Nollywood battles internet pirates as streaming booms

Nigeria’s film industry, popularly known as Nollywood, is grappling with rising cases of internet piracy as streaming is booming.

‘Blood Sisters’, produced by Mo Abudu, premiered in May 2022 to rave reviews from movie fans, has since ranked number 9 on Netflix globally and attracted about 11.0 million hours of viewing.

However, the movie, which is supposed to be exclusive to Netflix, has been uploaded on NetNaija, a free-to-air streaming platform notorious for movie piracy. It is not only Blood Sisters that is now streaming free on NetNaija, nearly all the Nigerian movies, including ‘King of Boys: Return of the King’ released on Netflix, have been uploaded on the piracy platform.

‘Blood Sisters’, ‘King of Boys: Return of the King’, and many other Nollywood productions are also being downloaded from 02Tvseries. As of May 15, the platform has recorded 51,533 views for ‘Blood Sisters’.

BusinessDay’s visit to NetNaija also shows that ‘Blood Sisters’ is one of the trending Nollywood movies and has the most comments on the platform. Other streaming platforms where Nigerians download new movies include, Fzmovies, Tfpdl, and YouTube also houses many pirated movies but ‘Blood Sisters’ and other Nollywood titles are yet to find their way on the Google-owned platform.

“Filmmakers are not making enough money here. So to see them lose money to piracy is painful. My fight is not with the people who can’t afford Netflix subs. But at those making money off piracy,” said Dika Ofoma, communications officer at TNC Africa, a film and TV production company.

Ofoma sees NetNaija as a piracy platform that is providing people’s hard work illegally to their audience and making money off it.

“That’s criminal,” he said.

According to data from GIPC and NERA Economic Consulting, the global movie industry’s revenue losses from digital piracy are between $40 and $97.1 billion per year.

Online piracy thrives because of huge demand. Apart from patrons who are trying to avoid paying for monthly subscriptions on platforms like Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, others say platforms like NetNaija are necessary to bridge the gap between those who can afford internet data and those not able to afford data. Almost all the piracy platforms enable users to download the movies and watch offline, whereas Netflix allows subscribers to download but they can’t watch outside the app.

NetNaija told BusinessDay on Sunday that its mission is to provide information and entertainment for its users. It would not, however, comment on allegations it was pirating other people’s work or how it makes money, given that it offers its services for free.

It is estimated that pirated video material gets over 230 billion views a year. More than 80 percent of global online piracy can be attributed to illegal streaming services.

Experts predict that the global online TV and movie industry will continue to lose revenue in the future. According to online piracy statistics, the movie and TV industry will lose $51.6 billion to online piracy by 2022.

The streaming service industry has transformed the movie industry in Nigeria and around the world. Streaming has not only made it convenient for people to watch their favourite movies and TV shows, it has boosted the income of practitioners in the industry.

Read also: Nigerians spent N2.3 billion on action movies in 2021

Streaming has become so popular that many streaming services now have their own studios where they can produce their content. A Business Insider article reports that in 2019, Netflix alone released 371 movies and TV shows. In 2021, Netflix was again in the lead with 39 percent of original content being released from their studio, with HBO Max just behind them at 37 percent.

While Africa houses more than 1 billion people, a report claims it has less than 5 million subscription video-on-demand users. Millennials are also more likely to find piracy normal.

Ofoma says to curb piracy, it could be better to consider going through the cinemas in terms of distribution for films.

“If cinemas are people’s (first) locations and tickets are affordable, I think that will discourage illegal downloads,” he said.

He, however, acknowledges that the growing level of poverty makes it more complicated as there are more poor people who cannot afford cinema tickets or the cost of subscription for SVODs like Netflix. Monthly subscription for Netflix ranges from N1,200 for mobile-only, N2,900 for basic to N4,400 for premium subscribers. HBO Max subscription cost N5,900 and the average cinema ticket cost N1500.

“But I do believe that if the films are available to them and affordable, piracy sites would become less of an option for them. And that will help curb the activities of piracy sites,” he said.

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