“The popularity of BBNaija abroad is enough for it to be considered as Nigeria’s most effective public relations campaign. This is because, for the duration of the show, international viewers are drawn in by the drama, while receiving exposure to local cultural elements. From music to lifestyle and the intersections between pop culture and other sectors, everything is laid bare”
– Olusola Ogunnubi, PhD (theconversation.com)
By Tunji Adegbite and Pascal Okafor
In the Beginning
BBNaija is the Nigerian version of the reality TV series created by John de Mol Jr’s Endemol, a Dutch TV network. The Big Brother franchise named after George Orwell’s “Big Brother” was first broadcast in the Netherlands in 1999 with a record 4 million out of 15 million Dutch people watching the final episode on 30th December 1999. The production format was soon sold across different countries where it has been adapted to local cultural norms and production codes with varying degrees of success. However, the theme of the show still relates to the Orwellian influence of mass surveillance, and “Big Brother’s” absolute power.
In Africa, the franchise started with Big Brother Africa, based in South Africa with the participants coming from different African countries. Along the line, Big Brother spread slowly, across Africa, with Angola-Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, and more recently Cameroon having their respective Big Brother reality TV shows. Big Brother Nigeria started in 2006 and took a long break before rebranding itself as Big Brother Naija in 2017 and becoming a massive hit among television viewers in Nigeria and beyond.
Twice as Tall: How Big Brother Naija outcompeted Big Brother Africa
Big Brother Africa first premiered in 2003 and was a bit different from iterations of Big Brother around the world given that housemates in Big Brother Africa were invited from different African countries. Ideally, this setup made the show quite popular within and even outside the 14 participating countries. However, in the later years of the show, like the last season, it faced several challenges, such as a fire incident and lack of sponsorship, which ultimately led to its abandonment.
Big Brother Africa was the cradle of the reality TV show in the continent, such that when it took a hiatus in 2003, Big Brother Nigeria debuted in 2006 to fill the void. When Big Brother Africa resumed in 2007, Big Brother Nigeria took a walk. Big Brother Africa eventually got canceled for good in 2014. Although, in 2017, the franchise would return to the continent in the form of Big Brother Naija: See Gobe, laying the foundation for what, according to pan-African broadcasting company MultiChoice, would become the “most-watched reality TV show in Africa.”
What made Big Brother Naija bigger?
Big Brother Africa was the biblical John the Baptist for Big Brother Naija. Its past success was dependent on several factors that have become immense today: the audience population, internet, and people with access to satellite television. Big Brother Naija gained prominence based on the success of the previous Big Brother Africa, such that when it was reintroduced, the increased number of DSTv subscribers and social media access, there was already an awareness of what the show was about.
Increased Internet access and Multichoice subscribers
The total number of Nigerian DSTV subscribers at the time of the final Big Brother Africa show was just over 8 million subscribers. In contrast, upon the premiere of Big Brother Naija: See Gobe, the subscriber base had increased by 3.8 million to bring the number of potential viewers to 11.9 million. This was done due to efforts by MultiChoice (DSTV’s parent company), which provided a cheaper alternative via GoTV (with access to BBNaija channel), and several promotions and campaigns.
With the huge increase in Internet penetration and Satellite TV that can be accessed via smartphones, the reach of Big Brother Naija is beyond Nigeria. Viewers within and outside Nigeria watch the show via Satellite TV, and for people in countries where MultiChoice does not operate , they can watch via the online streaming platform, Showmax, MultiChoice’s response to Netflix’s rapidly growing market share in Africa.
Big Brother Africa debuted during the early days of Internet penetration (cybercafe period) in Nigeria, with a fewer number of subscribers. Big Brother Naija, on the other hand, returned to meet a welcoming population armed with the amplifying power of social media, as well as a 90% increase in the number of Nigerians with internet access since Big Brother Nigeria’s initial debut. The increase in the number of Nigerians with access to the internet is quite significant as Nigeria account for 30% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africans with internet access.
The timing of Big Brother Nigeria’s homecoming is quite auspicious as the number of Reality TV shows in the country has declined. Big Brother Africa had to compete for the viewing time of its largest audience (Nigeria) with Gulder Ultimate Search, Project Fame, Nigerian Idol, among other shows. Most of these shows were broadcast on Domestic TV stations. However, at the moment, in the absence of reality TV shows of similar standing, Big Brother Naija stands quite tall and is amplified by the strength of over 28 million active social media users, according to Statista.
