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The greatest challenge I overcame to set up NN24 television – Tony Dara

What inspired the concept of NN24? When I first thought of having a TV company about six and half years ago, I had thought of…

What inspired the concept of NN24?

When I first thought of having a TV company about six and half years ago, I had thought of a general entertainment channel where you have a more logical order of programming, from news to entertainment, for young people, young adults and adults and matured audience. But planning through that, thinking about the concept, the content, the delivery, the systems, was all in the works until in 2005 following some events that surrounded Nigeria about news and how to find news and so on and so forth, I said to myself, what if I have a news channel instead. My very good friend, Neil Dormand, who was my consultant, I called him up and said, I’m thinking of having a news channel instead. He said, yeah, yeah, you can do it. You know, it’s a lot easier in the sense that you have a straight forward programming which is news bulletin with people to source the material and news for you and you can talk about the other content. And I said I like the idea, let’s work on it.

You mentioned events surrounding Nigeria, what specifically were you referring to?

I don’t want to be specific now because a lot of the issues have been resolved and have passed by. But essentially, our governors were arrested in London about that time, plane crash in Nigeria and the fact that being in Britain, you realise you want to be aware of this things but there wasn’t anywhere for you to get the news and details of what was going on, it’s not on any internet site and not on any channel and you felt a sense of bewilderment not knowing what was going on with your people. Essentially, that was what it was. And I thought there was a need for something like this and for me, having worked in TV stations in London, in the news area, I realise that if I am a part of making this happen, I can make it happen elsewhere; in Nigeria, in Africa, or even in London, on behalf of Africans. That’s why I got that impetus. But beyond that, following those events, there was an editorial by the then BBC correspondent resident in Lagos, who said that Nigeria was a place where news was hard to find, you know, the truth was hard to find. And she said, if you took a closer look at the country and you want to describe an eventful day in the lives of Nigerians, because of the diversity and multiplicity and shades of opinions, it would take more than 24 hours to say all the stories and to me that was the opportunity.

So what was the greatest challenge you had to overcome to establish the channel?

Well, convincing people that it was true we could do it. Because even as of today, we have received over three thousand SMS and emails and there’s this natural disbelief that this is not a Nigerian channel because of the quality of the pictures and audio and an ever maturing and growing content. And people keep saying, is this Nigeria? Really from Nigeria? It was the same thing I encountered with people when I said this is my idea and this is how I want to do it, they say, Oh my goodness, you know, first of all, you must be crazy to even think of doing it. But beyond that, I don’t think we want to know the truth because it takes people with bigger heads and shinier skins to do this and you have a small head and a dark skin, I don’t think you can do this. So it was a big challenge for people to believe that this was possible. But I think I tried in persuading people to listen to me. I remember meeting Mrs. Elizabeth Ebi, the MD and Chief Executive of Future View Financial Service and she said, Mr. Dara, I’m going to give you five minutes and from five minutes it was 20-25 minutes because she saw that I was convinced about this and she saw the passion because I could express the genuineness on the one hand and secondly, because I could express the fact that I could do it.

Apparently, you went through a lot to raise finances for this project. How did you eventually succeed in doing that?

Well, it was very difficult because of the cost. But beyond that, cost aside, I had leverage of my own network, I had friends in the industry so I enjoyed discounts on equipments, discount on training, discount on so many other things and most of the people who came to help me are people I know. They had trust in me, they had worked with me, they had belief in me. So I enjoyed the benefit of; the cost of camera was 10 dollars, I could get it for two and a half and I did get them for a good measure of cost and it brought down the cost a lot. And those who invested did so at low risk parameters.

But what makes you think you can actually recoup your investment?

Well, from the business model…I wouldn’t want to say much about the business model because that is my intellectual property, but I have taken time to test it and I have also taken time to speak with business experts who have seen wisdom in what I have done and have tested it. I will let you into it a bit which is at the level that we have looked into income and expenditure at the meniscus level, you know, very low income but in large volumes. I had a discussion with somebody about newspapers. If you had a distribution of about one million and you are making ten naira that means in a day, you make 10 million, in a month you make 300 million and in 12 months it’s 3.6 billion. But if you look at the profit margin, you make a profit of just 10 naira which is not much but because of the volume of what you have, it adds up. And I believe that breaking even will be quite easy otherwise I won’t be having this conversation with you.

So how soon do you think you will break even?

I’m looking at a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 18 months.

Can you tell us how difficult it is keeping the channel running with regular power outages and other factors that are typically Nigerian?

Well, we have tried our best to mitigate, we have a power plant, literarily in our office in Lagos because we have UPS, batteries, generator sets, we have diesel and we have the public power supply which supplements what we have.

Obviously, that makes the cost of running the channel higher.

Yeah, it is, it makes the cost quite high. I get scared when the financial manager comes to see me and say, hey, this is the running cost and I say, Oh, my goodness! What can we do? But that is the bane of doing business in this country but then we try to keep our cost down whenever there is public power supply, which is nearly 75 percent cheaper than running on alternative sources. We have an automatic system that switches back and forth and with all that we manage to achieve a 75 percent reduction in the cost of running the channel.

Now, in view of all these challenges, why did you still choose to situate this channel in Nigeria? You could have done it London, couldn’t you?

I could have done it in London but my consultant insisted it has to catch on where the target demographics are. We could have done this in London, we could have done it in South Africa, we could have done this anywhere but obviously, being Nigerian, I had the first opportunity of doing it here. Even though I started the company in London, obviously, that was suspended to do this here. But having said so, there are plans to make the company more resilient by getting support from abroad to make sure the enterprise is as resilient as it should be. But what we have managed to achieve, whether we like it or not is to show that young people can aspire to do great things in this country. I hope this serves as an example to young people, that I mustn’t come from an XYZ background before I can do this. Anybody can do this.

Now, when you started, your father came on air and was so overcome with joy he burst into tears. How did that make you feel?

Well, I was pleased for him because within me I said I turned out right because I have my own ups and downs in life and at some point he must have said to himself, what did I do that my son is this way, and he cast his mind back to my younger days, how life was with me then and how I managed to transform myself.

About your affiliations with CNN and Reuters, what is the nature of these affiliations?

The nature is, where we can’t go and they’ve been there, we take from them and where they can’t go and we’ve been there, they take from us. You can’t be everywhere. So they take from us, we take from them. We are trying to do the same with an Asian network in India; we are trying to do the same with a German network.

Is that why you tend to repeat programmes a lot, because of the shortage of content?

There is a serious shortage because what we aim to do is have a 100 percent control, editorially, of all contents. We don’t want to have a situation where at the end of any programme we will issue a disclaimer saying the views expressed on that programme are not necessarily NN24’s. Developing content is tricky. When you have independent content developers on your channel, you run the risk of not being able to control what they say on your channel. We don’t have any parochial interest in what people should say or what they shouldn’t say but we want people to be bound by the rules and ethics of the profession.

The broadcast media market in Nigeria is intimidating; several broadcast organizations are not paying workers salary. How do you propose to escape this fate?

It all depends on my commitment. First of all, who gets paid first; is it the owner of the business or the operators of the business because if you don’t pay those who work for you, no work gets done. I see my staff coming in all priority as number one.

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