Rising television figure Sadeeq Abdulai Abu, Head of OWN Productions and Executive Producer at Viasat 1, talks to enewsgh.com‘s GAMELI HAMELO, on content direction and settling into the green and white family.
In an exclusive let-in, he explains the reasons some key decisions the station took on some of it’s flagship shows, as well as on programming and what it is that wins it for the MTG-owned company.
Full transcript below.
You’ve been with Viasat 1 for a year and some few months. How has the experience been like?
Well, it’s been great. It’s been an insightful period. Earlier I was telling you about how the Viasat experience has enhanced my experience about broadcasting and the media overall. Viasat belongs to a solid global group called MTG (Modern Times Group) so that alone gives you access to wealth of knowledge that you possibly wouldn’t have gotten.
And also because it is a global company there is the need for you to have a global perspective to everything even though you are trying to think local. That explains some of the things that we’ve being been able to do within the past a year and a half. Overall, it’s been a positive experience.
Last year, you won 10 plus awards, would you say it tells the story of how successful Viasat was last year?
The fact that we were the TV station that won the most awards during the year tells you that the year has been very good for us. So in terms of content production and all of our main programming.
We really did work hard the whole team; I like to mention the team. I thrive a lot with the team; certainly you can’t credit one person even though I’m the lead.
You can’t credit just myself it’s the whole team we really did work hard We put our all in it, we spent sleepless night thinking, brainstorming and finding ways to stay above and the managers, our bosses pushed us to the wall because we are playing in the global space, there is the need for you to maintain that standard as much as possible and here.
Obviously when we took to that standard it helps to stand out and I’m sure it’s one of the things.
Last year you decided to re brand ‘The One show’. What influenced it?
Well there was the need for us to re-position ‘The One Show’. There is a whole programming strategy behind it, the fact that our afternoon belt is more dedicated to women. If you watch Viasat from say about 2 to 6pm block you would find a lot of content that seeks to target women and indirectly targets family as well. When we realized that ‘The One Show’ sits on that belt and was attracting a lot of females we thought that lets fine tune ‘The One Show’ to actually make it a show for them and the family. And so that actually explains why we had to re brand the show from a purely entirely entertainment show.
You’d realize that before Anita came on the show took on an entertainment image also because of the two hosts, PY has an entertainment image, and Joselyn has an entertainment image so there was the tendency for us to direct the show in spaces that we were comfortable with and everything which also helps to garner some audience.
You start thinking what would make this show a compelling one to make women sit, enjoy, watch and be entertained or give them something to think about.
What would actually serve as rallying point for women to pursue a lot of courses that really impacts on society so that explains what we had to do with; ‘The One Show’, the fact that we had to re brand it and drop a bit of the entertainment image, of course there is a bit of entertainment if you look at our Thursday episode but you would realize it’s taken a bit of a more social impactful show than it used to be.
Any specific reason why you made Anita Erskine the new host, when you could have maintained Joselyn and let PY go?
If you want to rebrand, sometimes, just sometimes, the best decision would be to be able to refresh the whole thing, some up with a refreshingly different approach.
And so for us, we saw in Anita Erskine, the person that we thought could carry the show on her shoulder because of where she’s grown to and how she’s evolved over the years as a presenter, as a mother and as a wife. All this put together and also the because she is a creative head as well, and also because she’s produced the show before and understands TV content will be able to project and present the show to the public the way we deem best.
We kept track of who she was becoming. Anita is becoming an influential woman, Anita is a role model to many people, we are not saying Joselyn isn’t a role model as well but Anita is the person that a lot of younger girls looked up to and lot of older women would love to listen to as well.
We wanted that approach because; here we were trying to create a show that the younger ladies will aspire to and the older women would want to sit and watch so that’s one of the things we thought about, we wanted to create a professionally different outlook even though we had plans to engage Joselyn and PY on a different project as well.
Do you think that Anita has made any impact on the show so far?
