IGF 2021 – Day 1 – Lightning Talk #53 - Local Audiovisual Content for Local Cultures - What Role for the Internet? A Discussion with Sarah Migwi, Co-founder & Managing Director, Protel Studios Ltd, Nairobi, Ken

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Good evening or morning or afternoon, wherever you are.  I'm waiting for our guest, Mrs. Sarah Migwi, to connect from Nairobi, Kenya.  I am trying to find out if there is a technical problem.  For those of you coming, who just arrived we are waiting for Mrs. Sarah Migwi to connect.  She is connecting from Nairobi in Kenya.  She is having a few issues.  So bear with us for a couple more minutes perhaps.  I see we have someone else coming in.  So we are waiting for our interviewee Mrs. Sarah Migwi to appear.  She is connecting with Nairobi and is having a few issues with her connection right now. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Hi.  Can you hear me?  Can you see me? 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  We can hear you and now see you.  Thank you for joining us. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Apologies for the delay. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  We still have people coming in.  Given the fact that we not a huge amount of time this evening, I think I would like to get us started if that's okay with you. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  That's okay with me.  Thank you. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Thank you, everyone, for coming.  And I see we have got more people coming as we speak.  I'm Bertrand Moullier.  I work in the film and television production industry along with Sarah.  I work specifically for the International Federation of Film Producers Association, but Sarah is a true blue producer of content for television for the Internet, for all sorts of market destinations in Kenya.  And we will come to her in a minute.  I want to start by thanking the IGF for making this a short session possible and especially Madeline Faso and Anja who worked tirelessly for all of us I'm sure and very efficiently to make it easier for us all. 

I would like to also briefly thank our colleagues at KIPA which is the Polish Association of Film and Television Producers based in Bashundhara, and Ms. Dana Pohl and Mr. Benoit Ginisty who could not be here tonight, and, of course, Sarah Migwi for taking time off her busy schedule, home life and business life to give us half an hour of insight.  And finally all of you to joining us for participants for this session which is recorded and will be available for view also later. 

    So why are we present at the Convention Summit to do with regulation of the Internet?  It is a fair question to ask.  And the question, the answer in the most synthetic format possible is that there is enough evidence out there that video based information and entertainment accounts for the majority of Internet traffic almost anywhere you are in the world. 

    When I say all forms of video information entertainment, I, of course, I include a branded content and User‑Generated Content which is also and social media content was very important.  But a lot of it, very strong proportion is professional video entertainment or information content made by professional companies such as Sarah's. 

    So we have a natural place at the table.  And we are very convinced that there is a very profound degree of interdependency between Internet uptake and sustainable local video content production.  And I stress sustainable local video and film content production. 

    And at present seems to us observing the scene worldwide that policies to incentivize growth in broadband infrastructure and services is totally separate from incentives and support systems for sustainable local audiovisual content industry and sectors.  And where we ‑‑ we're really arguing for a more conjoined approach.  There is need for policymakers to not understand what broadband deployment requires to be viable and sustain in the long run. 

    And the first step is to consider what the audiovisual sector needs and understand the risk that someone like Sarah takes every day of the week when developing new ideas, new projects to bring to audiences in Kenya and in the Kenyan Diaspora at large. 

So I will give her the floor in two seconds.  I want to end by saying it is time to end the easy content on education and pure entertainment content.  We have seen with daily soaps often play a very important role in social cohesion.  And in the cultural conversation having profound impacts on the way, for example, the LGBTQ communities or the status of women in the workforce, the treatment of children in our societies and so on. 

    So without further ado, I'd like to say hello Sarah.  And to ask you the first question, what possessed you to decide for a career in content ‑‑ audiovisual content production in Kenya? 

    What hopes did you set out with?  And what tough realities did you encounter when you set up your company? 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Thank you so much.  Greetings to each and every one of you.  I don't know if it is morning or afternoon or evening.  But just greetings all the way from Nairobi, Kenya.  I wanted to be a doctor, believe it or not.  And somehow along the line I bumped in to the media content and I fell in love with it, with the sense to be able to create content for people to enjoy and touch the different hearts of people across the continent. 

The one thing that I think also cuts across other than music, irrespective of the age or the location, is other than music is, of course, entertainment, information, as educative content.  So that's now what I completely fell in love with.  And just the power to be able to do that.  And also have the opportunity to change, to change lives because with what it is that we do, we have the power to be able to change lives for the positive or for the negative.  I choose to be able to see how it can be able to change lives for the positive.  So even in terms of the content that we produce there has to be an element of building hope, or educating or sharing information. 

