… says I am a tomboy
By CHRIS ONUOHA
Deborah Omowunmi Odutayo is the Executive Director, Royal Roots Communications, owners of R2TV on GOTv cable platform and R2Radio FM in Ibadan. She is also the immediate past President of Electronic Media Content Owners Association of Nigeria (EMCOAN), a body that is responsible for over 85% of media content in Nigeria; also established to protect the intellectual properties of members.
She is the producer of many local television drama series that include Bella’s Place, My Mum & I, Edge of Paradise, Soul Sistas, About To Wed, House A-Part, Tides of Fate, among others. Her journey into the entertainment industry and especially TV production started from an early exposure at the Nigeria Television Authority NTA, Lagos, coupled with an unflinching determination to build a career in an industry dominated by men.
In the cause of honing her career through resilience, Debby, having journeyed down the lane of TV productions and content development for media houses with all the challenges therein, has pushed her efforts towards actualization of standout Television and Radio stations. Speaking to Vanguard Woman, she confided that her tomboyish nature is a propelling factor that drives her motives towards actualising any goal she ventures in.
Early stories and journey into television production
When I was growing up, I did not envisage being a media person. It occurred as a destiny drive and I just found myself doing and enjoying it as well. I had wanted to be a lawyer, because I can talk for Nigeria.
But just like any other young person growing up, I can sit and watch television for as long as I want, sometimes continually overnight. I have always been a television addict. Secondly, when I finished my secondary school, an opportunity came my way when my uncle who was on the board of NTA in the 80s, Chief Olaseinde Williams casually advised me to join them as a contract staff while waiting for my result.
He convinced me because noticed that I am very restless and could not sit in one place for too long. I guess that alone stimulated the interest in the production aspect of television. When I got there, I was fascinated to see how the images I see every day on television were produced.
Apart from been convinced by your Uncle, someone else may have been instrumental to your resilient nature…
It is my father of course. He was a retired Air force officer – a disciplinarian who would not want a docile person around him. As a first child in the family, you are naturally conditioned to mature fast with an expected responsibility to carry the siblings along. More so, my middle name is Omowunmi, literally meaning a child that came at an expected time. I came when my parents needed me, not minding whether I am a boy or girl and I lived up to their expectation by assuming the responsibilities vested on me as the first child. You might call it a genetic transfer from father to daughter but I utilized it to my benefit.
In the industry, many big names were very instrumental to my career development. I started as a young production assistant and moved to production manager. I went through all the production segments before I finally became a producer which made me to understand all the phases of production. As a contract staff in NTA then, I was able to pick up all the learning and production techniques under the tutelage of veterans like Sadiq Daba, Enebeli Elebuwa, C.Y. Okonkwo and a host of other directors.
I was also privileged to work with Danladi Bako and other senior staff who helped to shape my interest and understanding of the job. They were open and ready to teach, most especially noticing that I was a restless tomboy – curious and always asking questions and ready to explore any new grounds in the industry. There were very few females in that sector. These big names I mentioned also find it awesome and unique to find a woman that shows much interest in the production aspect of television industry.
To what extent did your tomboyish personae reflected in the job?
When it comes to my job, I do not let anything deter me from achieving, and would not want, maybe, a lazy worker or anything delay and stand in the way of my production. If any of my workers is not around, I would not mind my position as a Chief Executive to move into action and let the production go on.
I believe as a boss, you must have adequate knowledge of how to run things in your organisation, and in a case of emergency, you don’t have to let someone hold you ransom. In television production, if you don’t produce in a day, a lot of things will go down, you will lose money, so why let such a mere slack prevent you from producing?
Television production is quite tasking. How do you balance it with being a housewife?
I am an African woman that was trained properly. I was born in Nigeria but was bred in the United States where I did my primary schooling. I was trained to understand the roles of an African woman so, I always give respect to my husband and that is why I have been able to work with him seamlessly in the industry we all belong to. I achieved everything I have because he has allowed me to. And for emphasis, he met me as a producer so it’s not like he trained me on the job (laugh). Home or office, he is the boss. He gives me my respect and I give him his. We are not in competition at all. Besides, I still find time to make it up to my children when I am at home.
Having developed content for media houses for quite a period, you finally established your own station. How did it happen?
I have been in the forefront of developing quality content for most Nigerian electronic media houses. Going through the ordeal of creating content, sourcing for marketers as well paying for air time to get the content to the public, it became very difficult. Looking at having so much quality content and paying for airtime to air it even when the TV stations are not paying us money to reproduce, it was not a good business. We create the content with money, and we need more funds to create more but unfortunately, it is like clueless business. The only money we make comes from advertisers which don’t come often.
And having noticed that we have a lot of content in our kitty, we deemed it business-wise for an opportunity to acquire license to own a broadcasting outfit. It came and that gave birth to Royal Roots Television and Radio station. Now you may ask what is having television all about. It is about content; people follow content and not channels or stations. We decided to have our own station airing our content and that of some of our colleagues in the content developing industry. It has been on for about three years now showing on GOTv cable platform.
R2TV is obviously the rave of the movement with its free-to-air showing on a cable platform. How has it fared?
We are still young but already making a huge impact especially for our target audience which is the youths. Basically, we air youth oriented programmes, but notwithstanding, we share our audience range alongside the old too. We have other programmes that are for families, such as “Inside Eve” for the matured women and some for men too while many of our drama series are for the families. With the digitization, one needs to carve a niche.
If a station is for the youths, about 80% of the programmes have to be for the children while the rest goes for the adults. With the digitalization now, you must specialize in an area. You can’t do all so that you don’t lose focus. We don’t do core news but we have an entertainment news and educative programmes for our target audience.
You built a radio station in Ibadan, why the choice of location?
Lagos for now is saturated with many broadcasting houses. Ibadan for us is a new ground having noticed through research that other stations in states do not have such stations for youths and students.
We run programmes that hinge on educative materials for youths such as relationship talks, family values and etiquettes and other enriching programmes that counsel youths on career and living a good life. We also partner with the institutions to air their programmes and events as a way encouraging and letting their voice be heard. Obviously the youths practically do not have money to spend but their voice must be heard regardless.
We are pushing, working round the clock with our little resources and adverts to sustain the business. You know as a new business, we need to grow because every new born baby must learn to sit, crawl and stand before walking.
We still need to vie for large audience acceptance. Our station is basically an entertainment station. Our target audience is 15 to 35 viewership range. We noticed that the youths have a voice but they are not being heard. We decided to create their own station to give them a sense of belonging. The television and radio station which was located at the Ibadan academic community was to engage the youths meaningfully and give them a voice.
How do you see the entertainment industry in the country and does cinema in any way compete with television viewing
The entertainment industry in Nigeria is a success story. The cinemas are doing well. Nollywood is doing well including the music industry. I mean, I was at the cinema over the weekend and to my surprise, the hall was full to the brim with more people waiting outside to gain entrance, maybe for the second show. That shows that our contents are getting better.
But I must be quick to say here that most people do not realize that television industry is as big as the film house. We are not in competition though, but it is still a bit difficult to differentiate the roles the two play in the entertainment sector.
What are your values in life?
I believe in hard work and everyday dedication in whatever I do. I work a lot and have great passion for what I do. I believe that as far as one loves money and work for it, there must be passion to drive such work into reality. I always say to my workers that if you are in a career that you don’t love, you can’t be fulfilled in your life. I have no regrets; I am very contended and fulfilled with what and where I am now, even if it does not reflect the money. More importantly, having to sit and watch your efforts materialize into reality, it is more fulfilling.