BBA leaning on BBN
Big Brother Nigeria created a lot of innovations for the Big Brother brand. “BBN gave the franchise a blueprint on how to connect and appeal to Africans at large,” says Walt Banger who was one of the Directors of Big Brother Nigeria and the Voice of the reality show. “I know that the style of BBA borrowed a lot from BBN after we aired. Before then BBA was very similar to the European Big Brother” he further states.
The most significant innovation from Big Brother Nigeria were the weekly eviction parties which featured performances from Nigerian music stars. Prior to that, there were no eviction parties in Big Brother Africa.
Poor Country, Big Market
“…a large market of poor people doesn’t have money, but you know what they have in abundance? Time. If you want to make money making people richer – convert their time to money and take a cut” – Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (Co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave Inc).
Nigeria is seen as a large market due to its massive population. Additionally, the very large number of unemployed Nigerians is also a critical factor in the popularity of the show. The show’s target audience (18-45-year-olds) who are the majority of Nigeria’s labour force are mostly unemployed and underemployed. In 2006, during the early stages of Big Brother Africa and Big Brother Nigeria, the national unemployment rate was just above 5%. However, this number has more than doubled since then; upon the return of Big Brother Naija in 2017, the unemployment rate had skyrocketed to 14.5%, which led to an increase in the number of people who want to participate as well as those interested in the show. Today, unemployed and underemployed Nigerians are over 50% of the working population.
Unemployment and underemployment have driven much of Nigerian youths into improving their standard of living in any way they can, from those engaging in cybercrime to the legitimate entrepreneurs, in addition to the creatives and others who see Big Brother as a platform to stardom and a better standard of living.
Sociology of BBN’s fandom, media, and online communities
BBN brings out the best and worst in the housemates during the show and, surprisingly, it does the same to its ardent fans. For the fans, it is likely because winning the show is heavily dependent on the perception of a housemate in the eye of the public. It is common for fans to want to control the narrative of the housemate they support and fight off virtually anyone with a contrary view of their housemate or the fan of a rival housemate to ensure that they secure the required votes to keep their favorite in the show. Social media, especially Twitter has gone a long way to dictate who goes and who stays. In a mini-survey by Naspire, it was found that over 55.6% of fans have been insulted because they held differing viewpoints or supported rival BBNaija housemates.
Sometimes, this fanaticism becomes the identity of some of the fans, and they go the length in defending and promoting their favorites who sometimes become their idol even after exiting the house.
Interestingly, there is a market for social media influencers who promote or handle a housemate’s account during his or her time on the show to garner support from fans and members of the public. People find solace in creating mobs of like minds because of the comfort they get via social media.
A Social Experiment
BBN is a social experiment of sorts that exposes several things to an unbiased eye; it shows how people behave, think, and talk when they think no one is watching. While it provides some sort of escapism from the troubles facing Nigerians in their individual lives, conflict theory and bandwagon effect tend to be the most prevalent themes among other viewers.
Conflict theory was prevalent in the last season of Big Brother Naija, where most of the female voters tried to ensure that the winner was a woman because all past winners of the show up to that point had been men. This led to a fierce social media rivalry between the fanbases of two female housemates on the show, which continues till today.
The bandwagon effect, as well as the underdog effect, has also propelled winners and gained staunch supporters of the show, as people jump on the bandwagon that has been propagated by either influencers or other fans. For example, Michael Ejeba, more popularly known as Efe, who won Big Brother Naija Season 2, was deemed as a humble musician from a poor background. Given that many Nigerians are also relatively poor, they could relate to him. As the underdog, many people were quick to align themselves with him and his grass to grace story, and unsurprisingly he won.
The show is not primarily educational, and for this reason, it has been criticised by many Nigerians based on the notion that it promotes obscenities, sexual content, amongst other immoral behaviours on National television, while providing the participants with incentives such as cash and other prizes to be won during the course of the show in addition to the grand prizes awarded at the Season finale. During the show, housemates sometimes engage in tasks that could create social awareness on a lot of societal ills through their presentations, dramas, and other projects given to them to carry out. Many of the viewers then engage in stimulating conversations although rarely free from harsh words on social media based on these presentations.
The extent to which the show influences society to be better is questionable as it gives some “the end justifies the means” notion to the public. One way where this was obvious was where one of the participants popularly known as Tacha, was disqualified as a result of bad behaviour in the house. However, the whole point of the disqualification was watered down as she got several endorsements as well as cash rewards afterward.