Yes she has. We’ve kept track of a number of people that will call or stop Anita in traffic and say, ‘listen, you are doing a fantastic job’, like I said ‘The One Show ‘has taken more of a socially impactful image and that explains why a lot of these people will try to come to her with societal problems and get her to try to use the show to solve it.
If the industry analysis and the feedback we get via our social media pages and even on the street is anything to go by, we will say Anita has really done well. I know in the first few months, it was quite slow because people were used to a particular concept, and here we were, there was a sharp change after just a season, it wasn’t just like a slow change so everybody was like, we are not used to this but with time when they got used to it, they bought into the idea, everybody was watching it.
The success of it and the responses she gets compelled her to create the website, anitaspeaks.com where off the show she is able to engage this people as much as possible.
Do you think the criticism of the reality show ‘Ten-To-Be’, which aired on Viasat for being badly produced was justified?
Yes and no. One of the key factors everyone needs to remember is that ‘Ten-To-Be’ was actually not a Viasat production. It is what you would call AIP (Independent programme ) that was brought in by someone to air on Viasat.
I understand the frustrations because people know Viasat for a certain quality, people know Viasat for a certain standard so obviously when a certain show comes and it doesn’t meet the standard there is a dis connect between what we’ve been able to achieve the years and this one.
I think that for ‘Ten-To-Be’ one of the key factors was that even though it was an independent not produce by Viasat 1 but aired on Viasat , one of the key things that people couldn’t grasp was the fact that it was an entirely different concept, it was new to a lot of people and the society was not used to such reality shows . Already there was some dis connect with the audience. The issue was because it didn’t fit the Viasat standard.
If the producers of the reality show decide to work on a second season, would Viasat be involved in the production?
It depends. Viasat is one organization that tends to plan way ahead and I can tell you for a fact that it’s not part of our plans for the year and its not something that we want to associate… off my head I can you exactly what our year output looks like in terms of production and some of the programmmes that we will be bringing on. Say they want to come back again and Viasat decides to take it for some reason, obviously we are going to make sure that the production tighter and relatable to our audience than it was before.
Do you take keen interests in productions that are independent before they are aired on Viasat 1? Or you let the producers do their thing and then you provide the platform. How does it work?
We do. It’s our channel so we need to ensure that whatever comes up on the channel is very solid that’s how come within Viasat, there is a solid process to getting some of these shows on air.
Some of the process due to complains and feedback has been tightened more to ensure that the shows we bring on air meets the standard and quality Viasat desires.
Unlike some TV stations where they charge you money to put shows on, for Viasat the content is very important for us , because when you charge someone the money and the content is not good, it will not help you to achieve the overall programming objectives of the channel.
You will still need a solid and compelling content as much as possible. Compelling is the key word for us here. Previous OWN productions wasn’t involved, it was more of a programming issue even though OWN productions is part of programming, I’m now more than ever, I’ve been involved in that process where I take a look at these shows as well and advice before it goes to programming.
Has there ever been the pressure to take off a show because viewers complained about it? Say Afia Schwarzenegger, for example, there has been the talk of it having no direction and being of no benefit content wise?
Obviously one of the first pressure will come from the audience. Some shows have been taken off air because of that. Some, you can’t speak about it because it’s more if a reputation issue.
When you speak about it and its running on another channel, it’s like you are looking down on the shows. One of the key things you need to look at is your audience ratings, when you take a show and you put it in a particular slot, every month we measure the shows so if let’s say for our 8pm belt across from Monday to Friday, you are looking to hit 30% and you realize that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you are closer to it but on Thursday , it dropping you need to investigate and find out what is causing the trouble.
It could be that there are other stronger TV shows on other channels that are affecting that and so when you realize that you try to find out. Possibly it could be that the show is good but comparatively it’s not as stronger as the shows running on other channels so you may have to shift it to a particular slot for it to grow and bring in a show that will help achieve your objective.
