Yinka Obebe: The Creator Going Against The Grain
When it comes to TV, we’re ready with names and birthdays of actors and show writers. We rarely think of the content creators and TV platforms that let this happen – that’s where Yinka Obebe comes in.
The CEO of DSTV channel, Pop Central, Yinka Obebe works in a building in Lekki with the words work hard, play hard splayed across the walls. Having risen from sleeping on the floor of his office to running his own company, Obebe about talks to The Guardian Life about originality, co-creation and Vikings.
Where did your journey start and where do you hope it will end?
I had a choice of three places to do what I wanted to do successfully: Lagos, London or New York. I chose Lagos because it was a low hanging fruit. Coming here, I had to sleep in the office where I worked, now I run a company. As to where it’ll end up, I can’t tell you where it’s going. When it comes to big goals, I never think of one thing per time, I’ve tried it before but it doesn’t work, I always think of multiple things at the same time.
Few people make the transformative journey you have, sleeping in an office to being head of an office. What do you think separates you from the rest?
I knew who I wanted to be, but I wasn’t limited to that. I stayed open to possibilities.
What planted the seed for Pop Central channel?
It was born out of us pitching ideas from our production company to brands and brands saying the ideas were too outrageous and risky. We found that brands were more set in their ways, we wanted to do more outlandish things.
Your job requires you to do several jobs at once. What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to multitask?
Launching this channel took an unprecedented toll. I liked to think I could do anything but launching this was a task on its own. TV is a workflow business. If one person drops the ball, everything is gone. Half the time I was the go-to guy. I was the one that did the writing and film production. We had to start from scratch, build the studios, the sets and we had nothing close to the funds. It was crazy.
Define your office culture
Our culture is “openness and be everything you can be.” I’ve always been a very liberal person; I’d like to call myself an enabler encouraging people to do things. I really wanted to create this culture based off Google and other tech companies but I realized you can’t copy it, you need to be original. There is a woman who used to work here as a cleaner, upon first meeting her I noticed she spoke well and three days later I asked if she’d like to do something else because I felt she could do more. Fast forward, she started working as a receptionist. A few months later, I asked her if she would like to run her own show and now she’s on episode 8 of the show. That’s the vibe we like to encourage everyone to do the best that they can do.
Do you think TV should be about what we want or what we should see?
I think you need to know how to sway between those two things. The people have to express themselves and you have to amplify their wants. For instance, we have a sex show, which you’d think people don’t want to watch but we have gotten so many calls we had to cut the phone.
Most people involved in the arts and media want to make social change. Do you?
I have deeply rooted convictions about my role to play a significant part of what i think is right and how the world should be. I have always wanted to own a television station or any type of platform that provides the opportunity to reach out and affect collective thinking. Pop central is all colourful and playful in the front, but we are formed by a set of values and deliberate thinking that we believe will make the world a better place someday.
What is the most important trait in any human being?
There must be the duality or more possibilities of our person. A person can never be just what you see. One of our slogans says “work hard play hard”, very simple it seems but it lends itself to explain our capacity for expression without the borders of religion, hypocrisy or culture.
What kind of content do you hope Pop Central will be producing in the next decades or century?
If I have an idea it would mean Pop Central did not evolve.
If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life what would it be?
Vikings. I’d take Vikings over Game of Thrones any day.