Alex Okosi talked about the BET International Act award, Davido’s win, and the impact that MTV Base has had on African music.
This was a symbol of how far Nigerian music had come. But more so, it was a pointer to how powerful it had grown. And one of the men that has been most instrumental to this is Alex Okosi, Executive Vice President and Managing Director for Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) Africa, the parent company of MTV, MTV Base, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and BET. Alex launched MTV Africa in February 2005, a move that has proved instrumental to the growth of African music.
I caught up with Alex after the BET Awards and we talked about the BET International Act award, Davido’s win, and the impact that MTV Base has had on African music.
The interview has been lightly and edited and condensed for clarity.
Business Insider (BI): For the first time ever, the BET International Act award was presented live on stage, how did you feel finally seeing an African artiste walk up to receive it?
Alex Okosi (AO): I was incredibly excited, excited for Davido, I was excited for the music industry in Nigeria and across Africa. We launched MTV Base to provide a platform for Africans to shine and for young African brand to shine globally. African artists can now shine globally and compete in the international music scene. I think it is a tremendous achievement.
BI: Davido won it after a strong run in the past year and a half, how do you see the award and its impact evolving in the coming years?
AO: From Davido’s perspective, the award solidifies his places as one of the hottest artists that are speaking to youth culture internationally and now, hopefully, embeds him deeper into the US market. The evolution of the award is that it will continue to celebrate international artists that are making an impact on youth culture. It is more exciting knowing that this award will be recognised in front of millions of music fans all over the world through the BET Awards, both in the US and internationally.
BI: What are some of the things that have excited you the most about running Viacom International Media Networks in Africa?
AO: What excites me the most is that I am able to work across an incredible array of brands that speak to people from ages three or four to forty and beyond. On a day-to-day basis, I’m responsible for ensuring that we drive connections with our audiences across multiple platforms, from brands that speak to kids and family like Nickelodeon, to the youth like MTV, MTV Base, and BET, to adults on Comedy Central. It also excites me that I’m working with young Africans across the continent to be able to develop these brands and localise them as much as we can, to make sure that they serve and are relevant to our consumers on a day-to-day basis.
BI: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
AO: The media space is evolving. We need to continue to be at the fore of what is happening within our consumers and viewers' mind. We need to make sure that we have content available on multiple platforms that cater to the needs of the consumers who, of course, want to view content when, how, and where they want it. We are doing that now and we need to make sure that we are consistently delivering on those levels because while the linear television space is still very powerful, we know that some audiences are also now going on-demand. So, we need to make sure we have content on-demand on the platforms that matter to our viewers.
BI: What would you consider the biggest impact MTV Base has had on the music scene in Africa?
AO: We changed the music scene in Africa. We elevated the most powerful way for artists and music to travel, which is through music videos. When we came to Africa, the quality of music videos was poor especially north of South Africa. We came in, we held training and workshops. Because we believed if the world got to see our artists in the best light, they would appreciate their music and that the music would travel much more through the music videos which is the most powerful thing for you as an artist -- to be able to convey your creativity, your passion and your artistry. If it was clear, if it was well conceptualised, if it was packaged in the best way, then it would give you the best chance of being able to connect.
When we arrived, we raised the benchmark for what is good quality and the artists and their teams responded to that. But of course, we put in work, we produced free music videos for artists, we held music video workshops across Africa and I think that was a catalyst for what you see today.
BI: With Nigerian music going global, what is MTV Base’s role in taking our entertainment content and showcasing it to the world?
AO: Our role is what we are doing and will continue to do, which is to leverage our platform digitally and otherwise to make sure that we are highlighting and showcasing the best talent. Because we are a well-recognised brand, it gives us more credibility when we speak to people outside the continent to understand the power of the music that is coming from here because they know that we are an authority in music. If we are flying the flag of our artistes outside Africa, that means that they are good, that means that they are quality, it means that they can compete with the rest of the world.
Additionally, our role is to provide opportunities for the younger artists to rise.
BI: Do you think the social nature of content on the Internet has made it easier for new musicians to rise to the top?
AO: I think there are pro and cons to it. There’s a whole bunch of people, talented and otherwise, that are now pushing their music through social media, which I think is a good thing. It can be tough sometimes because there is a lot of noise, there is a lot of people and it’s very difficult for you to now discover who the great ones are. So, it has its pros and cons but I think most of it is good because it means that as an artist, there’s really less of an excuse and fewer reasons why if you’re really good you can’t, at the minimum, be discovered.