There was a show for instance, a sports lifestyle show that was brought in and after two or three episodes we had to take the show off because the quality wasn’t matching.
You know how sometimes people bring in shows , you watch the first three episodes its been well done , you like the show, you like the direction of it , and then by the fourth episode the quality starts dropping ; sound is poor, lightening is poor, vulgar words and everything. And Viasat here, there is a team that watches every show before it goes on air and so they are able to advice. It is all part of the programming which is headed by the programs manager.
They are able to advice and we take an action on it. For shows like Afia Schwarzenegger, , I see where the problem is , there problem is that in media , there is something we call positioning.
It explains the direction you want to go and the audience you want to target as a media organization, over the years, Viasat’s position which is appeal to middle, up class, we have some shows that appeal to a certain target audience so after a while when we started picking these local productions, there seem to be a bit of disconnect, ‘oh we knew you for this but all of a sudden you are trying to have these content’, not because the show is entirely bad but one of the key things channels take consideration of is the ratings so if Afia Schwarzenegger, for instance by virtue of it being on air is delivering the ratings for you, what reason again would you have to take it off?
If it’s delivering the ratings, it means people are watching and if advertisers want to be on it, it means it’s profitable commercially for the channel, so why would you want to take it off? For every show, you would have a few voices here and there voicing out their concerns about the show and everything but before you go ahead to take off the show, you need to ask yourself a number of questions. And so when it meets your objectives, definitely you would want to leave it on.
Let’s talk about the Jigwe Awards; were you surprised by the reactions of Nana Aba Anamoah and George Quaye? Were you expecting something of that sort?
No. We actually anticipated it. We knew that some wouldn’t understand what we intended to do. It was a novelty idea so we knew that some of them would not really get it and so they will go into these overdrives, some of them will get it later but some of them got that they guys are just trying to have fun.
You realize in the Nana Aba episode, one of the presenters said ‘of maybe they were trying to have fun, maybe they are just creating some fun or something ‘, means she actually got it. And I tell people, these things that we put in Jigwe awards, these came out of banters that we have with the executives and staff from these same channels. Aboagye (George Quaye ), for instanc , we get into these GhOne-Viasat 1 banters a lot but it’s all for fun , it’s all jokes.
At the TV awards for instance, when we won the awards, there was that ‘we be bigger channel’… I don’t know if I have that congratulatory awards I sent them when they ( GhOneTV ) won an award , ‘next year’, we will beat them to it. Its healthy banters that we have and it helps to enhance the whole competition in the industry.
I think she didn’t take her time to understand it but she is entitled to her own opinion about it and she went into the overdrive. If you realize our comeback was super, our comeback was ‘oh you are calling us kontomire , we no bore;, we took it up and said we have a kontomire studio , kontomire production , we had hashtags and all of those things just for her to understand that we ‘ no bore’ , we are trying to create fun. At a point when we realized some of the people were beginning to personalize it, we dropped some of the categories
Some of the personalities didn’t like that we did the LAFA of the Year, Jessica ( Opare Sarforo )was part of the LAFA of the Year but she came . She was nominated for Jigwe smile of the Year as well and she took it up.
She has fun with it, she was excited. And so for us at Viasat 1, it’s more or less something like the Razzies, the reference point is the Razzies; we are just trying to have fun. We were just trying to create exciting TV moments which we are known for.
Every year for Viasat 1 , apart from all the things we’ve being able to do , create some exciting moments , we try to end the year on a bang , we try to create exciting moments for people , things they can remember , things that can enhance top of the mind of the shows that we produce and that’s what we sought to do with the Jigwe Awards. Some of them didn’t understand, some of them got it , some of them got angry but we made them understand chale , this one ibi play so we dey play .
Would it be this year?
