomon Guy (sound engineer). Many thanks for the time they gave me.
- Tell me about how things started.
AK: We wanted to do just a small thing to have fun. But little by little we had some opportunities. I met a producer (Yves Roland Jay Jay) who enabled us to put the videos on ivoiremixdj to have more visibility and then I met Salomon Guy, who is now our sound engineer. With my close friends, we started posting videos and it started building momentum. We had lots of ideas and for us the goal is to get on to television, while keeping our philosophy of staying natural. We don’t want things that seem staged – on the television you have the impression that people are reading their lines. We’re speaking naturally of Ivorian realities but in a comic way.
- You seem keen to still get on traditional broadcasters?
WN: Nowadays everyone is connected so if your product gets success it’ll be seen by a lot of people. But it’s good as well to put things on a higher level (i.e. RTI) where lots of people can see these things e.g. parents. It’s true that you can see things on the web. But when people speak of your series, it shouldn’t be just for young people. It should be parents saying: ‘yes I know this series’. It’s like artists. Like DJ Arafat. When he does something, even someone in the remote village knows about it. People know that it’s serious because they have heard of it. We want to touch all generations to make this bigger and touch other audiences outside of Cote d’Ivoire. We haven’t yet been shown on the television – that’s our objective.
- Is this a business or a hobby?
WN: We’ve not yet made any money. We haven’t yet established certain things. We are building a fan-base and have lots of people who follow us. We’ve heard that on Youtube if you have a large number of visitors, you can make money. When people don’t know you, people don’t take you seriously. But if people know you then if you say ‘watch this at this time, at this platform’ people will do it. We want lots of people following us, and then we can advance. We want to have a huge fan base first.
- What’s your strategy?
AK: First off, we’re prioritising Facebook. Lots of people said ‘put your stuff on YouTube’. But we prefer to have lots of fans on Facebook and get say 50,000 fans and then go on to other platforms. We are not rushed.
WN: Each time we put videos, the likes increase a lot more. With photos, things increase slowly. But if we put a video, the videos are really shared about it so that means that lots of people see it, and lots of people who haven’t seen the page before will go to the page.
AK: If a video hasn’t had much success for us, it gets 3-5,000 views. Each time we put a video it increases the number of page likes. When we reach a certain number, people will take us seriously. Lots of people are starting to approach us.
We’re not professionals but we attempt to do what we can. But in future we hope to make things more professional. But for the moment, we just want to create some buzz.
- What’s the creative process like?
SG: We want to always have new content on the page. Generally on a Saturday we try and film several videos and then publish gradually during the week.
JK: In the week leading up to Saturday we have a few ideas on what we’re going to film. On the Saturday morning we have some final discussions.
WN: One shouldn’t forget that we all go to school. So the days that we can come together are the Saturdays. Those are the days that we try and come together. Anyone can bring ideas. But at base, the director has ideas that he proposes. We validate and discuss. If actors have ideas, they can share them and we see if the ideas are good.
The web series comes out once a fortnight on ivoiremixdj. To fill the time in between, we need to be doing something. If we want people to wait two weeks, we can do it, but it’s not certain that the public will still be there, so to keep the audience entertained we’ll publish something Monday, Wednesday, Friday and then each two weeks the web series comes out.
SG: The videos need to be short, funny or a little extravagant. The length is really important because of the bandwidth which is really limiting. The 10 minute videos don’t get as much buzz as the short ones.
AK: We’re based on what we see every day. I’m not going to criticise what we see on RTI, but personally it doesn’t please me. There were old series like ‘Faut pas facher’ – before it was good and we all liked it, but it’s not as good now. There are other series – I won’t give the names – and it feels too recited. People say to us ‘hey why doesn’t your stuff go on RTI?’. We’re just telling the story our lives.
AK: We have a project to do a short film beyond the web series. In 12 months, perhaps we’ll be on the TV, I don’t know. But the objective is to get a huge audience on the web.
SG: We shouldn’t just look at Africa. We’re already sub-titling in English to reach new audiences. Perhaps we can even do the dubbing in the studio to do several versions. But that’ll need need financing. We trying to get a large audience, then go onto YouTube, and then attract those who want visibility with financing.