    There has to be an element building hope because I feel mainly as society there is an element of hope that is lost.  Especially now with what has happened with COVID, with all the negative experiences that we've had.  Each and every one of us has someone who we have lost or someone who has lost a business opportunity, there's a major need to be able to uplift people and just build hope amongst our society. 

    So that's the main thing that drove me to the space that I'm in. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Wonderful.  So your company Protel Studios has a long history.  One of the ways in which I describe is what we do to people who don't know, is describe it as an iceberg.  You have got the tip of it which is production and delivery, but underneath it is this big mass called development in which you take a long, long time sometimes to develop an idea in to script.  And then the script in to something you can present to say attestation.  Describe how you approach that creative initiation process for your work. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Thank you.  Let me see if I can share my screen.  I don't know if you can see my screen. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  I think we can.  Please in the audience if you can ‑‑

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  You can?  If I can put it in ‑‑ is it in mode? 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  We can all see it. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Protel Studios is a fully‑fledged content production company.  I have had experience working for a media house.  I was running a media house in Tanzania.  I also had an opportunity to work with the biggest content producer in the world which is Endemol Production at that point.  I also had quite a bit of experience in regards to producing content that now crosses borders.  But even under Endemol I had an opportunity to travel to Nigeria and I was in Nigeria for six months producing a major reality show. 

When I was with East Africa TV I was based in Tanzania.  But now from ‑‑ I was based in Darussalam.  It gave me an opportunity to understand what we call an East African market.  So Protel Studios was an idea that was born when I was in the media space.  We started Protel in 2008 but we opened our office on 4th January 2009.  We love telling stories.  So we do a lot of documentaries, we do a lot of TV commercials and documentaries for different corporate clients.  I don't know if my slides are moving.

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  They are moving. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  We do in terms of events and content production just building experiences for audiences.  And then in terms of our TV program production now this is the heart of Protel.  This is the reason we set up Protel Studios to produce content for our audiences to be able to enjoy.  And these are just some of the shows that we have produced over the years.  And I will try and concentrate on one particular one that has been particularly successful.  These range from drama to reality to game shows. 

These are just some of the shows that we have.  We have over 1500 hours of TV content of our own that we have produced over the years.  But you will allow me in terms of how we go about it.  I will stop sharing.  Especially let me concentrate on the TV program content production space, which is the heart, reason why we set up Protel.  We will come up with an idea.  Sit down and understand our target market.  As we a company we have made a conscious decision to say that we want to talk to the mass market. 

    So the content we produce has to be able to cut across the mass market.  Yeah.  Which means even from a language point of view, from a storytelling point of view, it needs to be able to reach out to this target market.  So we got, what is the people like Committee.  But what space of community do they like.  Drama series or what is it that we are able to use to capture the interest of our audience.  So once we do that, we get in to the ‑‑ come up with an idea and then come up with a creative team or scripting team.  And then we put together our script.  And then now we go out, look for the talent in terms of actors and we get in to production. 

    Now ordinarily in the market there are two modes of content production.  You have some of the media houses who come to you and say call to entry.  We are looking for content of this kind, looking for a drama show.  Putting your idea or your creative page for it.  And we as a broadcaster or corporate are willing to pay for it.  Then the other model which is what the ‑‑ one of our main models is we come up with the idea and finance the production of that content and look for the ideal media platform to be able to put the content.  The reason we go for the model, the previous model in regards to media houses coming and saying we are looking for this type of content and willing to commission it, for that content. 

Once you produce that content from a Commissioner point of view, this is in our local markets the media house will be paying for 100% of that content, will insist that they need to own that copyright.  It is your idea we know.  You created it.  But once we pay this premium for it we want to be able to own it.  What does that mean for me?  I can't leverage on that content beyond that platform. 

    All right?  Now the second model, which is our preferred model, is where we create an idea, look for financing to produce it, then look for the media platform to add the content.  The reason we like this is because the copyright still sits 100% with us.  Which means I might not necessarily make as much money as commissioning but my idea is not just be handed over to someone else.  And what I have to be able to do as a company to be able to just even cover my production costs, is probably add the content on multiple platforms to cover my production expenses, what it is I had invested in the content in the first place.  We need to identify talent and nurture that talent.  And now that we give that talent an opportunity we let the talent go. 