Yes, it’s coming back stronger this year. We are hoping to scale it up a bit to make it an event on its own powered by OWN Productions. One of the things I sought to do was that…I knew the role events play in building brands and also enhance top of the mind in the market and also to achieve profitability and so one of the things we (OWN Productions) did was to be able to create events that is powered by the OWN productions just so people can have strong top of mind of the OWN Productions and the targets can see the influence and the impacts of the OWN production enough to spend their money on.
For ‘Boys Boys ‘ , we created the ‘ Man of The Year’ , next year ,it’s going to come out as a big event but this year in January , we are going to make an announcement on who our ‘ Man of the Year ‘ is for 2014 is.
What we are trying to say is that ‘Boys Boys ‘as a TV show has become that influential and impactful to the point that we can do a research and name who our man and who our emerging man of the year is, also, because of the positioning of the show as a male skewed show, ‘The One Show ‘also has things it’s going to do.
There is the One Show style affair , earlier on I was explaining how we wanted to rate ‘ The One show ‘ as the show for the women and directed at family, there is the One Show style powered by The One Show and there is the Jigwe Awards. And there is the power walk, powered by the morning show. We did the first one last year which was fantastic. We are trying to consider a quarterly affair of the power walk. The Jigwe Awards will come towards the end of the year.
What happened to the reality show, ‘Born Starz’?
Born Starz was rested. Like I told you, for Viasat , we like to plan ahead so when you do a plan there are various reasons why we would want to bring back ‘ The One show’, ‘The Morning show’ , ‘Boys Boys’ , we would want to commission it and everything and sometimes even it’s a matter of cost so when we’re given our money for OWN Productions, we then sit down to say within this budget effectively we can achieve A, B,C,D so sometimes you try to drop some shows because whatever is left from whatever you are spending on the other shows may not be able to help you achieve exactly what you want to achieve for ‘Born Starz’ or other shows so then you just rest it a bit until when you are able to raise the necessary funding .
Case in point in 2015 , we decided that we are going to … the morning show was more or less like a seasonal show , which is consistent with the Viasat programming mentality and we decided to make it a yearly show like , all year round show.
That requires some level of investment as well. And if you want to be able to do it very well like we did it last year which earned us the awards, you needed to put in some investments.
When the budget is given to you , the departments sits down and says hey our flagship show is the morning show , lets enhance it , ‘Boys Boys ‘ is our male targeted show , lets enhance it , ‘ One Show’ , we may rebrand at the end of the year lets invest some of the money into creating a new set for the show. We would want another female for the show so let’s do ‘Take It to the Streets’ for Instance so … ‘Take It to the streets‘, was created out of the money that was left from the other shows.
And ‘Born Starz’, for you to produce it the way it’s supposed to be, it’s expensive so when you say this money won’t allow me to do it so maybe I will invest the money into something else , it comes to something like that so that explains why we didn’t come back with ‘Born Starz’. This year ‘Born Starz ‘is not coming back I can’t say for 2016, it’s possible maybe 106 we may have a bigger budget to be able to pursue it.
Why doesn’t Viasat show movies from other African countries other than Ghana and Nigeria during the African movie slot?
That’s something we are looking into , having other… and the end of last quarter , myself and the programming team and the head of the programming team which is the programmes manager , have been involved in trying to find movies from other African countries that we think are compelling enough and Ghanaians can relate to.
For every media channel, everybody is trying to put the shows/content that people can relate to and which will attract the biggest audience. As it stands now, Nigerian and Ghanaians movies still get more viewership unless someone can prove me wrong on that. That will be more experimental, let’s try those other movies and see but really taking a gamble, it takes bold TV executives to say , we going to show less of the Ghanaian and Nigerian movies which the public likes if our ratings is anything to go by. It’s one of the things that we are looking into.
What should viewers look forward to on Viasat 1 this year?
