Journalism in the service of society

Media Convergence: Connections and Disconnections

(Virtual keynote address by the founder/CEO of Zuri24 Media,  Femi Odugbemi, at the one-day colloquium on Media Convergence in Postcolonial locations held at Dominican University, Ibadan on 11th August 2023)

Dominican University

‘The new imagination economy will be about collaborations and cross-pollination of ideas and it will drive an even richer and more diverse innovation ecosystem. It also will demand vigilance and oversight. Governments, industries, and academia must come together to set standards, ensure inclusivity, ethics, and innovation. The future of media convergence is a landscape of infinite possibilities, and emerging immersive technologies will redefine not only how we consume media, but how we perceive reality itself’

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

LET me begin with thanks to the esteemed Vice-Chancellor of Dominican University, Prof. Hyginus Ekwuazi, and to Prof. Tony Adah for the privilege to participate in this conference.

I am indeed very excited by the focus of the colloquium because of how media convergence resonates across all aspects of our lives, intertwining technology, communication, and society in ways that challenge our perceptions and enrich our experiences. And as we navigate its ever-expanding landscape, we find ourselves constantly at the crossroads of innovation and a new era of possibilities.

The big question that constantly confronts us is, are we ready for the next iteration of the digital future?

Media convergence has shaped the economic dominance of world powers in the 21st century. The United States of America has companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon and legions of tech start-ups piggybacking these big global gorillas.  They have transformed governance, entertainment, communication, and commerce. In the United Kingdom, London has become the biggest multicultural hub in Europe for digital startups and creative entrepreneurs designing smart solutions for every conceivable demand of contemporary living. Mumbai in India mirrors London exactly in this regard. Japan’s early adoption of mobile internet and digital technologies positioned it as a global leader in media convergence. The country’s mobile culture gave rise to services like mobile payments, QR codes, and multimedia messaging, which have since influenced trends worldwide. South Korea has seamlessly integrated media technologies. It boasts one of the fastest and most widespread internet connections in the world, fostering innovative services and platforms, from online gaming to video streaming in a robust digital economy. Sweden’s successful adoption of digital media propelled it onto global tech presence with companies like Spotify, Skype, and Minecraft showcasing the country’s ability to harness media convergence for both cultural and economic impact. In China platforms like WeChat and TikTok and others offer a digital ecosystem that combines messaging, social networking, mobile payments, and more, reflecting the country’s integration of various media technologies.

Africa, despite our many challenges, has also made quantum leaps in development in the last 30 years from the benefits of convergence. Kenya’s M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service, is a prime example of how media convergence has transformed financial services, enabling rural and urban people to transfer money, pay bills, and access financial services through their mobile phones. The entire region of East Africa has achieved a high digital penetration and financial inclusion because of M-Pesa. With a more developed technological infrastructure compared to some other African countries, South Africa has advanced the growth of e-commerce, digital media consumption, and online education. Rwanda’s government invested heavily in digital infrastructure to digitize public services and promote e-governance through its “Smart Rwanda” initiative. And despite the proud incoherence of our economic planning, Nigeria has seen advancements in different sectors of our economy because of entrepreneurial opportunities and commercial possibilities of media convergence. It certainly has had a profound impact on how our businesses do business. You just need to see the number of daily transactions of goods and services that are done on Instagram alone. A whole new tribe of entrepreneurs have virtual storefronts on different social media apps and conclude huge cash transactions via online financial portals like O’Pay. Even the recently incarcerated King of Instagram himself, Mr. Hush Puppy thrived in his nefarious trade on the wings of convergence. 

But surely, no sector in Nigeria has been more served by media convergence as Nollywood, especially in how it has significantly influenced a reimagination of its possibilities from creation to distribution. It is well-told history that Nollywood’s beginnings were born of digitalization and media convergence. Fueled by the accessibility and affordability of consumer video technology filmmakers and storytellers were able to create movies with modest budgets, using their ingenuity and resourcefulness. This organic, self-trained film culture has steadily expanded in lock-step with media technology. Convergence gave Nollywood access and today Nollywood has experienced unprecedented growth and creative success. Let me count the ways:

1. Increased Accessibility and Distribution: The proliferation of digital platforms, streaming services, and social media has made it easier for Nollywood films to reach a global audience. Through platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Iroko and YouTube, Nollywood movies have gained exposure far beyond our domestic market, contributing to increased revenues and international recognition.

2. Enhanced Production and Storytelling: Media convergence has allowed Nollywood filmmakers to access cutting-edge technologies, improving production quality and storytelling techniques. High- definition cameras, sophisticated editing software, and visual effects tools have enabled Nollywood to compete with international film industries, resulting in higher production values and more engaging narratives.

3. Globalization of Nigerian Culture: With media convergence, Nollywood has become a powerful voice in post-colonial media narratives showcasing Africa’s unique stories and worldviews. Themes, traditions, and stories unique to Nigeria are now accessible to global audiences, fostering cultural exchange and understanding.

