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Has the new normal entertainment craze burnt itself out?

Dying out? At the beginning of April, most TV stations found themselves with an audience but without the demanded content. From dance shows to live concerts, TV shows were created. Yet, six months later, it is hard to notice these shows even existed, writes Andrew Kaggwa.

On March 17, in a speech, President Museveni announced measures that were meant to curb the spread of coronavirus.

This froze the way of life as people knew it; overnight, they could not go to bars, concerts or even to church.

Immediately, creatives, pastors and many other people that directly operate with an audience thought of a solution. Churches conducted services online, conferences, meetings and seminars too, were migrated to digital platforms.

Before people could start missing seeing their artistes on stage, they took the performances online; from Cindy Sanyu, Lilian Mbabazi, Kenneth Mugabi, Spice Diana, Navio, Pallaso to Jose Chameleone, each has graced the online stage either through an individual concert or one organised by a brand.

In the beginning, the excitement was understandable, people were home, bored and someone had to entertain them; the number of online shows were startling, for the very first weeks, Ugandans wanted to be entertained and somehow had the data and time.

It wasn’t thus surprising that a good number of them watched Kenyan artiste’s Nyanshinski’s “A Stream of A Lifetime”. Later, Jose Chameleone and Navio benefitted from that hunger for entertainment.

Navio, for instance, easily hit 1,000 views as he launched his “Strength in Numbers” album, so did Jose Chameleone and Club Beer-endorsed Beatz at Home.

Entertainment went online with Swangz Avenue not only organising an online concert, but later using the same platform to release a short film, Rolex.

Then TVs tried biting into the craze; there was NBS and NTV with their dance shows on Fridays and Saturdays. When the lockdown was tightened, viewers of the two TVs started using the shows as a competition mode.

They would compete about the number of tweets, who played better music, whose theme was on point to who had the hottest MCs.

The producers of the shows too outdid themselves – for instance, an insider says most times, the stations struggled with transporting artistes to perform at these shows since curfew time was 7pm.

“There was this time we had to work with the police to escort an artiste to Entebbe after their performance,” he said.

And all the efforts paid off, the two shows were trending online for the entire weekend that before we could get enough of them, other TVs; Bukedde, BBS, Baba TV, Urban TV and TV West, among others, had curated similar shows.

Today, Ugandans seem to have forgotten the new normal as early as they picked the interest, online shows struggle to even be part of conversations and in the same way, they struggle to get an audience.

Some of these online shows enjoyed between 10,000 views and 30,000 views in a day yet today, even with bigger names headlining, they trail below that number days after they have been streamed.

The TV shows have not been spared, they have since lost the Twitter war and it is easy to imagine Ugandans are not watching as much as they used to since the talkability of all these shows on other social media platforms has been waning.

“I used to stay up watching the two shows and at times comparing but these days, you will find me watching other things at that time,” says Douglas Kasumba, an ardent fan of the two shows back in April.

So what went wrong?

After people were stranded at home for long, any sort of entertainment worked, live shows such as cooking tutorials, talk shows, skits and all things people posted online worked.

Between these months, there was an influx of video content posted and, of course, the number of people asking us to subscribe to their YouTube channels.

Ian Kiryowa, an entertainment enthusiast, says it all came down to a lack of creativity.

“At the beginning of all this, we tried to move on with life within the lockdown, since we had nowhere to go, so the phone was the solution,” Kiryowa says.

He adds that at first, people watched them because they were all that were available, however, as time went on and money started dipping, they started budgeting, then, one had to consider if it was worth burning a GB on a concert or save it for a business Zoom meeting.

There is also an argument that since the world started opening up later, it affected the popularity of the new normal shows. For instance, when they debuted, all professional sports tournaments had been halted.

With most of them resuming in mid-June, it meant that there were alternatives for many who were bored by the dance shows.

Many argued that the lack of interest in many of the online content people are creating at the moment or the late night dance battles is because many are back to work and thus, very busy.

Andrew Kitamirike, a multimedia producer, says entertainment has no time. He argues that people will consume art even when they are so tired.

“For many of these dance battles, it was about the excitement and it paid off,” he says.

Kitamirike though adds that failure by the TV stations to reinvent these shows outdid them.

“When it comes to these shows, you will rarely see these presenters do something different from what you saw in the previous edition.”

For online shows, he says anyone that has appreciated a live concert can never substitute it for an online show.

Not bankable

“At the beginning, there was excitement, forcing many artistes to consider live shows, but then artistes noticed that the shows were not making financial sense,” he says.

Much as many of these online shows have been free of charge, Fezah, through their mobile application and website have been organising priced concerts. These have been for artistes such as Kenneth Mugabi, Michael Kitanda, Iryn Namubiru and the Blankets and Wine home edition, among others.

Kitamirike believes much as this is a brilliant move, it is not bankable. He argues that it is hard to find as many Ugandans willing to invest in both data and show costs, while for artistes, he says it may be hard to get enough people that can help one make back the money invested.

Amid the lockdown, Fezah organised an online show for Afrigo Band. The interactive show that was partly broadcast on Radio One was a showcase many stuck at home were definitely ready for.

The mix of both their old and new songs, including stories that inspired some of the songs, made the concert such an experience. However, according to one of the band members, a big chunk of the audience that logged in were based in the diaspora as opposed to those in Uganda.

Which was okay, although there was also a situation where some people who had paid for concerts shared codes with friends that had not paid, thus, an artiste would have many people in the audience without making much out of it.

“At the moment, music streaming sites are still struggling to make people pay for music. As consumers, not many are ready to pay for an online concert,”Kitamirike says.

Bobi Wine effect

On Mothers’ Day, Bobi Wine staged an online concert celebrating mothers and women. It was the first show the singer turned politician was staging in more than 18 months that even with minimal advertisement, there was anticipation.

But then Bobi Wine made it count.

From the set design, lighting and camera angles, Bobi Wine had his show well thought out, he intended to tell a story with his show than simply perform for the camera and crew guys.

His show coming after many people had staged live shows was a revelation that there was more artistes could offer with their online shows.

Kitamirike, however, says, Bobi Wine must have invested heavily, something many artistes could not do if they did not expect to break even.

Experience

If there is one thing that makes live concerts exceptional, it is the experience; you will not forget how you felt when Mya stepped on the All Music Safari stage or when Cindy made her way from the audience to the stage at her Boom Party Concert.

The experiences of how a live concert makes one feel, singing along and interacting with the artiste is something that both artistes and the audience always look out for.

With online concerts or dance parties, a wall in form of a TV screen or a phone is there to create a barrier between the artiste, DJ, MC and the audience.

“With a live show, the artiste will get immediate feedback from their crowd because they are present, which is not the same with an online concert,” Kitamirike says.

But the biggest problem though, is that most online concerts are pre-recorded, which means they were perfect.

“Live shows are not meant to be perfect, you get a chance to see the slip ups, mistakes of people missing a step or messing up on stage,” he says, adding that online shows are edited to remove all these things which denies them a human element.

Today, even when fewer people are pumped up about an online show, the shows are still with us, the presentation has been changing the past few months, with some such as Gabriel K and the next edition of All Music Safari partnering with TV stations with a ready audience.

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