By Ibrahima Dione
Banking on the success of these homegrown series, production companies are working hard to constantly chorn out new soap operas to an insatiable public.
In less than a decade, television production in Senegal has transformed itself into a really viable industry.
“Un Café Avec…”, “Mbettel”, “Wiri-Wiri” or “Idoles”, are some among the long line of soaps that have won over many viewers and internet users keen to savor stories with twists and turns and a sting in the tail.
“We have produced a lot of series including “Pod et Marichou”, which is currently the most watched series in Senegal. We also put out on the market “Nafi”, “Adja”, “Maitresse d’un Homme Marie” et “Golden”. We also realized commercial series, such as “Le Reve d’Akys” and “Li Nu Bole”, says El Hadj Oumar Diop alias Pod, the Artistic Director of Marodi, a local production firm.
Aboubacar Demba Cissokho, a film connoisseur has covered eight editions of the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), which is held every other year in the capital of Burkina Faso.
For this culture columnist at the Senegalese News Agency (APS), “it is easier to produce series made into episodes.
On the other hand, making fiction or documentaries takes time.
It is subject to research funding, locations and the like. Series are of interest to sponsors and there is more money.
Marodi, one of companies that pioneered this activity in Senegal, has more than a million and a half subscribers on its YouTube channel created on August 21, 2013.
Its YouTube videos have hit close to 700 million views.
“Since 2010, there has been in Senegal a proliferation of media production houses that use two broadcasting channels: the Internet (YouTube mainly) and TV, the traditional method,” Mountaga Cisse, manager of SIMTECH digital agency.
Fond of thrilling stories, Seynabou Ngoma Seck very often watches Senegalese TV series on YouTube, using her state of the art phone.
“It’s more convenient and more flexible. On TV, these programs are broadcast at fixed times that may not be suitable for me. I prefer by far, Senegalese series that suit me. Moreover, for several years, I have stopped watching Latin-American telenovelas,” she explains.
According to the Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Posts (ARTP), the Internet penetration rate in Senegal is currently 68.49 percent.
And more than 98 percent of Internet users have smart phones for their connection.
“Accessing soap operas on the Internet through digital platforms is a considerable advantage. People do not often have the time to watch TV during showtimes for their favorite shows. They can therefore choose the right moment to view these videos with different types of gadgets: phone, tablet or computer. They just have to pay for the connection to the Internet,” says Mr. Cisse, who is also a new media trainer.
More than a fashion phenomenon, television series fuel discussions in public places and playgrounds that sometimes constitute breeding grounds for comedians.
This revolution is accompanied by the creation of strong communities of fans on the web.
According to Mountaga Cisse, “There are production companies that stand out by developing digital strategies. These are not limited to putting content online. Some production companies also have a Facebook page in which people share their opinions before, during and after the broadcast of an episode. There are also interviews with actors and the sharing of photos".
This mode of operation can pay big, according Cisse, also a consultant and blogger: “YouTube is the country’s most visited platform. It is a channel where one does not need to have a high intellectual level. Just open it and know, depending on the proposed visuals, what content to consume. By activating monetization, production houses that post their content can earn money to support production.”
The vitality of this hyper competitive sector shows that it works.
“YouTube helps us monetize our productions. We really get by with the number of views on this platform. On average, we have more than one million per episode. YouTube pays us every month and that inflates our purse,” says a jubilant Pod.
In Senegal, illiterates accounted for 54 percent of the population in 2017.
The use of Wolof, one of the country’s major local languages in television series, has considerably boosted the ratings of some channels that are snapping up these products.
El Hadj Oumar Diop said, "we have collaborated with three Senegalese TV channels: Sen TV, 2S TV and TFM. We work in partnership with TVs that do not participate in production. They are just a support. We then share advertising revenues.”
“Marimar”, “Luz Clarita”, “La Tour de Babel” and more recently “Rubi,” are the South American soap operas that were reigning between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. They are now on the backfoot thanks to the resurgence of Senegalese TV series.
“I lived in Brazil, but the series I saw there have nothing to do with the ones we have here. In Senegal, we have stories that have nothing to do with our culture. I am really happy that our TV series are taking over. They are written and produced by Senegalese, then starred by local actors,” actress Amelie Mbaye says with pride.
To further take center stage, Senegalese production houses can rely on the Fund for the Promotion of the Film and Audiovisual Industry (FOPICA) that was set up in 2002 by the Senegalese state.
Funded for the first time in 2014, FOPICA has seen its budget surge from CFA1 billion to CFA2 billion in five years.