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By Lawrence Amaku
It is common knowledge today that reality TV show organizers not only use the social media to create awareness for their shows, but also to obtain viewer feedback, reactions and opinions, aimed at forging deeper audience engagement. Oftentimes, the information that viewers get from their friends online serve as reviews of a TV show, and the media choices they make are influenced by such secondhand information. In corroborating this view, producer of a popular US TV show, The Voice (NBC), Nicolle Yaron, notes that “In this day and age, digital and social media for a successful television show can’t be an afterthought.”
A study carried out by The Hollywood Reporter stated that over half of the people who were sampled said the social media determine the choices they made about entertainment. The report revealed that “of those who make posts about TV shows, 76 percent do so live and 51 percent do so to feel connected to others who might also be watching.” It is not surprising, therefore, that show organisers encourage fans to take their dialogue to the second screen – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms in order to enhance and deepen the experience.
There is no doubting the fact that these platforms, especially Twitter and Instagram, have earned the reputation of being the choice media because their fast-paced environment lends itself to the television. Twitter, for example, enables television producers and advertisers to get prompt feedback about their programming.
It is in the light of the above observations that I examine the role of the social media in the just-concluded Big Brother Naija (BBN) reality show. BBN has come and gone, but not without leaving memories and talking points that will surely linger. The show, which is a spinoff of the Big Brother Africa game show, was relaunched and renamed ‘Big Brother Naija.’ Its first edition, Big Brother Nigeria, was aired in 2006. Featuring 12 original contestants, otherwise known as ‘housemates,’ Big Brother Naija, which started shooting on January 22, 2017, came to a climax on April 9, 2017 after 78 days with Delta-born Efe Ejeba clinching the coveted prize of N25 million cash gift and a brand new Kia Sorento SUV car.
No doubt, a lot has changed between now and when the first edition of the show aired eleven years ago. That time interval has seen massive evolution in the mass media space with the emergence of various platforms and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Youtube, and Wechat, among others. For instance, while the BBN 2006 only made provision for viewers to vote via SMS, fans of the 2017 edition of the game show, in addition to being able to vote via SMS, were availed of social media messaging app, Wechat, to vote for their favourite housemates and determine who gets evicted or not from the show. Other social media platforms and the Internet were also effectively used to enhance viewers’ participation and push conversations on the show. In packaging the show, the BBN organisers harnessed the power of social media to leverage audience interaction, thereby engaging the viewers and making them become a part of the event. The show generated so many internet trolls while it lasted and still continues to do so.
Google’s Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Anglophone West Africa, Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, in a statement in Lagos, shortly after the commencement of the game show, disclosed that in the show’s first week, controversy over its shooting in South Africa topped Google trend stories. The debate on the matter raged for several days before being eclipsed by more interesting developments in the show which grabbed viewers’ attention.
It is not surprising though that at the end of the game show, the host, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, announced that it won over 420,000 Facebook fans, 320,000 followers on Instagram, and 160,000 followers on Twitter. Over 26 million votes were recorded for the finale alone, while 13 million votes were garnered in the penultimate week. These are further testimonies of the attention and buzz it generated in the social media.
From Ebuka reading out live tweets from viewers during live eviction shows, twitter comments from viewers/fans scrolling while the show was streaming live; to off-screen competitions, which included asking viewers to do a video of themselves with the show’s theme song in the background, the organisers effectively employed the social media to get more viewers and create better viewer experience for it.
Besides that, celebrity comments, opinions, banters and criticisms about the show; predictions on eviction, support for favourite housemates, as well as the entertainment created by the memes, mimicry, and jokes on the social media had a massive impact on the show’s viewership and helped it to create an appeal to different audiences.
Of particular note is a meme posted on Instagram by popular female comedian, Chioma Omeruah, aka Chigurl mimicking evicted housemate, Uriel’s effusiveness during her Diary Room sessions with Big Brother, which earned her the moniker, Drama Queen of the Diary Room. Fans favourite and winner of the show, Efe, also had a solidarity song composed for him by a certain Jude Nj and posted on Twitter. The title of the song, which was inspired by Efe’s now very famous tagline, is ‘Based on logistics.’ The social media continues to swell with conversations and memes on the show even after its conclusion.
In addition, social media communities were built around virtually all housemates, especially as the show drew to an end. This helped to shore up support and votes for the housemates involved. At the live viewing centre in Lagos, where the winner of the 2006 edition of the BBN show, Katung Aduwak, anchored the event, were significant numbers of fans and family members of the five finalists, who had followed them on the social media all through the show.
With the social media now technically the second screen through which audiences watch/follow their favourite shows on TV, it is expected that the shows’ marketers will harness this to forge even closer engagement between their products and the audience in the foreseeable future.
Amaku writes from Lagos.