Andrew & Thulasizwe Simelane
Blacknation is a ground-up digital media group that produces a bi-monthly e-magazine, daily Youtube shows and ad-hoc web content. It was founded by brothers Andrew and Thulasizwe Simelane in 2012 with the aim of producing local content that would resonate with both urban and township youth.
Each of the brothers wear numerous different hats, with Andrew heading up the business side of things and Thulasizwe the creative. Some of the titles to Thulasizwe’s name include photographer, videographer, youth content director and producer, which is indicative of a new kind of young creative-entrepreneur hybrid, ready to take on whatever challenge needed to get things done. For this year’s Young South Africa series, we caught up with Thulasizwe and Andrew to find out more about Blacknation’s content strategies, their thoughts on social media, insights on content marketing and ambitious plans for the future.
What prompted you to start Blacknation Media and how is it different from other digital publishers?
It was the need to create our own content and publish our deserving industry peers. What makes us different is that we’re industry leaders. We often want to be the first ones to do something in the country and give the current content a #POPLITICAL edge.
We’re also serial collaborators and this exposes us to a wide market and reach. Additionally, the global network of content creators that we’ve developed puts us in the lead within our industry.
Under skills and responsibilities you list a string of different titles. Why do you think that young people today aspire towards being Jack-of-all-trades?
Being multi-skilled is essential for every creative entrepreneur in South Africa. Our business is at a start-up phase and we constantly have to boot-strap, meaning that I have to wear various hats instead of hiring a lot of people.
Social media platforms form a major part of Blacknation’s publishing strategy. Can you share any insights into the significance and prominence of social media for your generation?
This is probably the cheapest and most efficient way of communicating to our audience and vice versa. We’re not only interested in young people in the city. Our target audience spreads across the townships of South Africa. As much as the market is flooded with various platforms, we’ve identified Facebook as the main social media platform of communication. There is a much higher level of engagement on this platform.
Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur, a creative, or a hybrid of the two? Do you think that the way young people think about their work has changed? Please explain.
[Thulasizwe] I see myself as a creative entrepreneur. I also think that creatives have definitely changed how they approach business. The best thing is that we can now quantify our worth. We’re slowly moving from freelance workers to entrepreneurs. In the city of Johannesburg, we’re seeing a lot of small registered creative companies and this is a step in the right direction. If we want to get big pay cheques, we have to organise ourselves.
Has your vision for Blacknation changed since you began in 2012? If so, please tell us how?
Yes, it has. In the beginning it was about producing content intended for television, but we quickly identified the GREAT opportunity in the digital realm and that soon TV will become obsolete. Now, we strictly create content for digital platforms. The internet is also a cheaper way of reaching out to a bigger audience and testing our ideas/concept. Furthermore, the internet is constantly altering and this also has forced our business to reinvent itself.
What have been some of the challenges that you’ve faced along the way?
Operational costs have been a little problem, but that’s been sorted. We’ve had to invest our own money on every last thing for the company to thrive.
Staffing is another general problem. A lot of young people are interested in working for start-ups because of their culture/nature. But as soon as they find out that the money is not good yet, they tend to quit. That’s not cool…
Please tell us about some of the different TV shows you produce, what kind of content they feature, and who they appeal to.
For the previous season we had 5 different shows, namely; Prime Obession, Fastners, Sync In Tune, Blacknation Journal and Blacknation Update. The shows focused on Architecture, Fashion/Style, promising young talent in Gauteng, mini-documentaries of our magazine cover star and general updates of what is happening in the city.
We have a different approach to Season 2 of Blacknation TV. It’s dubbed #POPLITICAL. It’s got a clear direction as to what we want to achieve with this season. We’ve created a single show that will split into 5 segments and broadcast throughout the week. It fuses 5 lifestyle elements that a young person our age is interested in, i.e. Latest news and social media conversations, Profiling, Sports and more.
How do you decide who to feature on Blacknation TV? Can you give us a few examples of why you choose some of your previous guests?
Over the years we’ve been able to identify talent that needs support and is deserving of the world’s attention. We usually select people with a different approach to their art. For example, Mashayabhuqe KaMamba has altered the South African music industry with his Digital Mas’kandi and this led us to supporting his career from the beginning. Other people that are similar to him include Okmalumkoolkat, DJ Doowap, etc.
Who would you most like to feature on Blacknation?
The African youth. Individuals from various industries and backgrounds. Most likely in the creative industry and focusing on creative entrepreneurship.
What are the content trends that you’ve noticed in local publishing, and in the rest of the world?
We still don’t think enough content is being produced locally, but some of the stuff that we’ve noticed is really dictated by the international market…which sucks – because this is an opportunity for us to tell our stories in a unique way.
One of the biggest trends right now is content marketing/branded content. This is fun, but it can be done better. A lot of brands targeting the youth market are not engaging in a way that will assist their sales or market share to grow. At our company we call it – “Cool, but meaningless attempts.”
Our approach to content marketing is supporting brands that complement our digital works. We use our own content to market the clients’ brands. We ensure that the synergy between our content and the client’s products/service is identified before pursuing any project. It’s becomes easy to plug in a product without advertising to the audience.
What was the first piece of content you produced, what made you create it, and how have things changed content-wise since then?
We documented the Neighbourgoods Market back in its fresh days. Things have changed in the sense that we produce more diverse content that allows us to cover various topics and segments of our target audience.
What goes in to producing an episode for one of your shows – please take us through your content creation process.
We host editorial meetings every Monday and this is where we identify as well as research the freshest talent in the country. We then get in touch with the subject and arrange a meeting to brainstorm the concept we have for a video piece. Once we’ve established that, we begin making
How would you sum up ‘Young South Africa’?
Young South Africa is more exposed and in other cases well travelled. We have solutions to our current problems in education, technology, etc. We’re the ones that will move this country forward.
Who are the young South African trendsetters and why?
These are individuals that the majority can identify with. The likes of Okmalumkoolkat and his camp are a better example. Kids from the townships to the suburbs can see themselves amongst those characters. You can see that by the way they dress and talk. BOYZNBUCKS has influenced culture.
Do you feel like what you’re doing is part of the youth culture zeitgeist? How so?
Definitely. This is the age of CONTENT. Essentially, we’re documenting this period of Pop/Culture + Politics, and how we tell this story will change history forever. In addition, we’re encouraging young people across Africa to help us build this online content industry (internet television, e-zines and interactive digital campaigns, etc.)
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Ten years is a long time. But we see a continental e-zine, an online television station (Multi-Channel Network), an agency that will house Fortune 500 companies and a development division for our company. The latter aims to harness and empower talent from the townships as well as rural parts of Africa.
[Thulasizwe] My personal goals include travelling across Africa and then the world. I want to meet other influential young people with big visions. Essentially, I want to be the best at what I do.
More Young South Africa!