Before I start it I want to say that this post is not written in order to complain or point fingers. It is to answer one question I and everyone involved in the Bino and Fino project gets asked a lot by Nigerian fans of the show. ‘Why isn’t the Bino and Fino cartoon on Nigerian television?’
The best way to answer is to first explain how programmes get on to Television in Nigeria. In essence it is very simple. The major TV networks in Nigeria charge for airtime. Money dictates most of what you see on Nigerian television screens. If you have the money you can get a one hour film of you scratching your nose on to TV here. OK, I haven’t seen that yet but trust me I’ve seen close.
The people and organisations that have the type of funds to get things broadcast are mainly government, politicians/high net worth individuals, corporations and religious bodies.
Quality TV production is expensive especially animation. TV programme producers need to find sponsors like MTN to get their TV show on air. Sponsorship also gives production companies profits. So we have to find sponsors to for Bino and Fino to go on air. That is something we’re working hard on but as we produce an educational show targeted at young children we have to be very careful. We can’t just accept the money of any sponsor as some products might not be right for children even if they are marketed to them. Of course this is subjective and a more risky position to take.
Another interesting ‘problem’ I have found is the issue of glamour and hype. Football, the music scene, Nollywood, fashion, beauty pageants and the rest are glamorous. You can’t deny it, glamour, sex, bling, hype and celebrity sells in Nigeria. Yes I’m generalising but take a look at the Nigerian shows on TV and their tone. Sponsors are attracted to what sells or what they feel sells. Children’s educational entertainment is not glamorous. It is considered ‘boring’ and not really serious by many decision makers especially if you are producing a cartoon. I’ve actually had someone ask me why a grown man like me is doing cartoons! They don’t think it will sell.
It is up to us producers, parents and children to convince companies that they can benefit from sponsoring well-made children’s shows. Corporations are understandably interested in making money. They are not charities. I learnt this very quickly after a few presentations to possible sponsors. Most don’t care about the beneficial cultural, educational and entertainment value of shows like Bino and Fino. The main question is can Bino and Fino help them sell more products? That is fine with me as long they realise children's educational entertainment has a place.
Programme producers are in a catch 22 situation. It’s tough to get sponsorship if you haven’t been on air and have a fan base that sponsors see. But you can’t get on air without sponsorship to reach an audience! That is why many of the formats you see on TV in Nigeria are tried and tested formats with global recognition. These are shows like ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and ‘Nigerian Idol’. There are few companies willing to sponsor a ‘local’ show aimed solely at younger children. But eventually we will reach like minded people in these companies. However they are few and far between.
The government also has a part to play. Not only with funding but with broadcast quotas which are enforced. Countries like France, Australia, the US and the UK have such. It is compulsory for a percentage of airtime on their local TV stations to consist of locally made children’s programming. These countries have set aside a budget for children’s programming funded by their government through public broadcasting institutions like the BBC and PBS in the US. Yes I know these budgets are dropping but at least they exist.
That is how shows like Sesame Street, Charlie and Lola, Teletubbies and the rest came about. The NTA , the Nigerian Television Authority which is our publicly funded network here actually charges for airtime on network broadcasts as opposed to commissioning shows. The interesting thing is that there are many passionate creative people in the NTA but for some reason much of their talent is being stifled within the organisation.
There’s also the issue of long term funding for such projects. Animation production is a time and financially consuming process. It needs ‘patient investment’. That is something we have little of here. Things are changing on that front though and some financial institutions such as the Bank of Industry and Nexim in Nigeria are starting to make moves albeit slowly. But at least they are moving in the right direction. We’ve gone to meet them so I know this first hand. In a few years the landscape should be different.
Working on the Bino and Fino project has shown me that when it comes to the children’s educational and entertainment media sector, we in Nigeria have a lot of work to do. A lot of lip service is paid to children’s education in Nigeria let alone the media they consume. It’s a worrying situation. A system where all stakeholders, especially the children, benefit has to be devised.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers and I can’t speak for other African countries but I know some are making determined efforts to address the situation. They understand the important role that dedicated children’s educational media content has to play.
So those are some of the reasons why the Bino and Fino cartoon and similar shows aren’t on Nigerian television…………yet.