YouTube ads targeted to Nigerians! Cool! That was my initial reaction….
My High Horse
Then I realized the ad had certain themes: makeup, music and fashion — none of which were particularly enlightening or educational. (Of course, totally my bias here)
That’s when my self-righteous indignation hit me like my Ghanaian primary school principal’s cane. “How DARE Youtube portray us as a people that like only makeup, music, owambe and the revelries of life?!” I thought.
Apparently others felt the same way too as comments by Nigerians revealed.
I examined my feelings further and realised I was misguided. The YouTube ads annoyed me at first because I was focused on how things ought to be rather than what things were — as shown by the data. I was up on my high horse failing to acknowledge what was happening on the ground.
The videos clustered by Youtube into fashion and music lie on the highest portion of the curve, while intellectual videos (however you choose to define them) are on the long end of the curve i.e. fewer people overall watch these videos. I was focused on comparing videos on the long tail of the distribution (documentaries & co) to videos on the highest portion of the distribution curve(music videos, pepper dem, makeup).
Anything instructional or educational is on the long tail of the distribution anywhere in the world. Believe it or not, education becomes a niche product when competing for attention with entertainment online.
If you were to do a cross-country comparison (fancy way of saying compare between countries), I’d wager that every other country has a similar distribution.
Out of 80 top videos with greater than 1 billion views, only 3 are not music videos.
Sans Mutually Exclusive
Watching an entertainment video and watching an educational video are not mutually exclusive. Surely, the same eyes that can appreciate a music video can appreciate more intellectually stimulating content. Looking at my own YouTube history, I can see that I watched Wizkid’s new video to see if Drake came closer (Nope. He didn’t show up in any of the videos). Right afterwards, I watched a video explaining how Classes work in python language. (Not Nigerian juju python, computer science python)
Also, a significant number of viewers come from abroad. If you’re a Nigerian abroad, the first place to listen to that new song where Davido asked banana to fall on his lover is… well…. YouTube. That disapora drives the diffusion of Nigerian music, fashion and culture, which brings our oyinbo friends to — you guessed right — YouTube.
YouTube is essential an aggregator of content. They’re a platform that succeeds off the content of others (they’re working on original content now) while creating utility for both content creators and viewers. The ads are targeted at content creators as much as they are targeted at viewers.
Now we have world class music videos, Nollywood movies, cooking shows, make up tutorials, and more coming from Nigeria. They’ve figured that the more African content they have on their site, the more African eyeballs they get. We also underestimate the reach of our content outside Nigeria. Internet and mobile penetration rates across Africa never dull yet. Google has the data and they clearly see what we can’t see.
They’re so eager to satisfy the number of eyeballs that they’re looking into new ways to bypass our slow data. Last week, the company launched YouTube Go, an “offline first” version of YouTube for users with slow internet connections. YouTube Go will allow users preview and download videos, rather than stream, which saves on data costs. Now you have no excuse to be disappointed that you didn’t see any banana fall on the head of Davido’s lover.
Do I wish more people were watching more…. intellectual content? Yes. As a people, we’ve got a lot more room for enlightenment and exposure. But as I mentioned, its the same scenario in any other country — entertainment always wins the most eyeballs. At the end of the day, people will watch or listen to what they darn well want to. The market is the ultimate arbiter of attention and YouTube like any business pays attention to the market. Moreover, Nigerians are watching the educational videos on educational platforms like Coursera and Udemy that cater to the long tail end of internet video content. So the market is there — just not on Youtube.
Your Own Story
If the reality of the underlying data doesn’t convince you. Here’s an alternate frame. YouTube’s push offers Africans an opportunity to tell a story that’s different from the overplayed doom and gloom narrative. Either way, they’re happy to provide the platform. It’s eventually up to us, not YouTube, to decide which of our stories get told.