It’s an exciting line up that’s coming up. Jim Ike’s reality show is coming on Viasat 1 in January, there’s Diva Delicious, which is a fashion biased show. There is a new telenovela ‘Aurora ‘, a solid production which we know is going to take the market by storm. Of course our OWN productions, stronger episodes of ‘This Morning’, coming up , One Show ‘ , sis going to come back stronger as ever , ‘ Boys Boys’ we coming all guns blazing as well , the news , we ‘ve started making some changes and there are other exciting productions coming up on the channels , already some of them are running . And some of them are undergoing changes to ensure that they deliver the value that we require them of.
OWN productions. When are they coming back?
The One Show is coming back in April, Boys Boys , the new season premieres on March 6 , we are starting productions end of January . There are two seasons that we run; the other will come in September to December. The One Show will run from April to August. The morning show, if we start from January 19, will run all year to the end of the year. We always try to be as innovative as possible. The key word is compelling; if it’s not compelling enough it’s not good to go.
As the production head, how well do you think you’ve done over the period?
For me, my rewards and achievements are some of the things that we were able to do last year as the production head. I think I’m about the first production head that’s been able to deliver the number of awards Viasat got last year because in my first year for instance, under about four months, I won an award at the RTPs (Radio and Television Awards) with the morning show , the best TV morning show , Patrice (Amegashie) also won an award. And the second year, we won all these awards and everything so that actually explains how my year has been.
The ratings for the shows also went up. I successfully led the efforts to rebrand ‘The One Show’ and got the ratings up and then everybody is talking about how nice the show has become. I successfully led the Morning Show to run all year around and also win the Best television Morning show at the television awards and also at the RTP. ‘Boys Boys ‘won two awards, Kojo ( Frempong ) won an award , Bobie (Osei ) also won an award as well.
That tells you the level of work that I put in within the year together with my team to ensure we increase the ratings and win the awards. And also create all those novelty ideas, this things are what I call legacies, for me like I was telling you… it’s not… Some people will move will be moved by money but for me it’s more about reputation.
What did you do when you spent your last year at Viasat 1? I want to be able to boldly point out and say listen during my one year at Viasat I was able to win 17 awards, during my year year at Viasat 1, we created the Jigwe Awards, we created the X’mas story, we created the ‘Man of The Year, we created ‘The One Show lifestyle fair ‘, which are all legacies that will go and help the channel achieve profitability.
We increase the ratings; there wasn’t one single show that couldn’t archive its ratings objectives. ‘Boys Boys ‘went up higher, Boys Boys even got nominated in the CIMG awards for the first time , that was the first time that a Viasat production got nominated in the CIMG Awards .
That tells you the level of work that myself and the production team in ensuring that each show came out so well, because obviously if it didn’t come out so well we wouldn’t have gotten all the awards that we got from the awards ceremonies.
How long do you plan on staying on as production head?
It depends, for me I’m moved by the challenges. It’s possible that maybe next year I may want to jump ship because an idea has moved me and I want to go. For me, coming to Viasat was a challenge of what I was going to do with it, how I will be able to enhance whatever the channel has achieved over the years and I came in.
And within the one year, did I do it or not? I think I did so if early next year for instance I’m moved by a particular idea, I may possibly move to it.
It depends, for me, I’m still committed to the Viasat plan for the year end to help deliver all these great things and continue with what we started last year but if for instance by first quarter, there’s something that moves me for me to jump ship and solidly go and do it, I will go and do it because like I said it’s also my reputation and legacies. I did 30 Minutes and fashiongh and moved to Viasat 1 so if there is the need for me to go into entrepreneurship to bring some of the ideas I have on mind to life, why not? I may consider that as well.
For me, I think that this year will be a very competitive year for a lot of the media organizations, we are up for it. We so forward to it, we are ready and willing to be as competitive and profitable as much as possible for the channel.
That’s one of the things that we are looking forward to and I think for me, aside from running this people should look out for myself and a few people who are getting into the online space as well. There are things that we are planning on the side which we are going to launch soon. I expect what I have achieved with Viasat with the other project as well. I’m looking forward to how the year will end for me.