4. Diverse Revenue Streams: The old Nollywood revenue model or ‘Nollywood market’ has evolved radically. Media convergence has opened up opportunities for revenue generation through theatre releases, broadcast licensing, video-on-demand services, international subscription platforms, international language dubbing

distributors, and collaborations with global brands for product placements. Through social media platforms, a Nollywood star system has also emerged with many Nollywood stars earning big as influencers and brand ambassadors.

5. Innovation in Marketing and Promotion: Social media platforms and digital marketing strategies have transformed the way Nollywood movies are promoted. Filmmakers can now engage directly with their audience, build anticipation, and create viral campaigns that drive interest in their productions.

6. Talent Exposure and Networking: Media convergence has facilitated networking opportunities for Nollywood professionals. Through online platforms, actors, directors, and other creatives can connect with their counterparts globally, leading to potential collaborations and skill-sharing.

7. Data-Driven Decision Making: Digital platforms provide valuable data insights into audience preferences, viewing patterns, and engagement levels. Nollywood filmmakers can analyze this data to tailor their content, ensuring it resonates with their target audience and improves future productions. The DSTV/Multichoice channels have smart decoders from which real-time data of viewing patterns and audience ratings are harvested and used to design the narrative arch of their premium programmes. The mobile app DSTV Now is the best example of how convergence has personalized programming to the viewing habits of every individual subscriber across the continent.  

8. Crowdfunding and Independent Filmmaking: Convergence has paved the way for crowdfunding platforms, allowing independent filmmakers to secure funds for their projects directly from interested institutions and individuals. This democratization of financing has given rise to a new wave of innovative and diverse storytelling in Nollywood. 

And that is the best part, that Convergence is inspiring the creation of diverse content and genre to cater to different audience preferences, expanding the storytelling capacities of our industry’s generation-next. Nollywood today is working harder to broaden its genre and to produce films that resonate the best of Africa’s heritage, history and heroes. And that is incredibly valuable because it will platform African films to challenge stereotypes and present a more authentic post-colonial understanding of the continent to the world.

I do not know too much about the educational sector in Nigeria but from my little stints facilitating at a couple of our universities, I am aware that many forward-looking tertiary institutions like Dominican University are enabled because of media convergence to integrate interdisciplinary programs, foster digital literacy, and collaborate with industry professionals just as we are doing virtually right now. Media convergence is impacting scholarship today by requiring a more holistic understanding of various media forms, encouraging cross-disciplinary research, and enabling innovative teaching methods that incorporate multimedia elements. This prepares students for the evolving media landscape and equips scholars to explore complex topics from multiple angles. Naturally the impact extends in this regard to book publishing, academic papers, and publications. It has led to the rise of digital publishing platforms and e-books. Authors can now self-publish or collaborate with publishers to release their work in digital formats, reaching a global audience more quickly and affordably. And enabling the integration of multimedia elements such as videos, images, and interactive graphics into digital publications.

That media convergence has been a blessing is a self-evident fact.

It has played a pivotal role in modern civilization, offering a tapestry of advantages and value that resound across every facet of our existence. It has influenced individuals and societies to expand their horizons and catalyze innovation. From news dissemination to entertainment, education to communication, media convergence seamlessly integrates diverse platforms and technologies, enhancing accessibility and interactivity. This convergence not only deepens our understanding of the world but also propels us to imagine, to create, and innovate beyond conventional boundaries. Its capacity to connect, educate, and inspire is boundless, underpinning the very essence of progress. The challenges, or ‘disconnections’ of media convergence though, are what I also hope will be confronted with some vigour as well in this conference, because they are real, formidable, and just as impacting globally in the most pernicious dimensions. Whilst convergence has reshaped the way we access important information, it has also brought to light the fragility of truth in the digital age. In a time where information is abundant, the veracity of facts has become elusive, and truth has become its biggest casualty. While media convergence has expanded access to information, there are complexities and concerns related to intellectual property rights and copyright infringement as content is shared and repurposed across various platforms. Clear attribution and usage rights are not always guaranteed. Convergent media also often involve the collection and sharing of user data, raising concerns about privacy and data security.

But the real motherlode is the proliferation of the dark arts of misinformation and fake news. The blurring lines between traditional journalism, social media, and user-generated content have made it challenging, even impossible these days to discern credible sources from unreliable ones. It has created a profound erosion of trust in the media. Our recent national election campaigns stand tall as a case study. Many times an idiotic post on a random unverified Twitter account created sensational debates which morphs into headline news in the newspapers and soon enough there are pundits on television debating, and no one knows exactly how it began.  Misinformation spreads faster and wider than accurate information due to its sensational or emotionally charged nature. And this makes it difficult for credible sources to regain control of the narrative. And the race for clicks, views, and engagement has created an environment where sensationalism often takes precedence over accuracy. Too many News outlets are driven by the need to capture attention in an overcrowded digital space, often leading to the distortion of facts for the sake of generating headlines. In this race, truth is the casualty, overshadowed by the pursuit of virality.