Characters that we create, we have a very popular character called Gosh we created.  He has gone and blown up and become this massive celebrity now in the country which is something that we love because that's one of our pillars identified.  Launch it and then release it to the market.  And it is up to the talent to be able to see what to do with it.  Once we have been able to give them guidance as well as a training in regards to the industry, because our industry also has quite a number of challenges in terms from also a business and financial advisement point of view. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Can I ask this?  If you want to run a business that has assets in to trade and cover your payroll and develop new ideas, it sounds like you have to take the second route to describe it, instead of having broadcasters say I want this show with these type of characters and that length of time for each episode and I have the rights.  You will take the financial risk and sell a license to the broadcaster.  Will that license to a broadcaster in the event that you developed it yourself, will it cover the whole cost of production? 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Can you hear me? 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Yes.  Yes, I can.  Are you ‑‑ can you hear me, Sarah?  Are you able to hear me?  Sarah?  Ahh. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Can you hear me? 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  I can hear you, yes. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  My apologies.  My internet is unstable. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  There is a bandwidth issue at your end.  Hello?  Sorry, everyone.  We are having a connection problem.  If you bear with us, Sarah is going to rejoin in a minute. 

    In the meantime, I can perhaps summarize what she was saying which was extraordinarily clear about the two options she has as somebody involved in trying to maintain the sustainable production company in her country in Kenya.  But that's true all over the world.  She can either have a broadcast ‑‑ Sarah is back. 

    Can you hear us?  You need to unmute.  I can unmute. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Can you hear me now? 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Yes.  I was trying to summarize what you were saying.  Thank you so much.  So yes, I was ‑‑ I was really asking, so what amount of risk financially do you need to take if you decide that you are going to keep control of the rights that you don't sell directly to broadcasters.  Does that mean that you will have to take a larger and longer financial risk in terms of having to wait longer for your investment to be covered by various cells? 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Yes.  So it means No. 1, you are taking a risk not knowing whether you are going to get a return on it or not.  So the first thing is previously, we would rely on the media houses to be able to pick up our content and license it.  So you are taking a risk with the hope that a media house will take your content and license it. 

    But thanks to the digital disruption that's currently happening across the world.  Digital now has put the power to us as content producers, and it is the same thing with journalists.  If you look at journalists before you relied on a journalist to write an Article in the paper to read it.  But today anybody can be a journalist.  So in 2009 Google opened up Youtube to producers like ourselves so we can put up our content on the platform and to see, for us to be able to air our content.  Between then and now it made it possible for me instead of having to rely on media houses to put up my content and have my viewers watch my content. 

So we decided to do that as a test.  As I sit here today I have so many shows that are lying on our shelves because the media houses has felt this show might not work for our audiences.  The hands within the media houses are on individuals they have a say in terms of what they think the viewer wants to watch.  Now that power has moved from that individual, those individuals to the viewer. 

Now I as a viewer, I'm in control.  I have all these options to choose from.  And it is on so many platforms.  It started with Youtube and went to Facebook and video.  OTTs are giving you a choice.  If you look at a platform like Netflix, have all the thousands and thousands of content that now as a viewer have the power to choose from.  Previously you would need to see it in front of the TV knowing that my favorite show comes at 8 p.m.  So appointment view of you have to be sitting in front of your screen at 8 p.m. to watch your favorite show.  Now the digital disruption has done, it has given me the power as the viewer to be able to decide what I want to watch, where I want to watch it, and from what platform I wanted to watch it from.  Even from the comfort of my mobile phone.  So the control is now in the viewer's hands.  All right. 

    So when this happened in 2009, when Youtube gave us the opportunity to leverage on our content we started channels, our own channels for our different shows.  So like this was one of the shows that we started.  It was a local comedy show.  And we did decide to do a test because in Kenya, I mean the majority of our market just like most of the countries is a youth.  And the youth mainly speak in their local slang.  So we created a show that we were speaking in just slang.  Not English.  Just that local slang.  And it went crazy.  And people kept thinking these people are crazy. 

From this show another show was born.  This is one of our most successful shows.  It is called the Real House Helps of Kawangware.  This is a show that we did a test and that we did in 2014 where we started a Youtube channel.  And had been on for a year.  And we started putting the show on our Youtube channel.  Now it ‑‑ people went crazy because they weren't afraid ‑‑ they were on a free channel.  A TV station called KTN.  KTN were airing it free to do a premiere and within the week and then thereafter would do a second run on a play platform.  And then top of that, over and above the two we would put it on Youtube.  We have over 131 million views for this show.  It was an eye opener. 

