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‘It’s Amazing To See How Well Audiences Have Received Innovative Programming And Virtual Events’

Monde Twala

Monde Twala is the Senior Vice President and General Manager ViacomCBS Networks Africa. Twala, who recently took over from Alex Okosi, is responsible for driving the development and growth of powerhouse music, youth and entertainment brands BET, MTV, MTV Base and Nickelodeon across the African continent. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, he spoke on his experiences so far, how the entertainment industry is adapting to COVID-19 challenges, and plans by the organisation to support those affected by the global pandemic through the Africa Benefic Concert initiative.

Earlier this year, you assumed office as Senior Vice President for ViacomCBS Networks Africa Youth, Music & Entertainment Channels, how has the experience been, especially with the global pandemic, which means you’ve had to work under different circumstances as your predecessor?
The circumstances are very different from what everyone was used to, but we’ve had to adapt; innovation is the new gold. Disruption in the media and broadcasting sector has amplified the way we work, produce and entertain our audiences. I’m blessed to work with a team of incredibly talented creatives, who have quickly adapted and innovated to the new world. A significant portion of the content we’ve been creating in recent times is done remotely and it’s amazing to see how well audiences have received and engaged with our innovative programming and virtual events.

How’s the current environment affecting the industry in terms of consumer expectation?
Now more than ever, consumers are looking to see how they can connect and engage with brands, who are purposefully driven by the global crisis we collectively find ourselves in. This is a crucial time for brands to reflect, re-evaluate and refresh their positioning, messaging and how they can contribute in a pivotal role in helping society weather this turbulent storm. Audiences and consumers are now more than ever aware of how the brands they support are equally supporting and showing solidarity beyond product placement. This climate creates an environment that should be actively providing emotional support, illustrating compassion, relatedness and impactful difference. As ViacomCBS Africa, we are committed to ensuring that our channels deliver content that is relatable, engaging and sharable across all platforms.

You recently launched the Alone Together campaign, how do you intend to capitalise on the relationship you’ll build with viewers once things return to normal?
We are beyond normal; technology has changed the way we do things. It’s influenced by how we play, how we shop, stay fit and socialise. It has enabled ‘abnormality’ in a beautiful and powerful way. I’m not so sure that society will be able to revert to any perceived old form or previous version of normality. Elements of this global crisis may take humanity back to basics, but this will be limited. We should use this opportunity to drive innovation in how we tell and document authentic stories; we should leverage this time to close the gaps and build sustainable models for content production and community building on a global scale. We should focus on ensuring our channel brands connect with audiences seamlessly by delivering targeted content with the appeal.

Your organisation and YouTube, in partnership with actor Idris Elba, recently held Africa Day Benefit Concert. What’s the idea behind the initiative?
We really valued the partnership with YouTube and Idris Elba and the generous contributors and performances, from across the continent and abroad who collectively came together to entertain, shine the light and celebrate Africa Day, our diverse culture and heritage is a wonderful experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of many and disrupted economic activity, increasing the threat to food security and children’s survival and wellbeing. This concert was important, not just because we’re raising funds for the people that are most affected by the pandemic, it is also a reminder that we’re one and we’re all in this together.

It was an opportunity to work with your predecessor Alex Okosi again, how did that feel?
It’s always a pleasure working with Alex; he’s a great friend, partner and visionary leader. Working with him on this project was just like old times. It’s inspiring to see the work he’s doing over at YouTube.

Are we going to be seeing more of the ViacomCBS/YouTube collaborations in the future?
There’s been a lot of collaboration between us, both on the global and local level. ViacomCBS recently signed an expanded, multi-year distribution deal that will add 14 of our channels to YouTube TV. And with the success of the Africa Day Benefit Concert, it would be great to see a lot more collaborations between the two brands on the continent. Many of our viewers engage with our offering on digital. Therefore, it’s important to ensure our content is available to them across these platforms.

Aside from bringing Africans all over the world together using music as a tool, the concert also raised thousands of dollars to support children and families affected by the pandemic across the continent.

What are the mechanisms for distribution of the funds to ensure it gets to those who need it the most?
We partnered with the World Food Programme and UNICEF – two organisations that have been working together to save lives and support millions of people. All funds raised from the concert will be donated to aid food and health needs for children and families in Africa affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through the organisations. Global Citizen has also supported amplification of our call to action for raising funds across their platforms and we appreciate that MTN has come on board to support with SMS shortcode donations in South Africa. Organisations and individuals can support the campaign with pledging funds and donations to the World Food Programme and UNICEF at the campaign websites uni.cf/Africa and viacbs-africa.com.

The global pandemic has forced Africans to find ways of working together, how important is collaboration within the continent?
It’s important to stop looking outside for solutions to our problems and start looking inward, tapping into our strength, our beauty, our creativity. The African continent is so diverse and talented. That’s why at MTV Base, we’re very intentional about showcasing the abundant talent on the continent not just to the outside world, but to Africans. Together, we’re a very formidable force.

The global entertainment industry is one of the most affected by the pandemic and it’s already being projected that the industry will lose billions of dollars when this is over. What’s the fate of the industry in Africa?

What are the measures being put in place by ViacomCBS Networks Africa to cushion the effect?
We’re a very resilient people, I have no doubt we’re going to survive it. At ViacomCBS, we’ve had to do a lot of rethinking when it comes to the way we do our work. A lot of the contents we’re creating is being produced remotely. The Africa Day Benefit Concert is an example, and the current MTV Shuga pan-African mini-series shot on digital and the Alone Together campaign are examples of content produced during the COVID environment. For the MTV Shuga series, actors from all four countries (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Ivory Coast) are self-filming their scenes with their phones from the comfort of their homes. And this is just one of the many ways we’re adapting because we understand that it is no longer business as usual. There is a new wave on the rise. Talent and artists are all online, they are already showcasing on digital platforms such as sound cloud, YouTube, IGTV. MTV base has played a significant role in partnering and elevating African talent to the world and we will continue to partner with talent in a meaningful and dynamic way.

MTV Base recently marked its 15th anniversary in Africa. What can we expect from the brand and the entire VCN Africa in years to come?
More greatness, more celebration of African talent. We’re constantly evolving and setting trends for youth and entertainment. Collaboration with our industry partners is a key focus and we’re absolutely looking forward to doing even more of that in the coming years. We will continue to inspire and elevate African talent and scale globally.

Nickfest is one of VCN Africa’s most successful events in Nigeria. With the uncertainty of the times we are now, do you plan to host the event this year?
These are unprecedented times to forward plan; it’s equally an opportunity to innovate and look at new and diverse forms of audience engagement. Family viewing as an example is peaking at the moment. We are in uncharted waters, but as a business, ViacomCBS Networks Africa has adapted very quickly to the current situation and we hope to continue to do our best to make sure that we deliver great content and experiences to our audience.

A lot of people, including stakeholders, are asking about the MAMAs, is the music award coming back any time soon?
Trust me, we are as equally keen to launch the next MAMA in a redefined format. Watch this space!

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