Nigeria: Olawale Adetula wants to be king of online content

By Wilfred Okiche

Posted on Friday, 4 November 2022 12:45

In 'Little Black Book', the flagship web series from TNC Africa, a tech-enabled media production company cofounded by Olawale Adetula, a young woman, Tade (Teniola Aladese) resumes work as the personal assistant to Leo, a hot, entrepreneur-type played by Nigerian rapper cum actor Ikechukwu Onunaku.

Leo hires Tade because aside from her (over) qualifications for the role, she is the one woman in Lagos who isn’t attracted to him. However, this doesn’t last very long as her defences crumble just as their working relationship starts to blossom.

A lot of the pleasure to be derived in the first season of Little Black Book – which launched last year on YouTube – lies in watching Tade and Leo navigate the sexual tension that is clearly brewing between them. Fans of the web series, responsible for the 15 million impressions and 2.6 million views practically demanded a second season, which arrived in August this year. For Olawale Adetula, co-founder of TNC Africa, these metrics were validation for the decades-plus-long work that had gone into building a public-facing media company in tune with the zeitgeist.

This was the early days of blogging. I realised there wasn’t a place where young Nigerians could go to have conversations about things that were painful, or society considered risqué.

Adetula started building the company that would eventually become TNC Africa back in 2010. What started as his personal blog soon morphed into The Naked Convos website – a community platform for young people to gather and dish on some of their most intimate concerns.

The inception of the Little Black Book on the website was a blog series published by writer Sally Kenneth Dadzie. Adetula says: “This was the early days of blogging. I realised there wasn’t a place where young Nigerians could go to have conversations about things that were painful, or society considered risqué. Whether it was sex or sexuality or religion, I wanted a place to vent and a community for like-minded people.”

The Naked Convos became a safe space for people to express themselves through articles, opinion pieces and short stories. It was a hit, especially among a certain kind of upwardly mobile youth. Reflecting on the good old days, Adetula says: “Now think back. Twitter was fairly new, there was no Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. We would put up an article and in 15 minutes, would get 1000 comments.”

The conversations kickstarted on The Naked Convos would regularly spill over onto other social networks and Adetula – who came from a digital marketing background – would also host offline events to drive engagement. Despite the early success, Adetula figured The Naked Convos wasn’t sustainable long term because platforms like Twitter and Instagram were getting bigger and more popular, cutting into engagement and profits.

The Naked Convos experimented with different ideas. A podcast, stage plays, and book publishing. None of these stuck. It wasn’t until 2017 that the idea of the web series took hold. Adetula partnered with REDTV, owned by United Bank for Africa, to create the drama series, Our Best Friend’s Wedding. Within its first three months on the air, the series about a young man who purchases an engagement ring without a bride in mind had garnered about 3 million views on YouTube. Video was a thing, it seemed.

Adetula exited The Naked Convos and with new partners, Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi and Daniel Aideyan created TNC Africa which launched officially in January 2021. “Because we launched on YouTube, a lot of people think we are a web series company. TNC Africa is actually a tech-enabled content production company. We are committed to taking original African stories to the world,” Adetula says, in reference to the mission of the new company.

Following commissioned research into the film industry value chain, it made better sense for TNC Africa to focus on content directly for digital. It helped that a lot of the streamers were coming in at the time and it became clear that there was a pressing need for Nollywood representation on these platforms.

TNC Africa’s big idea is to deploy technology to enrich the storytelling. Adetula says: “We have an in-house advanced data analytics system that uses machine learning to take advantage of all kinds of data points. We use these insights to enrich content from talent to hire to plot threads. We are in an attention economy and the more your content becomes engaging, the more money you can make.”

We are enriching the arts by adding science to it. We always start off with the arts, never the science.

This reliance on technology to produce content has been frowned on in some quarters as algorithms replace human intuition, leading to media that feels detached and impersonal. For filmmaker and actress Belinda Yanga-Agedah, who directed two seasons of Little Black Book and has also worked with TNC Africa on the second season of Our Best Friend’s Wedding, there is some value to this method, particularly for Nollywood where the tendency is to rush to shoot early screenplay drafts.

She tells The Africa Report: “After reading the Little Black Book script, I found it [lacking] some major edits. I was expecting pushback on my thoughts, which is par for the course but to my surprise, Wale agreed with my notes, and we decided to workshop the scripts.”

Adetula – who was named one of 26 talented African creators to join the global Black Voices Creator Class of 2022, a program designed by YouTube to provide resources and opportunities to Black creators – insists that instead of interfering with the creative process, TNC Africa’s work is to enrich it. “We are enriching the arts by adding science to it. We always start off with the arts, never the science,” she says.

The demand for content from Africa is growing exponentially and for Adetula and TNC Africa, the goal is to add value by sharing this technology with other players, be it corporations or wannabe comedians. TNC Africa is set to launch two products: an app – Premier – which puts data and insight in the hands of creators instantly; and the heavy-duty Foresight Stack, which is targeted at big-time producers.

If anyone can make a dent in the quality of content coming out of Nollywood, Yanga-Agedah believes it is Adetula. She says: “I have some tiny insight on Wale’s vision and the dude is tenacious. It’s what I admire so much about him. He is a doer, and my belief is that doers will [inherit] the earth. He talks and then he does. [Do] you know how very few people like this exist in our industry?”

For Adetula, the end goal is to take original African stories to the world.  He says: “We want to make hyper-engaging stories that can resonate everywhere in the world. We want to create the next Squid Game from Africa.”

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