After 72 days on the air, “Big Brother Naija,” a reality program sponsored by Nigerian social payments platform Abeg, came to a rousing conclusion on October 3. The show, which premiered on July 24, is Africa’s most successful and watched reality show, with amazing financial and audience figures.
The “Big Brother” brand, which began in the Netherlands, has spread around the world, including to Nigeria, where it organized by the pay-TV business MultiChoice Nigeria. It depicts a group of individuals living in a large home, cut off from the rest of the world yet monitored by television cameras.
Since its inception in 2006, “Big Brother Naija” has seen six seasons. The show’s organizers stated that 900 million votes cast during its fifth season. With millions of people watching the program every day, it is only natural that corporations wanting to advertise in front of them have to pay a premium. According to some estimates, being a main sponsor of the drama program costs $2 million, and Abeg is the most recent recipient of the type of blitzscaling expansion that “BBN” brings.
Dare Adekoya, Muheez Akanni, Patricia Adoga, and Eniola Ajayi-Bembe formed Abeg in 2020, its name is a pun on the popular Nigerian slang term abeg meaning, “to ask or beg.” In September of that year, the platform debuted with a Cash App-style game: Abeg allows users to request and pay money to one other with tags using a wallet-based mechanism.
But, after accumulating 5,000 members in its first few weeks with no promotion, what started as a few of Gen Zs checking out fun stuff outside of Nigeria’s typical payments arena soon developed into a firm aiming to grow. Abeg gained additional users during the next few weeks. However, by 2021, the app’s popularity had faded, particularly on Twitter, where it first garnered notoriety. To many, it appeared as if the app was dying a gradual death.
Therefore, it was surprising when MultiChoice revealed the startup as the show’s lead sponsor in April, months before the sixth season began. How did a six-month-old firm, which had not reported any financing and appeared to be suffering at the time, manage to sponsor a $2 million show? Many spectators had this question on their minds. They also come up with some hypotheses.
In a call with the startup’s founders, TechCrunch did get some answers. “We had previously received a pre-seed round from local investors before the Big Brother program,” CEO Adekoya remarked on the call. He said that a portion of the hidden pre-seed round money utilized to fund the show. The solution appeared too hidden in the fine print of MultiChoice’s April statement, which listed Abeg as “a product of top financial technological business Piggytech Global Limited.”
PiggyVest, Nigeria’s most popular savings app and one of the country’s most valuable fintech businesses, is the parent company of Piggytech. According to Multichoice’s statement, Abeg was bought by Piggytech before the show aired (in late 2020, according to those acquainted with the situation), and some sources claim Piggytech paid the “BBN” sponsorship money for Abeg. Though Abeg’s CEO rejected the story, it appears to be a more plausible conclusion because it is uncommon to see a pre-seed stage firm with a few thousand customers obtain funds and set aside a $2 million marketing budget only to spend it all at once.