“Mistress of a married man”, “Golden”, “Infidels”… These serials are a hit in Africa and the diaspora, contributing to the emergence of a local audiovisual industry.
Gare du Nord, in Paris, the advertising campaign made its effect. A few days in October, posters featuring Marème Dial, Djalika and Jams, the leading characters of the Mistress of a Married Man and Golden series, lined the corridors and attracted attention. This display in the largest station in Europe and 500 other stations in the Ile-de-France region is proof of the dazzling success of Senegalese fictions far beyond their homeland. The conquest is at work, with the hope of turning Dakar into a hub of continental production, or even – who knows? – dethroning Nigeria. All
he Made in Senegal series began in January 2019 with the release of Mistress of a Married Man. The first two seasons of this series, written by Kalista Sy and produced by the company Marodi, broadcast first on the Senegalese private channel 2STV, were massively followed on YouTube, each episode accumulating between 2 and 5 million views. According to Serigne Massamba Ndour, founder of Marodi, 65% of these audiences come from Senegal, the rest of the diaspora. Moreover, a quarter of these views go through the French subtitled versions, its audience not speaking Wolof, the language in which the series is shot.
The success with the diasporas is of course due to the tribulations of the cursed couple of Sheikh and Marème, but also to the portrait of conquered women
Love, polygamy and sexuality
In Dakar, where they are broadcast in prime time on the main television channels, the series are a hit and «the Senegalese love them because they talk about their social reality and their experience», observes Pape Assane Seck, production manager at SenTV. This private channel broadcasts Infidels, whose common thread is infidelity in the couple, in the family or towards religion. The series competes with Mistress of a Married Man, who tackles domestic violence, polygamy, depression and, more generally, love and sexuality – all subjects that were considered taboo in Senegalese society. No wonder, therefore, that these soap operas regularly suffer the attacks of the Islamic association Jamra, which deems them indecent and obscene”, and even “likely to undermine the preservation of Senegal’s cultural and religious values, sensibilities and identities”.
It doesn’t stop television broadcasting, it doesn’t stop the public from getting excited— “Shows attract more audiences than our other programs and therefore attract advertisers,” admits Pope Assane Seck, who recognizes that advertising spaces are more expensive on those nights. To these increased revenues are added the investments of products integrated into the scenario. Now, no one is surprised to hear an actress boast the merits of a brand of tea or cars. And Serigne Massamba Ndour, from Marodi, says that Internet users are annoyed by it, saying that it is his “way of being free and independent to produce content that is expensive to make”.
Advertising revenues are shared between the television channels and the audiovisual production companies that abound in Dakar. “We usually keep 60% to 70% of the revenues and distribute the rest to the broadcaster,” says Ibou Gueye, head of EvenProd, a company created in 2014 with over a million YouTube subscribers. But for a series to be profitable, it is necessary to set up a dissemination strategy. For example, we negotiate exclusive periods with Wido, the online video platform of Sonatel [Orange’s subsidiary telecom operator]. Then we earn other revenues with YouTube, which amounts to around 15 million CFA francs [nearly 22,900 euros] for a six-month project,” explains Ibou Gueye.
To produce two seasons of 52 episodes, the businessman and producer invests between 75 and 100 million CFA francs. The major expenditure items are the rental of villas, transport and of course the fees of the actors, which increase in parallel with their notoriety. At Marodi, business is going well, since Serigne Massamba Ndour now ensures the financial capacity to mobilize four film crews at the same time, each composed of fifteen technicians and thirty actors. And this opening sector is beginning to provide opportunities for young Dakarois.
“Government must support us”
From now on, the objective of production companies is to continue to diversify in order to seek international revenues. EvenProd has already started to double several series in French and is considering doing so in English to «be broadcast by local television in Ghana, Cameroon or Côte d’Ivoire», explains Ibou Gueye. A strategy already adopted by Marodi, which ensures that foreign television is its third source of revenue, after Senegalese channels and YouTube. Within five years, Serigne Massamba Ndour is even aiming to be “one of the three largest media groups in Africa”. And already, the producer pleads for aid, believing that the government must support us because we export Senegalese culture in Africa, but also in the rest of the world.”
hez Canal+ International, which acquired Marodi’s two leading fictions and broadcast them on its A+ channel, seized the potential market of African diasporas. We target third generations, who do not necessarily have close ties to their country of origin. These series speak to them,” explains Manon Mochée, Head of Marketing at Thema, a subsidiary of Canal+ International that positions itself as “a parallel offering to major digital platforms.” The audiovisual giant, whose business is doing well on the continent, launched a year ago Sunuyeuf, a channel entirely dedicated to this type of formats and to Wolof theatre plays. The French group already broadcasts these fictions, previously dubbed in French, in about twenty African countries
According to Clémentine Tugendhat, Director of Thematic Channels and Editorial Marketing at Canal + International, “a series industry is emerging in Senegal.” For her, “these productions have nothing to envy to South American novelas or Nigerian series in terms of technical quality and actor play.” It remains to structure an audiovisual sector in full transformation to hope to shade the Nigerian giant Nollywood, the world’s second cinematographic power.