The echo chambers created by personalized algorithms exacerbate the problem. People are often exposed to content that aligns only with their existing beliefs, reinforcing biases and limiting exposure to diverse perspectives. This also hinders constructive dialogue and critical thinking. And the results of this we see every day online – a growing global tribe of sophisticatedly ignorant digital nomads. 

Dark forces are taking control of the viral opportunities of convergence for nefarious purposes. Intentional misinformation and misrepresentation especially of history has become a legitimate weapon of choice in governance, business and even the arts. Trolling, hate, lies and bigotry are big business, powered by shady fifth columnists from everywhere and anywhere, protected by the anonymity of computer keyboards. And the personality cult of ‘influencers’ have spawned a cult of ‘followers’ who seem happy enough to outsource thinking to their digital devices. It is interesting to recognize that the great symbol of the power of media convergence today is the smartphone. These devices have seamlessly integrated various forms of media—text, images, videos, audio, and internet access—into a single device. And 40% of Africa’s urban elite, our best minds so to say, have one or more. It is the port of entry into their consciousness. And for the most part it is exclusively how they communicate, consume content, and access information, showcasing the profound transformation, impact…AND the clear and present danger that convergence represents to human civilization. All at once.

To counter these challenges, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. We must collectively prioritize media literacy and critical consumption of information. There has to be a way to hold social media platforms accountable without necessarily abridging the freedom of speech. Teaching our young people especially, how to discern reliable sources, fact-check claims, and think critically about the content they encounter is essential in the digital age. Additionally, I think the major media organizations in Nigeria must recommit to journalistic integrity, upholding the principles of accuracy, fairness, and transparency. As consumers of information, all of us must embrace our responsibility to seek out multiple perspectives and encourage debate and discourse. Maybe in doing these, we can counteract the echo chambers and contribute to a more informed and enlightened virtual space. Truth simply cannot be compromised for convenience. It is the foundation upon which a just and equitable world is built.

Technology must advance the cause of truth, not abridge it.

This is especially important because the world stands at the precipice of a technological revolution that is blurring the lines between the real and the digital, transforming the way we interact, learn, and create. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality are no longer distant dreams but imminent realities that will redefine how we live and how we work. As a progression of media convergence, artificial intelligence will become our compass, guiding us through an ocean of data. It will empower us to personalize content, delivering exactly what we need, when we need it. AI’s ability to analyze vast amounts of data will provide us unprecedented insights, revolutionizing content creation and distribution. And as AI understands our preferences, it will curate our news, entertainment, and information, enhancing our experiences in ways we could have never imagined. Virtual reality and augmented reality are our bridges between worlds, offering immersive experiences that transport us beyond the confines of our physical reality. 

With VR, we can step into historical events, explore far-off galaxies, or collaborate with colleagues around the world in virtual offices. AR overlays digital information onto our real world, enhancing everything from education to shopping. Imagine trying on clothes virtually or learning complex subjects through interactive holograms. The impact on how we live and work will be profound. Education will become personalized and globally accessible through AI-driven platforms, VR classrooms, and AR-enhanced textbooks. Healthcare professionals will utilize AR to visualize patient data during surgeries, while AI will aid in drug discovery and diagnostics. Manufacturing will see a revolution with AI-powered automation and virtual simulations improving product design and production processes. With these emerging technologies what is clear is that the world is transiting from an industrial economy driven by mechanical machines and human labour to algorithms, applications and artificial intelligence to create what will be an imagination economy. Everything is possible at the size, and depth of your imagination. Are we ready for the future?

To realize these promises fully, Nigeria must prioritize investments in digital infrastructure, expand internet access, and address affordability concerns. Our vast potential in this ever-evolving technology landscape confronts our diminishing economic fortunes with the receding revenue from oil. I believe with our vast consumer base, demand for digital content, innovative spirit, cultural diversity, and more, Nigeria can and should become a key player in the global digital landscape. The demand for digital content, entertainment, and communication services is high in Nigeria. With the right infrastructure, we can create new revenue streams in our economy.

Our diverse cultures and languages offer opportunities for localized content, apps, and services that offer solutions to local needs. Convergence will drive more economic empowerment and financial inclusion by providing access to information, education, and services to our underserved communities. Successful integration will inspire an even more dynamic digital economy. And in this economy, consumers are active participants, seeking out and consuming content that resonates with their interests and desires. Virtual and augmented reality technologies will further enhance these experiences, blurring the line between the real and the imagined. The new imagination economy will be about collaborations and cross-pollination of ideas and it will drive an even richer and more diverse innovation ecosystem. It also will demand vigilance and oversight. Governments, industries, and academia must come together to set standards, ensure inclusivity, ethics, and innovation. The future of media convergence is a landscape of infinite possibilities, and emerging immersive technologies will redefine not only how we consume media, but how we perceive reality itself.

Thank you.

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