A look into the digital culture of Africa shows that the youth are the key drivers. Many youth have access to the internet at increasingly younger ages. Smartphones and other mobile devices are young people’s gadgets of choice for easy online access to many entertainment options including Subscriber Video-on-Demand (SVOD) platforms.
Remarkably too, the COVID-19 protocol which imposed restrictions on public gatherings which affected cinema culture gravely. When the pandemic struck, it hit Africa’s film industry hard, forcing cinemas to shut down while several productions were postponed. But it spelt good tidings for the streaming economy as a surge was recorded during the pandemic.
The 2020 report by the International Finance Corporation and Google reported that the surge in streaming audience was mostly being driven by increasing access to high-speed internet, with over 40 percent of the 1.3 billion population now connected to the internet. This trend also fueled the rise in investment in local content.
In order to achieve sustainable development, efforts are needed to tackle some of the challenges with existing film distribution structures, which is being supported by the emergence of SVOD. A content distribution technology that allows each user to access video content, SVOD is a game changer for film distribution in Africa as many filmmakers can now heave a sigh of relief after production, giving complete autonomy to the user especially with the flexibility of access to the videos on multiple devices including television, smartphone, personal computer or tablets.
Unlike the traditional television viewership, SVODs do not rely on satellite or cable connection- just internet connection. Since its arrival on the continent, there has been a significant growth in the number of SVOD platforms. Network infrastructure has improved over the years just as the youth population in Africa has increased considerably.
In a 2022 report published by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 65 percent of Africans are under the age of 35, and Sub Saharan Africa’s youth population is expected to ‘double by 2050’. Indeed, the youth are Africa’s most abundant resource.
For many Africans, video viewership is not just a pastime; it is an important tool for orientation. Many Africans- both in Africa and the diaspora- desire the kind of entertainment that reflects African values and lifestyle. This is where competition meets value.
Global streaming giants such as Amazon Prime, NETFLIX, Apple TV+, Disney+, Google Play Movies are in a fairly competitive market with a number of new African streaming sites such as iROKOtv, StarNews Mobile, Cell C Black, Ndani.TV, Congatv, Nollyland, AfrolandTV for viewership.
At the moment, Showmax, owned by the Africa-based entertainment company MultiChoice is a key player in the revolution in SVOD intervention with its unique offerings: strong local content, HBO, live sports which sets it apart from other movie streaming platforms.
For instance, Showmax Pro offers live broadcasts for the English Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, UEFA Europa and UEFA Conference leagues Launched in 2015, Showmax is accessible in sub-Saharan Africa boasting of a slew of local programming.
While it may be argued that Showmax, Amazon Prime and Netflix are the top three giants in video streaming services in Africa, Showmax is positioned as a platform that is 100 percent dedicated to the African market, with its repertoire of local and international content that allow for more diverse content. With the choice of two plans namely Showmax and Showmax Pro plans, content is delivered via adaptive streaming up to HD (720p).
From an elaborate catalogue of HBO exclusives and access to live sporting events to original drama series, Showmax boasts a diverse archive of content. By focusing on African storytelling, Showmax is giving a voice to many storytellers in Nigeria.
With the campaign slogan, ‘No one tells the story like we do,’ Showmax relives the reality of storytelling from the perspective of a local. Famed movie stars, directors and producers from the continent have leveraged this unique selling point to tell unique African stories through their own lenses thereby making the stories relatable for the viewers in Africa.
“As custodians of our own history and culture, we are compelled to use our platform to tell authentic African stories. Showmax is keen on matching content with context as well as amplifying new voices in African cinema,” Ope Filani, general manager, Showmax Nigeria stated while reflecting on the rationale behind this campaign.
Showmax’s localization strategy is a power move cutting through the noise in a market filled with competitors with an agile mindset and a variety of choices. However, a quick flashback to the years without the internet and streaming platforms indicated that cinema culture in Africa was king. Fast forward through the years after colonial rule in most parts of Africa, there came VHS, DVDs, MP4s and satellite TV as new forms of film distribution. Indeed, evolving technology has always necessitated the type of film distribution system that exists at every period in history.
No doubt, movie distribution has been fraught with challenges from socio-economic to political. In South Africa, for instance, many black natives were excluded during the Apartheid regime because cinema productions were created largely for white Afrikaner patrons. According to the UNESCO report on Apartheid published in the organisation’s digital library, the reality of the South African filmmaking industry was that in many ways black South Africans were excluded.
Many Black South Africans had no money to make films. They had no access to equipment. The segregation laws affected the cinema culture and the blacks were largely disadvantaged during the apartheid years. But in 1989, F.W. de Klerk replaces PW Botha as president, and meets Nelson Mandela who was a political prisoner at the time. Public facilities such as hospitals, schools, banks and cinemas were desegregated.
Like South Africa, Nigeria also had its share of unfavourable political climate during the later years of military rule. In the 1980s, Nigeria’s cinema culture waned due to lack of access to funding and mismanagement of existing infrastructure for screening amongst other reasons. Prominent cinemas such as Pen Cinema and Casino Cinema were turned into religious venues. Subsequently, the trend of direct-to-video production popularly known as home videos arrived in the early 90s.
With a rapid decline in cinema culture in Nigeria and the fragile distribution network for VHS and DVD movies, a huge vacuum was created. What would have been a resurgence in movie distribution was the home video production- the VHS era. Still, widespread piracy crippled sales in Nigeria although the Nigerian film industry was rated as the third largest in the world at the time.
2003 was quite historic because the first Africa Magic Channel on Digital Satellite Television (DStv) was launched while a rebirth of interest in cinema culture began with Silverbird Cinemas in 2004. Other cinemas such as Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, FilmHouse Cinemas, IMAX FilmHouse, EbonyLife Cinemas and more have evolved through the years to cater to a burgeoning population of film buffs in the city.
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A new wave of filmmakers emerged in Nigeria as well as other parts of Africa. This time, they are keen on improving the quality of cinematography and storytelling. If we fast-track across the years to the present, we will discover that these visual storytellers through their carefully produced content take the viewers through relatable stories in the form of telenovelas and reality shows including AMVCA and Emmy-nominated ones.
Despite the glimmer of hope in the world’s second largest movie producing industry Nollywood-as Nigerian movie industry is christened- piracy remains a plague that kills what could have been profits in the film industry. According to the World Bank, for every legitimate copy of a Nigerian film sold, nine others are pirated.
This represents a staggering figure of 90 percent of the movies produced. The industry holds a huge potential for economic growth in Africa. PriceWaterCoopers (PwC), a leading consulting firm, has projected that Nigeria’s Entertainment and Media (E&M) industry’s revenue will rise from $7.68 billion in 2021 to $14.82 billion in 2025.