Video made the Nollywood star – and how technology is changing Nigeria’s film industry

If video killed the radio star, it certainly made the Nollywood star. Nigeria’s film industry commonly known as Nollywood started growing rapidly after independence in 1960. However, it is the video boom of the late 1980s that has left its mark on the industry.

Nollywood is the second largest film industry in number of films produced after Bollywood. It overtook Hollywood in 2009.  Nollywood has grown into a $5 billion industry and employing close to a million people. The industry currently produces 2,000 films a year and contributes 1% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). However, like Nigeria’s retail sector, Nollywood remains highly fragmented and informal.

Most films get made within a day, with budgets ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. Film crews tend to be small and the director’s assistant can sometimes take care of hair and makeup. However, movies such as” Half of a Yellow Sun” with its $8 million budget, are slowly changing the industry.

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Moviehouse in Antananarivo, Madagascar – photo Tielman Nieuwoudt

Distribution

The direct-to-video that became popular in the early 1990s, still dominates sales via the DVD/VCD formats. Nigeria has a limited theatre infrastructure and it contributes less than 2% of the total sales. Ticket prices range between $5—$8, which is significantly higher than the $2 for DVD sales.

Traditionally the DVD distributors controlled the market, most of it through illegal or pirate copies. Copyright laws are poorly enforced in Nigeria. Well timed releases such as “30 days in Atlanta” enjoyed great success at the Nigerian box office, before eventually succumbing to the pirate market.

The “Alaba Boys” (the Alaba market in Lagos) is the largest and most well-known illegal distributors in the country. The market is also the largest electronic market in Nigeria. As with the music industry in Nigeria, the pirates  became the marketers and major distributors through local vendor shops.

Some musicians  use the Alaba market for the distribution and promotion of their songs. A model successfully employed by Brazilian musicians, where the bulk of the income is often generated on concerts, endorsements and the sales of merchandise. As with their pirate counterparts in Asia, quality is often unknown.

From the Alaba market, an army of street vendors also peddle DVDs to Lagos commuters stuck in traffic or “go-slow” channel as it is known. Sometimes “minor” stars might get in on the act. Beyond the Alaba market and street vendors, there are thousands of stalls across the country that sells movies.

Technology disruptor

However, technology is changing the industry. iROKOtv’s streaming service has been operational for a number of years. Initially targeting video sharing site YouTube, the company has since launched their own platform and has more than 5,000 titles available online.  iROKOtv has become the largest distributor of films and TV series and focuses mainly on the Nigeria diaspora community.

Content availability is expanding, and Naspers’ Africa Magic Go VOD package and Kenya’s Buni.tv have also launched their services. Pana TV, which secured the rights to stream “Half of a Yellow Sun” and iBAKATV are also expanding their content offerings.

Nigerian films are based on its rich and diverse culture (more than 300 tribes). Africans are eager to see role models beyond the Hollywood stereotypes (see Blood Diamond 2006), and films have struck a chord across the continent. iROKOtv recently reached an agreement with Canal+ focusing on their francophone audience. The Alaba market’s dubbing services have been catering for years to the export and non-English speaking market. Some sources claim Nigerian films are available in more than 50 languages.

However, steaming is slow and expensive. Nigeria as well as the continent’s internet audience remains predominantly mobile.  Currently the broadband penetration is around 10%. In 2015, a report by Ericsson ConsumerLab , revealed that 82% of people in Nigeria are currently using mobile phones to access the internet, almost exclusively.

ISPs (internet Service Providers) have improved in Nigeria. However, mobile phones will continue to be the most popular way to connect to the internet. iROKUtv has launched an android app and MTN is planning to roll-out 3G to every state in the country by the end of the year. Telecom companies such as Smile are offering 4G/LTE data bundles in Lagos. At a cost of more than $400 for a 100GB data bundle, it targets the business community and “Ajebo” (rich) community.

However, the “Alaba Boys” are fighting back.  To counter streaming services, some have moved their entire video library for free viewing to YouTube. Nevertheless, as technology and ISPs improve, streaming services are set to take a bigger share of the market. And the “Alaba Boys” will unlikely star in a happy ending.