BBN’s trickle-down economics
Concerning the economy, BBN has some sort of trickle-down effect on the economy. It has been a money-spinner since its second reiteration. It has led to an injection of billions of Naira into the economy from taxes and purchases made for the show.
Brand awareness for many of the promoters and sponsors has increased tremendously, which has translated to sales and an increase in revenue to some of these sponsors. Participants of the show, even those who do not end up among the top five housemates become celebrities overnight, leading to endorsements and job opportunities for them.
Viewers are not exempt from winning and receiving income, this season’s Big Brother Nigeria, promises over 30 viewers, a million naira each.
Return on Investment (ROI)
The massive success of BBN has turned it into a money-spinner such that everyone affiliated with it becomes a winner one way or the other. MultiChoice, investors, advertisers, and sponsors smile to the bank at the end of the show. MultiChoice gets revenue from an increased number of subscribers, sale of decoders while companies advertising get significant returns as a result of strategic advertisements during commercials and product placement integrated into the games, parties, tasks, and inhouse activities in the course of the show.
Promoters of the show have always had an increase in impressions because of the show’s reach. The charts below show how the promoters get their maximum impressions during the periods when they promote the show. For a country that accounts for 30% of sub-Saharan Africa’s internet active users, this is a savoring statistic for digital companies as brand visibility increases in addition to sign-ups. Understandably so, digital companies have been the major sponsors for the past 3 years.
eCommerce store, Payporte was the headline sponsor in 2017 and 2018, Bet9ja sponsored 2019 while Betway is the sponsor of the 2020 season. From the charts, these companies were most searched during the periods when Big Brother Nigeria was on the air.
Success after the BBN House
Housemates from previous seasons of Big Brother Naija have gone to make a name for themselves and their brand. This has contributed to the perception of the show as a platform for individual success. Mercy Eke, Tobi Bakre, and Bamike “BamBam” Olawunmi, just to mention a few, have found their way to the big screen. Efe’s musical career also took a turn for the better after winning the second season of Big Brother Naija. Even Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, the current host of the show, arguably one of Nigeria’s most popular fashion icons, and TV host, rose to fame after appearing in the first Big Brother Nigeria season.
This has led to massive support for the show from youths, especially those interested in joining the Entertainment industry and using Big Brother Naija as a platform to improve their standards of living, promote their artistry, make money via brand partnerships, or even launch their own company just like BBNaija: Pepper Dem runner-up Mike Edwards’s cigar business line got more popularity as a result of fans sharing information about him.
Threats & Criticisms
Despite being an avenue for discovering talents and crowning new celebrities, BBN has been subject to heavy doses of criticism from the onset. When it returned as Big Brother Naija: See Gobe, as the moniker implies, “Gobe” came as Nigerians displayed their displeasure when it was made known that the production of the show was done in South Africa. Professionals in filmmaking and Show business noted that the job could be handled in Nigeria. According to Guardian Arts, filmmaker, and president of the Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Mr. Ralph Nwadike said: “The shooting and broadcasting of the reality show from South Africa is a shame on all Nigerians and not just filmmakers alone.” There were cries to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, to investigate the issue.
Although the show rightly frowns at sexual harassment, evident with the disqualification of an ex-BBNaija housemate, Kemen, explicit scenes aired on the show have raised controversies as to whether the show is appropriate for National Television, to which MultiChoice responds that the show is rated 18+. They often advise the use of parental controls to limit viewership from young audiences. This has not stopped people from insisting the organizers promote immorality and pornography. Although the show provides a lot of entertainment to its viewers, some Nigerians are of the view that sexual interactions should be reduced to the barest minimum, to make the show fit for Nigeria’s conservative society.
For example, the perceived indecency from the show has not been well received by Nigeria’s conservative culture regarding sex. Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Professor Ishaq Akintola has called on the government to ban the show for promoting indecency.
Another aspect of the show that has been criticized is the patterns of voting. At times, the credibility of the Auditors that pool the votes cast has been questioned, especially when the fans’ favorite does not come out tops or is evicted. Most recently, viewers have expressed displeasure in a new form of voting that allows housemates’ votes to outweigh theirs. Additionally, there have been mixed thoughts on how a person’s DSTv subscription package determines the weight of their votes.
