Adapted from a phone interview, May 20, 2020.
I think remaining human in this very unusual context is essential. I tend to start meetings with a check-in to understand how people are doing. I truly want to hear how they are. I want to create space for people to appreciate that we don’t just go to business as usual as the world seems to be changing fundamentally.
I am an immigrant living in the UK. I was born in the U.S. My parents are originally from Nigeria. All of which means that I have people everywhere. It’s been a challenge to acknowledge that my support network, which I took for granted because of easy travel, is now compromised.
Obviously, technologies like Zoom or Google Hangouts make it easier to stay in touch, but if someone were to fall sick, it would be very difficult to decide what to do and how to be there to support them.
As someone who’s a news junkie and given my career as a journalist, observing different countries’ responses has been interesting for the comparative politics but also really discouraging to note racial and wealth disparities that have just been replicated.
I’m concerned that ideology, politics, and cultural differences are getting in the way of data. Coronavirus is a difficult moving target, but when we do figure out a best practice, wherever it’s coming from, we should be able to learn from each other. If we know that masks work well, people should wear them. Faith in facts shouldn’t be negotiable, even when those facts are fast moving.
Overall, I’m happy to be safe and in relatively good mental health with space and the ability to telework, but like everyone I’ve been distressed by the lack of coordination, some of the selfishness, and the real pain that people are in both financially and emotionally.
I work in the partnerships’ organization at Google. Originally, I joined the company to lead YouTube’s Africa business. I did big sports deals and music deals and worked with television, film and independent creators. That work was incredible because it was so dynamic and nascent and there was a lot of opportunity to support Google’s Next Billion Users initiative.
After several years living inside a pinball machine—bouncing from Johannesburg to Los Angeles to New York to Paris to London, in February, I shifted to a role that’s focused on Google’s partnerships with the broadcast and cinema industry. I expected less travel, but to have no mobility at all has been a big adjustment.
Given that I’ve worked for a long time in the arts and media space, I’m really aware of exactly how painful this is for every step of the supply chain from production to post to distribution to end user consumption.
The production ecosystem is driven by a lot of freelance workers. Making movies or television is a lot like a political campaign. It comes together, does something amazing, and it disappears. On a set, there are carpenters, props folks, hair and makeup and costumes, people operating a huge range of complex equipment—and few of them are full-time employees. Figuring out how to make sure sets are safe so people can work is one of the big questions for the production of content going forward.
In terms of distribution, everyone from Disney and Warner Brothers to individual YouTube creators has been forced to rethink what they do given the current situation. We’ve seen some movies postpone cinematic release and others go direct to video on demand using Google Play and the YouTube Movies rental system. I’m interested to see how that evolves and becomes complementary to the traditional cinema experience.
For consumption, we’ve got a lot of people at home discovering and reconnecting to content that matters to them. Whether it’s educational stuff for kids, fitness and selfcare, spiritualism, DIY, or cooking, people are turning to videos that speak to immediate needs.
Anecdotally, my parents are academic physicians at the University of Chicago. Despite my having worked at YouTube for almost three years, they just discovered it during the lockdown. They asked me, “Did you know that we could watch Nigerian comedy videos?” I laughed and said, “Yes, I helped make it happen.”
As someone who believes that news and information are a vital public utility and media broadly is a public good, I’m glad that there’s been a huge explosion of interest from the public. I’m proud that Google’s services help people access content that matters to them.
For example, YouTube worked with some of the marquee film festivals including Cannes, Berlin, London, Tribeca, the Annecy Animation festival and many others, on We Are One Global Film Festival. It has been a really amazing, fast-moving initiative to make it possible for the independent film industry to connect to audiences and opens the festival experience to people who might not otherwise be able to access it.
We don’t have nearly enough information yet to know whether we’re seeing long-term shifts in behavior in the world of video. For now, we learn what we can and adapt quickly.
Processing it All
However, challenging it may be in the short term, I’m in solidarity with everybody who is working their way through this. It’s my dim hope that this will remind societies of our interconnectedness. I see the work I do as being focused on a globalized vision for how we all get better together.
There has been a backlash to the idea of globalization. But that runs contrary to the experience I’ve had as a worker and as a person. In terms of the digital space, media can travel, barriers to entry are getting lower, and borders are arbitrary.
This pandemic is an opportunity in the sense of never letting a crisis go to waste. Knowing that we will emerge into a different future, let’s find the insights, silver linings, and the lessons about consumer behavior, media production, and doing more with less that can serve us generally.