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Cambodia: The Loy9 effect

120615_03

With filming set to begin for the second series of the hit youth TV show Loy9 – which uses entertainment to encourage youths to become more socially engaged – its project director Colin Spurway spoke to 7Days about the secret of its success, what to expect next year, and what the Loy9 crew will be up to in the meantime: on the radio, the internet and the road with the wildly popular Loy9 van.

According to CTN, Loy9 episodes drew audiences of well over two million a week. Were you surprised by its success?

It didn’t catch us off guard because while we were filming the first episodes the reaction of the studio audience showed us that we had a potential hit. They were very excited and enthusiastic. We also conducted plenty of research before we launched, planned very carefully and had gathered a very talented and young production team. Their average age was 23. So we had a youthful, and very Cambodian, perspective embedded in the program before it even went on air and were pretty sure it would go down well But, yes, I confess, even we are very pleasantly surprised to see just how popular it has actually been!

Where did the name Loy9 come from and how well known is it now?

It actually came from one of our interns who’d previously worked at LIFT [the Post’s weekly youth magazine]. It’s an idiomatic phrase in Khmer. The meaning doesn’t translate into English literally, but essentially it’s a phrase youths use to praise something that looks well done, anything from doing well on an exam to wearing a new shirt or scoring a goal. It was selected from a list of about 250 names. We did a lot of brainstorming about this and almost opted for a Sanskrit phrase that means “listen, think, discuss, note”, but we chose Loy9 because the stories we tell are about young people doing well, and because the phrase is so youthful and memorable. And it seems to have worked because after just four months on air [January to May] Loy9 really has become a household name.

How do you manage to tap the interest of an audience from a culture that isn’t your own?

We’re not importing an entire program structure from another country. Just because a media model works in culture X does not mean it will work in culture Y. You do need to consider what has worked in other places, but you should then reduce that to its essence as a basis for starting up in another country. Sometimes that essence is just a matter of a few key words or ideas. In this case, we knew from experience at the BBC [which produces the show with funding from UNDP] that if young people take the reins of production, then music, drama, comedy and radio phone-ins can be combined as components of really successful youth “edutainment” programs. What’s important is to build the details of a show in a way that fits the local culture and context so that you can effectively use these tools to allow people to express their ideas in their own way.

Loy9 won’t be back on TV until next January. How do you plan to maintain momentum?

We still have our weekly radio show on FM103 on Saturdays at midday which has a really active audience, and we have a considerable fan base on our website (www.Loy9.com.kh) and Facebook. We will also continue to air Loy9 TV and radio spots throughout the year, highlighting important information like how and when to register for the National Assembly elections.

In addition, we have our Loy9 van. It will continue to tour the country visiting interesting people and events so that we can start to make series two for TV (and a lot of the current radio and online content) together with young people in their own communities. We are a Cambodia-wide project and our target audience is primarily rural, so getting out and about is vital. We are also tying up with other media outlets who are interested in the same demographic we are, and that will help to keep Loy9 on people’s minds.

If rural Cambodian youths are your primary audience isn’t radio the best way to reach them? Most households in rural areas don’t have TVs and broadcast signals don’t reach many parts of the country.

The radio market is pretty fragmented, but it is still the most easily accessible medium for a lot of our audience members. Plus it has the great advantage of allowing genuine dialogue through phone-ins. So the Loy9 radio show is an important part of our work and is on air every week. But, actually, most villages do have a few TVs and people gather around them to watch programs. They may have to use batteries to power them, but if they do CTN and MYTV [CTN’s youth channel] can reach most of them. Our research shows that about 70 per cent of young people in the country regularly watch TV, and a show as well liked as Loy9 can get a primetime slot. So by combining TV, radio, live events, and online, Loy9 has the ability to really become part of millions of people’s everyday lives.

What can we expect from series two?

Series two will have even higher production standards as our teams learn even more about producing BBC-quality content. But it will also be even more interactive and participative than series one. Because we are a household name now, that gives us the chance to hand over the production reins to the audience to a much greater extent. So this time we’ll be seeking stories from them rather than drafting lists of contributors ourselves. If any of your readers have any suggestions, I would genuinely welcome them to contact us.

Are any shifts in format or content planned?

We’ll keep the same basic format. We will still include a major drama component. Audiences across the country loved the drama in series one – even though its heroine was a very realistic 18-year-old village girl in sandals. We will continue to combine that with an in-studio magazine show that mixes discussions, music, debates, games and challenges. In The first season we focused on commune level institutions because it came just before the recent commune elections. In the next series we’ll start talking about more national-level institutions. We did a survey in 2010 and found that 60 per cent of our youth respondents said they did not know what the National Assembly was. We want to shift this so that there is more knowledge about the basics of national institutions, their roles, and how youths can engage with them. We think that it’s in everyone’s interest that this shift takes place. And we think Loy9 is now ideally placed to make a real contribution in that direction.

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