The reception of Big Brother Naija among Nigerians is quite high, although there are polarising opinions on the show. By strengthening social awareness campaigns, encouraging literacy by incorporating tasks that involve more intellect, while educating the viewing public, it could converge the dissenting views, leading to broader participation as well as a reorientation of youths. The onus lies on the show to do so, as other reality TV shows, like Gulder Ultimate Search, have long bowed out of the stage.
Sectors like the entertainment industry have a wide pool of talents to pick from as the show gives them undeterred access to observing the behaviours, strengths, and weaknesses of the housemates, while other firms could latch on to the trendsetters and strike partnership deals with them.
Different activities take place in the BBNaija house, such as drama, music, art, sports activities, to mention a few. Brands and other organizations can assess housemates’ skills in these different activities and determine whether a housemate would be a fit for them. Housemates’ display of skills can go a long way in helping them establish themselves. Mike Edwards, for example, was an international athlete who was unable to compete for Nigeria in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. His name and skill would have gone into oblivion had he not been a participant of the show.
The government also benefits from the success of the show as it increases the taxable income of the participants and businesses affiliated with the show. The government could bring policies closer to the grassroots by engaging some of the ex-participants of the show who would likely get the attention of the young population.
BBN as big brother to Nigeria’s Music Industry
According to research by Olusola Ogunnubi & Akinlolu Akinola (of University of Johannesburg & Obafemi Awolowo University respectively), the show promotes Nigeria’s culture, and ultimately the foreign policy goal of fostering the goodwill of people in Africa and beyond. The popularity of BBNaija abroad is enough for it to be considered one of Nigeria’s most effective public relations campaign. This is because, for the duration of the show, international viewers are drawn in by the drama, while receiving exposure to local cultural elements. From music to lifestyle and the intersections between pop culture and other sectors, everything is laid bare.
Nigeria’s Music Industry is a major beneficiary of BBN’s policy of playing only Nigerian music during the show’s tasks and events since its inception in 2006. Entertainment mogul, Obi Asika in an interview with Pulse magazine, “I think Big Brother Nigeria produced that seminal moment for Nigerian urban culture, for Nigerian youth culture,” says Obi Asika, then CEO of Storm 360, who was the producer of the groundbreaking reality show. “There was an attitude all over Africa that Nigerians were threatening, people were afraid of us. These are the kids with the most swag, the most attitude, the most personality, they’ve got hot music, hot fashion, and hot personalities but it was not known” recalls Obi Asika about Nigeria’s image problem. “We knew that our content had value, our music, our legacy, our culture but nobody had given ordinary Nigerians this level of window to the world. One of the biggest things that happened was that it provided a window into the hearts and minds of our people and Africa fell in love with us and long may it continue” Obi Asika explains.
Studies show that BBNaija is a soft power resource. When effectively deployed, it can be a useful tool in projecting Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives by attracting Africans, even in the diaspora. The show also confers respect on Nigeria via the subconscious association of the ‘Big Brother’ with Nigeria, there is a subtle affirmation of Nigeria’s ‘big brother’ honorific status in the hearts of viewers across the continent. The show also represents another avenue to counter negative stereotypes about Nigeria. It is a useful re-imaging tool for the country.
Furthermore, the country records gains from the popularity of the show’s former housemates who become influential celebrities with fans and supporters from all various parts of the continent. If ever Nigeria needs celebrity diplomacy, BBNaija has a pool of candidates.
BBNaija and the Nigerian creative industry in general offer a platform for Nigeria to retell its story to Africa and the world. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s policymakers are yet to see the limitless potential of Nigeria’s entertainment sector for the country’s global image. When this happens, and the show gets deliberate State support, there will be no ending to the benefits of such a marriage.
What does the future hold?
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced the future faster than imagined, and it was interesting to see how Big Brother Naija handled it by making the auditions for this year’s BBNaija online, as opposed to the traditionally overcrowded physical applications. Virtual houseguests, virtual live evictions, and a new streaming platform were made available for this season.
One thing is certain, the show keeps getting bigger with each season, the audience keeps growing, and the brand keeps growing. Even the prize money has grown from N25 million in 2017 to N85 million in 2020. The success of the show and its reach guarantees there would be no lack of promoters in the near future. We are curious to see how BBNaija evolves overtime. Perhaps the show would recall previous winners to the house for voters to decide who would emerge the ultimate housemate? Who knows?