Reflections on 2021 ignite great expectations for African storytellers in the New Year

As a sequel, 2021 was certainly a better year for African content creators than 2020. Reflecting on what made the difference, I see perseverance, built on the survival skills of being thrown into the proverbial deep end of the global pandemic and learning how to swim. It is with a great sense of gratitude that we not only survived but bounced back as the film and television industry, of course aided by an increase in streaming platforms, growing demand for content, and easing of lockdowns which enabled resumption of production.

Across ViacomCBS Networks Africa (VCNA) brands — BET Africa, Comedy Central, MTV Base, Nickelodeon — we had an amazing year, achieving 36 % growth, which exceeded our local content targets and fresh to territory forecasts. We continued to build on pillars that have been successful in growing our industry and attracting increasing global audiences, focusing on unique Pan-African content that is youth driven, female-led, multi-cultural and providing a glimpse into the diversity of Africans.

Giving back is part of our responsibility as content creators and I believe we can make an impact in our sphere of influence. This year we invested in skills development amongst the youths interested in film making. In South Africa we partnered with KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Economic Development and the KZN Film Commission to train first-time filmmakers and produced a TV short series of 30-minute episodes called Seven Deadly Sins.

Diversity and inclusion are very important to us as a business. We plan to continue fostering a culture of inclusivity in the talent behind and in front of the camera to create multicultural work which mirrors society and its multiplicity of voices.

On the studio side, through ViacomCBS International Studios (VIS) Africa, our local content investment went beyond entertainment to include edutainment and emotainment shows.

Read also: African Folktales, Reimagined: How the Netflix and UNESCO Competition will Promote Original African Stories

We had great partnerships and launched several reality shows, telenovas, and dramas including Black Tax, LaSizwe, Inside Life with Erica and ISONO, now the number one rating show on BET France.

Looking ahead, prospects for the new year offer unlimited potential for the industry as we accelerate production. VCNA has a healthy pipeline of shows including another big telenovela, a documentary, some sitcoms, dramas and the most exciting I think, is a couple of animation productions, a genre which has not been explored much. Inclusion is important for us and for African children to see themselves represented on screen as heroes in their own stories is special.

On Comedy Central we will keep promoting African talent and we have new comedians whose work will be showcased on the channel. BET Africa will continue to highlight black excellence and black culture with some planned nostalgic titles that will take audiences down memory lane. A new Pan African dance show is on the cards and a host of new movies from our partnership with some Nollywood producers.

The recently held Intra Africa Trade Fair presented opportunities for new business and partnerships. We went there with a strong message that we are open for business and open to partnerships with local and international producers. This is how we have managed to advance a strong African narrative by working together with like-minded people to ensure our people are seen and their voices heard. Our content is the sum of our lived experiences and collective efforts to celebrate our unity in diversity as well as showcase our shared humanity globally.

The events and activation side of the industry should bounce back observing COVID-19 protocols. Audiences love to touch and feel brands, so we plan to bring back physical shows for the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs), which showcase the ultimate in African culture, music, and creativity as well as an Africa Day concert hosted by MTV Base. After a hiatus, South Africa’s biggest family-centric festival ‘NickFest’ is planned to return in the new year.

We believe we have a mandate to use our platforms to create awareness, initiate dialogue on important social matters and drive change. Through MTV Stay Alive Foundation, we are working on bringing another season of MTV Shuga Down South and MTV ShugaNaija, an African drama series, encouraging HIV testing and prevention as well fighting the stigmatisation and discrimination of HIV positive people. A documentary on gender-based violence is also in the pipeline.

For 17 years and counting VCNA has been part of the journey and growth of African content and burgeoning global audiences. The future of the film and television industry holds immense opportunities as consumption patterns evolve, streaming services multiplyand new content genres emerge. There’s never a dull moment and we look forward to 2022 with great expectations.