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Communiqué 25: How TNC Africa reinvented itself
Notes on The Naked Convos and its evolution from digital publishing to audio-visual content production.
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How TNC Africa reinvented itself
On March 19, 2022, Multichoice announced the nominees for the 8th Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. It’s one of the best-executed and most prestigious award shows on the continent. Two entries for the ‘Best Television Series (Drama/Comedy)’ stood out to me -- “My Name is A-Zed” and “Little Black Book”. The latter also bagged a nomination for ‘Best Writer in a Movie or TV Series’.
What do the two shows have in common?
They’re both products of TNC Africa, a TV and film production company founded in 2020 but with a history that stretches back into the previous decade.
To understand TNC Africa’s story, you’d have to go back to 2010 when there was The Naked Convos (TNC), a digital publishing platform launched by Olawale Adetula.
The Naked Convos
When nearly no one else could dare it, TNC gave young Nigerians a soapbox to express themselves freely and discuss topics they usually wouldn’t talk about without the fear of judgment. (Hence its moniker.)
People could talk about sex and sexuality, abortion, mental health, religion or its absence, and a thousand other topics that society considered taboo or uncomfortable. Hot button issues, if you will.
TNC was Twitter before Twitter became what it is today and Zikoko long before Zikoko existed. In its own way, it predated the Internet culture we’re now growing into.
Powered by staff writers and contributors, anonymous and known, it presented an opportunity for young Nigerians to share experiences that were, on the one hand, unique to them and, on the other hand, relatable to a thousand others. People could tell stories about their lives and find strangers who connected in peculiar ways. (Sound familiar?)
However, as social media platforms like Twitter became more eminent, things were changing for TNC, and it needed to adapt. The new zeitgeist meant people could more openly discuss things that were erstwhile reserved for private conversations or platforms like the one Adetula founded.
“We knew something had to change, or we would become redundant. So, we started experimenting with new things. We wrote and produced a stage play based on stories we had on the website. We published two books -- ‘These Words Expose Us’ and ‘Lights Out: Resurrection’, and we started podcasting (when the medium was in its early stages),” Adetula says.
As the audience and the media they interacted with were changing, TNC had to change with them, out of necessity.
Years of publishing stories and original content on its website meant access to a vast library of ideas and a network of creatives. As part of its evolution, it began helping writers and contributors monetise their content. They often got paid a share of advertising revenue based on the level of engagement their content received.
In 2017, as more platforms and audiences began prioritising video, TNC saw an opportunity to explore a new direction. It partnered with RED TV to produce “Our Best Friend’s Wedding”, a romantic comedy-drama on YouTube.
According to Adetula, both companies teamed up because TNC realised it didn’t yet have the expertise and technical know-how to pull off the quality of production required, even though it had the IP.
The show was a hit, attracting millions of views in its first season, generating millions of impressions through social media conversations, and creating a launchpad for more Nollywood talent.
Its success was an eye-opener and pointed the company toward what was possible, particularly with serial content on YouTube. But to get to this new level, the TNC website had to step back. In fact, it had to fade into the background for something new to emerge.
Now, there’s TNC Africa
In March 2020, Adetula announced that The Naked Convos was pivoting “from digital publishing to content production with [a] focus on audio and video web series”. While the website still exists, a new entity was created to drive in this new direction.
This new entity -- TNC Africa, co-founded by Adetula, Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi, and Daniel Aideyan -- describes itself as “a film and TV company committed to telling original African stories”. But what does that mean?
Adetula explains it this way, in the context of a global audience:
“Everything we know about Africa and Africans right now is being told by the Western media. Even when young creatives get the opportunity to tell African stories on some of these Western platforms, there’s often a filter. The stories hardly ever get told as they really are. TNC Africa wants to bridge that gap by telling stories that Africans can relate with and that go deep into our day-to-day lives.”
Following the success of “Our Best Friend’s Wedding”, TNC Africa created a fiction podcast based on a series of short stories Adetula had written nine years earlier. Some months later, the fiction podcast morphed into a video web series that would eventually score an AMVCA nomination. The series, My Name is A-Zed, became a springboard for TNC Africa to make bolder moves.
Months later, it launched another web series, Little Black Book, which also received two AMVCA nominations.
Instead of putting its content behind a paywall, TNC Africa delivers it to its audience for free via a YouTube channel. The idea is for more people to have access to the content, which is then monetised through ads and brand partnerships with Uber, Sterling, Malta Guinness, etc.
Beyond access to a wider audience with less friction, publishing its content on YouTube gives TNC Africa the chance to integrate analytics more seamlessly into its strategy. Where other production companies would need to rely on third-party data measurement, TNC Africa simply needs to look into its backend and make decisions from there.
However, the long-term strategy is that the popularity of its content will give it leverage in conversations with streamers and distributors like Amazon Prime and Showmax, both of which already host some of TNC Africa’s content, and possibly Netflix. Adetula says the company is in conversation with several other platforms.
While there are feature-length productions in its future, TNC African currently focuses on serial programming. “We focus a lot on [serial] content right now because many of the stories we want to tell require multiple episodes and longer running time,” Adetula explains. He also believes there’s a gap for serial content since several other production companies like Inkblot Productions, Golden Effects, and Anthill Studios that have relationships with streaming platforms focus mainly on feature films.
The big picture
Two things stand out to me about TNC Africa’s story. The first is the willingness to acknowledge when the tides shifted and adjust accordingly, the awareness to know when its audience was moving on and to figure out what to do next. The second is the commitment to reinventing itself and building technical capacity.
We often criticise Mark Zuckerberg for constantly copying features from emerging platforms perceived as threats to Facebook’s dominance. He did it with Snapchat and with Tik Tok. There are several other examples. But the core of his logic is the speed at which innovation happens and the snappiness with which audiences evolve. Yesterday, Facebook was cool. Today, it’s for old people. Yesterday, Twitter was The Flash, but there’s a younger generation of people who think it’s too slow.
Innovation happens and audience behaviour changes, and sometimes, we can do nothing about them. But sometimes, we can. Sometimes, we can adjust. We can tear things down and rebuild them. We can make little changes, or we can make massive ones. We can throw out the old for the new to come. It’s in those instances that history defines us.
So, I find TNC Africa’s reinvention fascinating for the same reason I can understand Facebook/Meta’s paranoia -- technology and audience behaviour are changing faster than ever. You can either strap and change your direction or stay still and fade into oblivion. TNC Africa saw what was and what could be, and chose the former. That, in my opinion, is a story worth telling.
Some good news!
This month, we’re hosting our first offline event in Lagos, Nigeria in partnership with the Creative Economy Practice at CcHub. It’s an event for creators, investors, and business people interested in Africa’s creator economy. We’ll share more details in the coming days. Please follow the CMQ Media account on Twitter to stay updated!