Monday, 27 April 2009

Behind t he ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ set

The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Show is now a must watch for many Nigerians. Beyond the monetary rewards for in-house participants, home viewers gain some knowledge from the questions asked those on the hot seat — contestants. In a chat with
FLORENCE UTOR, the media Consultant of Ultima Limited, Olumide Akinlabi speaks on the show and other related issues.

What is Ultima all about and how did it begin?
Ultima used to be called Ultima Communications. It started as a pioneer company in the manufacturing of satellite dishes, using fiberglass materials. It has a UHF TV license approved by the National Broadcasting Commission to transmit coded channel for a pay-TV service, which was later converted to a free-to-air television license by the NBC. This allows for the broadcast of any programme either by using its own UHF channel 59 frequency or by networking with existing television stations across the country for national coverage.
So, why did you forgo licence?
It’s not been forgone. It is fully on. It only metamorphosed into a big project that is building a virile platform for that TV in ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ You see, at the onset, Ultima satellite dishes did not enjoy public acceptance, but the reverse was the case when some people later came up with same idea. Mind you, it was not that their products were better or that their marketing approach outclassed Ultima’s, it was simply a trend thing.
So, what about Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Yeah, it is one of the pedestals we are using to showcase our relevance in TV production and to let Nigerians know that they can gain a lot of things by watching television, and reading.
How do you envision this?
What?
The concept known today as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’
I think it is better such a question be directed to my Executive Director, Mr. Femi Ayeni. He has been the executor of that vision.
Could you give a lead into the background?
You see, Ultima bought the exclusive franchise for Nigeria from Celador International, which is now known as 2Way Traffic, UK, to the International property called Who Wants to be a Millonaire? They invested heavily in designing, developing and constructing a purpose-built studio for the production of this educative, entertaining, and participative general knowledge programme, which is aired in over 100 countries. The show has been on air for the last four seasons and has been rated one of the best TV programmes in Nigeria. We have been receiving accolades from the public, but we don’t allow them to get into our heads, so, that we may not lose focus. We believe it is not yet eldorado and as such shouldn’t rest on our oars. We are not relenting at all and to achieve these, you’ve got to be hardworking, focus and level headed.
How did you arrive at the design of the studio?
It didn’t originate from here, we followed a laid down pattern fondly referred to as the Celador format. That’s why the studio pattern is the same all over the world or rather in all the countries that have the programme. To be succinct, we have followed the pattern handed down to us by our franchise owners. The studio is a multi-camera, multi-light custom built structure with a lot of sound and graphic effects, all being harmonised to achieve a common result. Indeed cameras do a lot in this set up, especially in the area of magnitude because, the studio is not as big as shown on TV, although it can conveniently sit more than a hundred people.
Some people doubt the reality of the prize money; that the money is not real?
Let me tell you, if not that it is a franchise, I would have considered the coinage: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, a disservice to the game show”.
Which name would you have given it?
I am not the originator, but between us, I wouldn’t have hinged it to money; million or coming to be or become a millionaire. Don’t you think, that is the only reason anybody out there might be expressing misgivings about an internationally acclaimed programme, whose transparency and credibility cannot be faulted? Granted that the contestants ultimately win money, but it’s very tasking right from the verifying stage. You can ask anybody, who has appeared on the hot seat and possibly win a sizable amount. It is for this reason that we educate the people about the game at the beginning, especially during the ‘millionaire cards’. It still boils down to the same thing because money is the main focus, which is the reason you are skeptical about the payment or winnings’ redemption. In season four alone, 126 hot-seats-contestants were paid more than N5 million as their winnings on the programme, apart from the winnings from audience play, home play and compensation to the fastest fingers competitors.
Do you mean you pay the people on the FFF seats?
They are compensated with N20.000 each! In essence, if the contestant in the hot seat was unable to win beyond N20.000 he/she comes at par with the colleagues, who couldn’t scale the FFF stage. So, everybody is encouraged. Winners have given elevating testimonies and we are delighted about them. This development cuts across board; Teachers; Pastors; Mallams, Engineers, Accountants, Artisans, Law Enforcement Agents, name it. Credible TV stations are partnering with us while MTN remains our major sponsor. Haba, we don’t need a clairvoyant to tell the public that Ultima is above board in terms of contestants’ winnings and payments. During any recording session, our guests are treated as kings and queens.
Why is MTN the sole sponsor of the programme?
It has the biggest and widest network reach, which guarantees prospective contestants’ easy participation from anywhere. Besides, MTN’s business conditions are not too stringent.
How can one then qualify to be on the hot seat?
This is simple. Using your phone, you are to follow this sequence: Dial or text first name to 132 from an MTN line. Follow the sequent instruction and process you are given. This registers the number on the Database and random selection by the computer. If a number is selected among others, it will be taken through the qualifying/verification stage. A question will be posed and finally eight contestants are selected per show. However if one is doing it on Line, this is how it goes: Text “pin” to 354. A confirmatory text back is received with 3 pin numbers. These numbers are taken to www.millionairenigeria.com/onlinegame for registration. After registering, you go to the game site and input your pin. Upon doing this, the game comes up and you can start to play. First place winners either weekly or monthly from online automatically get to the TV version of the show. The second and third place winners have to scale the random selection stage to the qualifying stage of the TV version and are taken through the verification process. Cash prizes from N10, 000 to N90, 000 can still be won at this level.
This is quite explicit, but how far have you gone in educating the public on this?
We’ve been doing that. We have used every available opportunity to do this; in the papers and at any of our fora. In fact we organised a launch for millionaire-on-line at our office complex here during the first week in the month of May last year with a lot of media men in attendance. In addition to this, everything is on our website.
The money won, is it paid immediately after the show and is there any deduction like tax?
It is paid two weeks after the contestant’s show is aired, within which all proper documentation would have been done earlier.
Who handles this?
Ecobank
What are all the special editions about?
You know Ultima is a socially responsible company that seeks to positively impact on the people. Across Nigeria, there are many people who have done something good in the society, but are not adequately rewarded and live in abject poverty, unacknowledged; so, we intend to use the edition to celebrate some of them while strictly adhering to the tenets of the game show. We have a number of special episodes such as the Valentine special; the Children special; and the Who Deserves to be a Millionaire, which is still attracting commendation letters from the viewers. But I think the new season’s ‘Deserving episode’ will surely be superb.
Everybody kept wondering how you came about the idea?
We are aware that such an episode is still within our format. We sat down to consider its feasibility and workability. First, we came up with a long list of individuals in our midst, considering so many factors, we prune them down to five contestants that could be accommodated within two episodes while putting the geographical spread into play. In the previous episode, Tarzan was from the North, Fregene from South-South, Pa Akinkunmi from the West, Clarus from the East and Georgietta from South-Badagry. I must mention it to you that all these people were visited in their homestead. We are quite familiar with their immediate environment before bringing them down, and we shall manage the winnings of some of them for them. We have in our archives the full coverage of the proceedings. We have been able to get a befitting house for Pa Akinkunmi in Ayepe area of Ibadan, with his winnings.

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