#ThrowbackThusday: Remembering Channel O,’ the Blackberry of African Music

Posted on Apr 13 2019 - 8:35pm by admin

The channel had been part of the long 90’s preparation for the blissful marathon that still continues. The music channel was the M-Net station, ‘Channel O,’ the South African-based music channel. Around 2003, the Multichoice-backed DSTV was hitting its strides as a venture near-synonymous with African neighbourhoods.

Eedris Abdulkareem, one of the artists who were stars of the Channel O era. (Naijaloaded)

Though it didn’t really become mainstream till about 2008, the big satellite dishes were a Nigerian feature circa 2003.

It had an incredible run as the major ground of visual promotion for music content. In 2003, it launched Channel O Music Awards, first under the title, Reel Music Video Awards, then it became, Africa Music Video Awards, before it became Spirit Music Video Awards.

It had influence, it had reach and it had power in the African music scene. In fact, its run is near synonymous with a staple status of African music. It could make and break careers that hoped to transcend national level to continental level. But then, in February 2005, MTV launched MTVBase and the beginning of the end began. While the power of MTV as an American offspring of media behemoth, Viacom, Channel O’s demise was too painful.

By 2010, even French station, Trace Urban had moved into the market to claim a place. By 2015, Pulse reported the happenings when Channel O announced that it was about to close its operations and handover the reins of African music to another M-Net-backed Africa Magic.

By 2009, you could barely find Nigerian music videos on Trace except you are Asa and you had a ‘Jailer.’ But by 2010, we had videos like ‘Danger’ by P Square unbelievably debut on Trace and the rest was history.

The similarities with Blackberry

You remember the red, green and purple LED lights for alerts?

A popular Blackberry phone in the late 2000s and early 2010s in Nigeria. (Nairaland Forum)

By 2006, Blackberry Limited that launched in 1999 was a staple of pop culture and technology. Blackberry first became popular with professionals who were able to get their emails on-the-go. Then, it broke pop culture with Blackberry Messenger which incredibly channeled the internet for some effect.

The design on QWERTY-keyboard designs on Blackberry phones also aided the power – they were unique. Coupled with the other features they had, Blackberry Limited took off.

The ‘ping effect’ was not only way of effective communication, like Channel O, access to it connoted class. Channel O came off DSTV that most people could not afford. Blackberry phones were also premium product that most people could not afford.

Even at the height of its viral use, people were buying fairly used and imported Blackberry phones called, ‘London-used.’

Blackberry was the aspiration and the goal. People who owned them stopped asking for numbers. Instead, they were asking for ‘Blackberry PIN,’ just to show their newfound class – it was that bad. They even hung these phones on their hands like badges of honour – yes, I didn’t own one for a while. I have unresolved.

While Channel O held power in media to make and break careers, Blackberry held the power of ease of communication and effective emailing during a peculiar death of technological advancement.

At the height of Blackberry’s reign, like Channel O, it held a monopoly on both the capitalist and focal powers in its field. Every business that was in the same field struggled to keep up. Even Nokia that tried to make the N-series and E-series could not keep up.

Nokia E-63, a part of the Nokia E-series era that aimed to compete with Blackberry. (PIctree)

But then, they both got comfortable that they probably stopped evolving as the emergence of competition evaporated the power they had. For Channel O, it was MTVBase, but Blackberry suddenly couldn’t keep up when the slightest hint of a comeback for Samsung reared its head.

Despite still having the power of the Blackberry Messenger – Channel O had influence on its side, it rolled over far too easily with Android user interfaces, Samsung touchscreen phones. For years, Blackberry had struggled with terrible designs and operating systems.

Blackberry Tour and Blackberry Bold . (Phonedata/Gadgets Now)

Blackberry Storm ran on a terrible operating system that lagged like no tomorrow. Blackberry Tour and Blackberry Bold 3 had the same designs. Blackberry Bold 2 and Bold 4 had the exact same designs and ran the same operating systems.

Blackberry Curve 2 and Curve 3 had the same design. Blackberry Curve 4 and Bold 6 had the same design. The features were terrible, battery life was terrible and there were no fun features like games. The Application stores were simply too static and stressful.

When they even wanted to evolve with the touchscreen market, Blackberry Touch, Blackberry Z series and Blackberry Q series came way too later in the conversation. Apple and Samsung had inspired a horde of other manufacturers like LG, Sony, Tecno, Xiaomi and so forth impetus to grab market shares. It was over.

The limitation of Blackberry Messenger also meant WhatsApp took over seamlessly.

For Channel O, it was about terrible shows and programs. MTVBase didn’t significantly improve the programs, but they were better. The picture quality was also better and aesthetics, and even adverts were simply more relatable to the target market of young people.

In the end, even shows like O’Boma hosted by Nonhle Thema and Mzanzi rides could not save the channel like Blackberry could not be saved when the competition swooped in.

While Channel O has since down, Blackberry struggled to find a buyer for a long time, barely 3 years after its peak period. Even Fairfax backed out at the last minute.

In the end, they both got comfortable, failed to grow, became stale and went out of style. 

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