Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 MTV AFRICA MUSIC AWARDS: Award show television in Africa finally embraces cellphones, selfies, and social media insanity.

Marlon Wayans, the American comedian and host of the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards broadcast live on Saturday night on MTV Base (DStv 322) wasn't kidding when - drifting on his back, over a sea of arms above the standing crowd - he shouted: "I want a selfie! I want a selfie!"

The pan-African music awards show, revived by Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Arica) after an absence of three years and broadcast across the African continent on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform, on Saturday night offered a tantalising glimpse of the rapidly changing way that live awards shows are adapting to African consumers who all have cellphones.

Where the producers of live award shows in, and made for Africa, shunned cellphones and the in-show use of it as a nuisance, distracting from the actual production, live TV presentations like the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards are now actively embracing the rapidly pervasive technology and connectivity in consumers' and TV viewers' hands.

Before the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards the organisers ominously asked/announced: "Does anyone here have a cellphone? ..."

The audience and crowd, TV critics, journalists and other press converging at Durban's International Convention Centre half-expected the question to be followed by the usual "please turn your cellphone off. Don't put it on silent but please turn it off since it's interfering with the show, which will be a live show".

Instead of an admonishment and a warning, the audience was encouraged to not only keep their cellphones on - but to use them.

They laughed and cheered - an indication of the funny unexpected, and opposite directive that they were expecting to hear.

It marks a massive departure for shows of this nature in Africa and South Africa, as awards shows on television - so called "appointment television" which are watched live - are proliferating across the continent.

Producers, TV executives and platforms as well as channel operators and distributors no longer just want African viewers to merely tune in - they want the viewing figures yes, but also the resulting, parallel buzz generated from social media.

Welcome to television that's also trending.

Formerly at wit's end with recalcitrant studio audiences who didn't switch their cellphones off, producers of shows - especially big awards shows - have not just adopted an attitude of "if you can't fight them, join them", but are now pro-actively courting crowds and audience members with special hashtags and sticky ongoing social engagement integration during shows.

Two weeks after host Nico Panagio at the live Survivor South Africa: Champions finale on M-Net asked viewers to send questions on Twitter, Facebook and WeChat which he got contestants to answer during the live show, Marlon Wayans actively egged on both viewers at home and the in-crowd at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards to hashtag the show on Twitter and to send him questions.

It marks a dramatic and ongoing shift for big budget tentpole television in South Africa and Africa as TV channels and producers realise the power, and try to come to grips with, the real-time second screen experience where TV viewers and fans are engaging with each other while they're watching and experiencing a made-for-TV event.

Because this type of programming is television which compels viewers to watch it live or miss out on the news and buzz-making moments, social media integration has now become a massive element of the measure of the overall success of award shows.

Alex Okosi, the senior vice president and managing director of VIMN Africa, actively courted the press and viewers to use social media for the 2014 MAMA's.

"It bring an amazing shift to the offering, says Tim Horwood, the creative director for VIMN Africa and channel director of MTV Base.

"It enables us to engage with our audience on multiple platforms. We've got quite a big digital, social media element to the show. Because we are live, we can engage the continent simultaneously and that is what the MTV Africa Music Awards is about - it's about bringing Africa together for once celebration," says Tim Horwood.