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Nigerian Media's Golden Opportunity
Nigerian startups talk a lot about “building for the world,” but local media is ahead of the curve.
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Nigerian Media's Golden Opportunity
Achraf Hakimi, the Moroccan and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) footballer, was a decently popular footballer until a few months ago. Then in mid-April, he became even more famous after several large Nigeria-focused media handles shared news about a whimsical narrative about his divorce proceedings. The story was originally from a small French news publication but spread like wildfire after Nigerian accounts and viral sports media shared it.
Now this is not the first time Nigerian outlets have influenced social media (neither is it unique to the country). But it was another reminder about how influential Nigeria — a country where 55% of the population or 122 million people use the internet — has become on the largely anglophone web.
English is the language of the web. Although English speakers represent 17.3% of the global population, the language is dominant online. It is the primary language of 56% of public web domains, according to a report by Rest of World. And thanks to translation tools by Google and Microsoft, content primarily in other languages have become accessible to English speakers and vice versa.
The preeminent position of the English language isn’t only of interest to linguists and academia; it also shapes business strategy, including media organizations. For example, the New York Times doesn’t simply consider itself an American news company, although much of its coverage and viewpoints center on the US. On its strategy landing page, the Times says that its vision is “to become the essential subscription for every curious, English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world.” In 2022, NYT had over 10 million paying subscribers and nearly 600 million pageviews for May 2023, according to data by SimilarWeb, an analytics company.
Like the Hakimi case and many other examples, Nigerian media also has a chance to become a significant player in English-language news content. And this has several advantages.
For starters, if Nigerian media becomes more prominent internationally, it would reshape storytelling about not just Nigeria but also the African continent, pushing back against several exaggerated or misleading foreign and local narratives that unfairly impact the region. And international success could spur further interest in other languages, such as Hausa, which has already attracted interest from global companies such as Voice of America, the BBC, and Turkey’s TRT.
Second, a strategy change could also improve the quality of journalism and content talent development in the country. At the moment, few non-fulltime Nigerian journalists want to freelance for Nigeria-based publications, and even fewer media companies offer such opportunities with decent compensation. Local outlets currently do not have the resources or strategy to support or nurture these younger, more creative journos. It’s no surprise the country’s journalism talents are looking outward for fulfilling and international bylines — which sometimes exposes them unpleasant international reporting experience that leaves them frustrated with the narratives or story angles they are persuaded to adopt.
Third, with a growing diaspora audience, Nigerian news content is organically traversing international geographies taking alongside music (afrobeats) and movies (Nollywood). And fourth, by limiting themselves to only a national audience, one could say Nigerian media is leaving money on the table — including from advertising and partnerships. Of course, global expansion is expensive and, some might even say, risky. But it could be a rewarding adventure for the courageous and lucky.
Editors and news media managers are understandably careful. Brands are more unique, long-lasting, and memorable when they stand out but less so when they play in a saturated market. For example, Legit.ng, Opera News, and Pulse are Nigeria-focused publications created by European companies looking for opportunities outside their relatively small home countries.
Interestingly, however, data shows that Nigerian publications already have a somewhat large international audience. Data culled from SimilarWeb suggests that, on average, domestic readers represent less than 42% of the monthly audience of the top eight Nigerian news publications. Compare that to US news publications, where around 75% of readers are Americans.
American and British readers account for roughly 34% of the audience of Nigeria’s top eight online news outlets. For Legit.ng, 34.7% of its traffic in May 2023 was from America, compared to just 15.8% from Nigeria. Of course, SimilarWeb isn’t always 100% accurate, but it is a decent proxy of web traffic data. And it’s not unclear how many of these international readers ever returned after reading their first article or how long they stayed on these websites that clearly don’t have much US or UK content.
Social media reach, however, is a different thing. Nigeria’s top publications each boast millions of followers and have increasingly adopted a more relatable content strategy that includes videos and viral content for a domestic audience.
Nevertheless, funding remains the challenge with any strategy change by a Nigerian news company. Media companies already struggle with dwindling revenue, partly caused by the decline in print sales, online news competition, and the influence of Google and social media on web traffic. But this explanation, no matter how powerful, is becoming more cliché. Attention needs to shift to what current strategies can prop up local media and expansion strategies. That’s what financiers want to hear.
Yet not all investors are worth speaking to, some media executives believe. Dollar-denominated venture capital, although desirable, is not optimal for Nigerian media businesses partly because it puts significant pressure on executives to provide outsized dollar returns amidst an unstable currency exchange environment. Meanwhile, many domestic financiers don’t understand media ethics enough to be decent partners. And some international media investors say they don’t care about funding journalism outside the US, no matter the size of the international audience.
So we’re back to where we started, unfortunately.