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Sinon bonjour les gens, et les autres aussi, même ceux qui ne répondent jamais.

A few weeks/months ago one news item hit the world in the most unprecedented way. Netflix was then made available to every single country in the world (more or less) and from my screen I could see people reacting to what can be argued to be a glimpse into the future. A lot of questions were asked but since they were asked mainly on Twitter, I doubt anyone answered. Today then I took upon myself to explore in a very biased way, the Future of TV Shows in Cameroon (biased because just like other Cameroonians, I am the hardest critique of my country). My probe will be a two-parter, travelling through shows both on TV and on the Internet.

I wish I could promise to be thorough in my inquisition but realistically, I might have omitted some aspects or angles on the subject. Also, the ideas present in the post might be in no particular order or if you wish an order only known to me. If you think of something that I haven’t mentioned here, please let me know. The idea behind this post is to start a conversation that would hopefully lead to the people in position to do something to actually do something. I am but a cinephile with a keen eye to these subjects.

So, let’s start by exploring the future of TV shows on television.

The landscape as it is today is quite ridiculous. In ‘Cameroonian’ owned TV channel, one can find either South American soap operas that are acquired for a cheap price or Cameroonian TV shows (and TV movies) that seem to be made for a cheaper price than the purchase of Latin shows.

As I am writing this post, I have no knowledge of a TV show production company or studios working with local TV network. The few of those actually in possession of sizable production outlets are devoting them all towards news casting and talk shows (which makes me laugh a lot). As of now, no privately owned production studio house has spurted, even though the need for one is clearly palpable. In a similar vein, production companies seem to be closely attached to the networks they are working under/with. The line is blurred but it either a TV network creating a subsidiary for its TV shows, or a production company entering a partnership (getting absorbed really) with those networks. In both cases the result is the same, pretty shitty (read ‘Low production value’) TV shows populating the air.

Now I’m going to go into troubling waters here and ask: Are we so accustomed to mediocrity that we actually don’t see how shitty (pardon my language) those shows are? Because more and more of you (us) are exposed to the work of the Americans and the French and even the Nigerians and yet, we seem to be just fine with our homemade shows. Anyway.

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To the future then. To make it fair, I will try not to talk about my hopes for the future, rather I will extrapolate using the trends and realities that can be experienced from the country.

With Digital TV, eventually (and I expect it to take some time) more and more competition will emerge to fight for ratings with CRTV, Canal2, Equinox TV and STV. And one knows that the more competition exists, the more the providers of services have to up their games to keep their audience. Which will ultimately leads to better TV shows; but how do we get there you ask? Well thanks to formations in screenwriting and directing that are slowly imprinting themselves into the Cameroonian ground and to the increasing popularity of Cameroonian works in the international fair as much as to their directors. This somehow contribute to the national pride that is so lacking when it comes to Cameroonian TV, and could work to help some of our TV shows right to actually be acquired in international markets for diffusion (finger crossed).

However, as much as we can stretch our extrapolation to fit our needs, our vision for a brilliant future, we can only do so, I think it’s necessary to call back to it, based on the realities and trends of the moment. One reality is therefore destroying much of the hopes we have for this glowing picture. And it is simply that Cameroonian in the TV industry are terrifyingly cheap. There, I said it. But it’s not like you did not know, or suspect. As things are right now, content creator have to basically pay the networks to have 5 minutes of glory on those with the most ratings. Some will say this is what the system is in Cameroon, as strange and absurd as it is, we just have to go along with the ride and adapt to it. Maybe, but they get that money, money from advertising and yet are unable to produce a decent looking show (yes show, I’m not even limiting myself on series on this one).

We can speculate that the system (him again) is so that these networks do not get enough money to invest part of it in bettering the overall production value of their shows. But I would be entering the dark water of finances, cash flow and greed, and I didn’t bring my flashlight. Venturing into hopeful grounds, I will say that competition and rivalries between networks might be incentives enough for a new trend to emerge in which they (the channels) would be willing to spend a little bit (a lot actually) more in order to have slightly (or completely) advantage over the competition. Which brings me to my final point.

Let’s say a young entrepreneur with his/her crew of creative people come up with the concept for a TV show, write the screenplay for the pilot (first episode) and shoot that first episode. Let’s say they all do that with their own money. Let’s then say, like in the rest of the world that they try to sell their series to a TV channel, what are the chances that the show gets pick up for a full season even more so if the production value is through the roof? Let’s take for example the second season of “An African City”. That season is exclusively available on their website for the sum of $20 (more or less). I actually don’t know if they tried to sell it to a TV network first or not, but they must have thought they would be able to make more money by going a different route (I doubt it but time will tell). Again based on what I see today, this alternative is troublesome for the channels. First it would mean that they would have limited control over what would or would not be part of the show. Second, it does nothing to reduce the cost of simply producing a show on their own. Again this is pure speculation because I haven’t yet heard the story of any of this happening in the country but I figure it will happen soon enough.

And yes, I am totally conscious that Canal2 International is not FOX or ABC network with giant movie corporations behind them, so their budget is not quite the same but despite all the cheesiness, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria are still producing better shows than we are today. Now tell me, why would that be?

Like I said in the beginning, my goal here is to start a conversation and partake in it as long as I am useful. I am open to new information that could tilt the balance one way or another, even more so since I haven’t given any definitive answer to what the future of TV would look like. The second part of this dossier will be focusing on the speculative future of TV shows on the internet. Until then, I would not feel comfortable deciding which future is more likely to happen. The future of TV shows on television may look bleak for now but I do have hopes that along the way we will realize ourselves into the giant that we ought to be.

Kansas City Shuffle

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