What the Growth of Internet Penetration Means for Media Business in Nigeria

Increased internet penetration in Nigeria is creating an environment for online journalism to thrive. Unlike in the past when people had to visit the newsstand to purchase a newspaper, Nigerians now access news on their internet-enabled mobile phones and computers.

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), there are about 97 million internet users in Nigeria, out of a population of 174 million.

PHOTO BY DOLAPO JULIUS

Linda Ikeji, a top blogger in Nigeria, started blogging in 2006 as a hobby. In a 2012 interview with Nkem Ifejika on BBC Focus on Africa, she said that she did not take blogging seriously until March 2007. “And that was when I started getting readers,” she said. Back in 2006, the few blogs that existed were mostly about people sharing their personal stories. Ikeji saw an opportunity in doing something different. So she started sharing gossip news about celebrities. “Nigerians love [to] gossip,” she said.

On the side, she ran a modeling agency and also organized events. This gave her access to celebrities and the crème de la crème of society. What she started out doing as a passion soon grew into a business in 2010 when people started asking for price quotes to place an advertisement on her blog.

In 2012, Ikeji announced that her blog was estimated to be worth $1.2 million. Darlinton Omeh, a writer on wealthresult.com, says it is now worth more. By calculating the revenue generated from adverts and ad sense, estimated at $98,000 monthly for advert and $2,205 for the daily click-through rate and cost per click, Omeh estimates Ikeji’s blog to be worth N31,737,750 ($159,494) monthly. Several attempts to reach Ikeji for a confirmation of this estimate were unsuccessful.

Nigerians visit her blog to read news and gossip about celebrities and politicians even though the platform mostly aggregates content from elsewhere on the Internet. She was once accused of lifting articles from other websites without permission, which resulted in Google shutting down her website. But it was soon restored after verifying that the allegations of plagiarism were “bogus and deliberate sabotage”.

Tosin Ajibade, like Linda Ikeji, grew a personal blog into a professional website in the late 2000s. She later moved from publishing entertainment news to a more customized domain called olorisupergal.com.

“It is our business now. We have our office. We have staff working with us. It is beyond what it started as,” Ajibade says. Olorisupergal.com covers general news and interviews with special categories on entertainment, travel, events and fashion, though she could not provide statistics on unique visits to her site,

Earlier this year, she broke a story about a student who was being molested by one of her teachers in Queen’s College, one of the top secondary schools for girls in Nigeria. The news was shared with her 29,000 fans on Facebook and 56,000 followers on Twitter. Other media republished it and the news went viral, drawing the attention of government representatives who set up a panel to investigate the matter.

Ajibade’s business goes beyond blogging. “We also create content. We do live tweet at events,” she said in a phone interview. They recently provided a live-tweet service for a Coca-Cola event and covered a West Africa travel experience organized by Google Nigeria in Cotonou, Benin Republic.

Corporate organizations treat some online bloggers as serious business. Ajibade’s company generates about N5million ($25,000) per month from advertisement, promotions, and other sponsored services. She says she gets most of her clients through referral, though she quickly added that the online business is becoming saturated with many players due to the low barriers to entry. To stay ahead of the competition and retain her clients, her company is adding additional services, which are exclusive. She also organizes New Media Conference in Lagos, an annual event that brings key players and stakeholders in online and media business together to explore the trends and opportunities in the sector.

Nigeria lawmakers have proposed a bill to stop social media users from abusing freedom of expression. But the bill’s intentions are not good, Gbenga Sesan, a social entrepreneur, and tech activist says.

The bill, which is officially called “An act to prohibit frivolous petitions; and other matters connected therewith,” will criminalize speaking out against individuals or groups online, including expressing dissent against the government, with vague and disproportionate restrictions that do not strictly adhere to legitimate purposes.

“Anyone who has got the means can claim that anything that anyone is doing is a threat to public peace,” said Sesan, who is also the executive director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, a technology-focused non-profit organization based in Lagos.

The level of an offense caused by a social media user can be misinterpreted by anyone. “The bill makes it impossible for you to petition a public official or generally write a petition or report anything that is wrongly done by government,” Sesan said in a phone interview.

Social media has democratized news. “It means that I can generate my own news and share. It means my opinion if people consider me influential, can become news,” he said.

This shift in power has diminished traditional media’s ability to censor information. “With social media, my account is my account. I can be working for a newspaper during the day and at night I can be tweeting what my superiors will not allow me to tweet,” Sesan said.

In order to take advantage of the boisterous opportunities online, some newspaper publishers have increased their investment in online publishing.

In 2012, The Nation newspaper, one of the most widely read newspapers in Nigeria, created an online department. Lekan Otufodunrin, the Sunday editor, was transferred from the traditional newsroom to manage the online network.

He started working with the Technology department by promptly updating the website himself along with another editorial staff independent of the newsroom. He initiated the writing online special report and his staff grew to five. Two of the additional staff were in charge of social media to push the website content.

According to a data by similarweb, an online analytics site, Ikeji’s website ranks higher than most traditional media companies in Nigeria, including the Nation. While Linda’s blog ranks 3rd in the country, the Nation ranks 102nd.

The Nation online generates most of its revenues from direct ad sales and third party ad placements from Google. “We don’t make less than N3million ($15,000) per month. Sometimes it can be more,” Otufodunrin said in an email response. This is low when compared to what top bloggers like Ikeji and Ajibade make per month.

Otufodunrin said that bloggers pose as threats to mainstream news publishers. “Our major competitors have always been Vanguard and Punch and some top bloggers and websites owned by non-traditional media organizations,” he said. Vanguard and Punch newspapers are traditional media companies based in Lagos that also have strong online presence.

“Such blogs are giving us stiff competition for what used to be our exclusive preserve. Now we have to work hard to break news ahead of them to retain our readership. We now have to become more innovative in our content sharing strategies. We are doing our best not to be left behind in the battle for the digital space,” Otufodunrin said.

While The Nation newspaper has successfully maintained a print and online version over the years, some media organizations have not done as well. Earlier this year, the Nigerian Guild of Editors expressed concern that the media industry was suffering and called on the government for a bailout. Victoria Ibanga, the NGE secretary, was contacted but she could not grant an interview due to a busy schedule.

In 2015, Independent Communications Network Limited stopped print editions of The News magazine and P.M news due to falling advertising revenues. The media organization that has existed for 23 years transitioned fully into an online media. “The transition to internet publishing has been informed by the rising costs of production and declining advertising income, which make the continuous production in print form, very unprofitable,” Bayo Onanuga , the magazine’s editor-in-chief, wrote in his column published in The News.

Some other media organizations have started exploring new ways to innovate in their newsrooms. The Guardian, one of Nigeria’s elitist newspapers, last month launched “Guardian TV” in partnership with Ventra Media Group, a digital marketing, and rights agency, to provide news coverage in video format from around the world.

The website, www.TV.Guardian.ng, which has the same interface as the news site currently covers news, fashion, entertainment, sports, science, and technology. It also has a category called Guardian TV Exclusive, which contains short interviews focused on Nigeria.

“Guardian TV will offer content providers a platform to reach out to larger audiences and demographics, both locally and internationally,” Toke Alex Ibru, The Guardian’s executive director, said in a press statement distributed by African Press Organization.

This story was first published in 2016 and has been updated for accuracy.

Communications, Media, & Advocacy| formerly Jennifer Ehidiamen| Innately curious| Founder: @rural_reporters| #ThereIsaGod | Alum. @columbiajourn & @NIJLagos