What I realized as long as I have direct access to the ‑‑ my customer who is no longer there, the media house, my customer is the viewer.  As long as I have direct access to that viewer, then I'm okay.  Which is what digital has done for us.  So over and above the Youtube channels that we have created we have begun to a different extent.  We want to start our own platform and put our content on there.  The viewer has a chance to watch it more comfortably. 

So now the challenge is how do you monetize the content.  How do you make sure that you actually make money from it.  But believe it or not it is easier than having to work traditionally, like how we were doing with the traditional media houses who have to license our content and dictate how much they would license the content. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  I have been waved at, we have five minutes left.  And we have two minutes grace.  You have covered a lot of ground.  Referencing the show that you showed us which got 130 plus million hits, that's an asset that you own as a company that you are now able to take in to your next strategy which I understand is to have your own Internet‑based platform.  You want to talk in the closing minutes about that? 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Now we have decided not to take that experience and we have created our own Internet‑based platform which now gives us the opportunity to be able to upload or content and ‑‑ can you hear me?  Give us the opportunity to upload our content.  All the shows that we have created over the years or the past couple of months that we believe from our research that our viewer is interested in and can change life or improve someone's life, now they can watch the content when they want to watch it. 

If I was to take a TV station and buy airtime, the cost of that airtime would be so expensive.  Now with Internet‑based and digital platforms you are able to do that with a fraction of the cost.  It is changing.  And nobody can be able to say today that they understand digital media.  But one of the things that I appreciate is that it has given the viewer control of what it is that they want to watch, when they want to watch it and at what ‑‑ on which platform they have wanted to be able to watch it. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  And it has given you through the services that are available on the Internet broadband a broader range of possibilities to monetize the content that you worked so hard to develop at great risk to yourself.  There was, in fact, a question about how you monetize your content.  Sarah is saying at the start Youtube was a vehicle.  That's on an advertising revenue share base.  But for your own platform will you have different price points, different ways of tailoring the content to spending power of local consumers? 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Yes.  It has allowed us to have multiple ways that people can pay.  You can pay per view.  You can subscribe for the week or month.  But we also have free content that we are able to sell advertising space around for advertisers to advertise around that content.  We are able to give the ‑‑ our viewers a free platform for the free content and also pay a subscription for the content that's more premium. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  You are getting a lot of affirmative responses, especially from Mr. Senegal.  A very, very dynamic production company by the way. 

    Thank you.  In the two minutes that remain, what would you on ‑‑ your sort of wish list that measures your government could take, I was talking in the beginning about the need to also incentivize local production for local content that reflects people's lives and their cultural preoccupation, which during Real House with Helps, for example, which is a very good example of that.  What do you need in order to operate better and keep the company going sustainably? 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  The protection of copyright owners.  Right now that's a major issue within our country.  Because you can very easily produce content and you will find someone pirating it and selling it on DVD or airing it without paying for your content. 

The other thing is in terms of ‑‑ so the legislation exists but enforcement I think is where the problem currently is.  The other thing is financing.  So, for example, today if I go to any one of my banks and I tell them I have an idea and I need a loan to produce my content they are not able to recognize our asset in regards to our creative work because the banks have to be able to have either a physical asset to work with.  Even if you ‑‑ if you ask them for that loan and you say look, I have an asset to give you, they are not able to finance you against a creative idea.  So I think ‑‑ and that's one of our biggest challenges as an industry because getting financing for our work is not ‑‑ it is not possible.  It is not possible at all. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Well, they ‑‑

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  So that's the one thing. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Audiovisual works are considered bankable assets.  And we will take your asks to the policymakers wherever they may be. 

You deserved an hour to do justice to the rich material that you gave us.  Thank you, everyone, for coming in.  And to those of you who are still interested, there will be another session from FIAPF at 11 a.m. on Friday where we will outline our vision for the Internet.  Sarah has taken us a long way towards articulating this.  Thank you, everyone, for your enthusiastic feedback on the chat there.  And to the IGF staff.

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, everyone. 

   >> BERTRAND MOULLIER:  Thank you.  Bye‑bye. 

   >> SARAH MIGWI:  All right.  Bye.