• Monday, July 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

‘Silverbird Cinemas is doing well in Ghana with good box office grossing’

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Since establishing in Ghana a decade ago, Silverbird Cinemas has raised the bar in quality entertainment offerings with two cinemas and five screens each in Ghana. In this interview at the cinema outlet in Accra Mall, Olufunmilayo Onuma, country manager, Silverbird Cinemas Ghana, with 10 years experience across cinemas in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Uyo and now Accra, explains to Obinna Emelike the dynamics of the business, the reasons for the feats, expansion strategy, challenges, among related issues. Excerpt.

How is Silverbird Cinemas doing in Ghana?

Silverbird Cinema is doing very well in Ghana. We have been here for the past 10 years and will be celebrating our 11 years in Ghana by November this year.

We have done very well in offering the best of entertainment and quality timeout for people in Ghana, especially families. For instance, when Black Panther came out, we were No.1 for week and had the highest gross at Box Office in West Africa, we were No.2 in Africa, and No.1 again in West Africa this year for Avengers movie.

For Black Panther, we had over 16,000 people in the first four days. The figures are verifiable and were given to us by the movie distributors.

All the feats are because of the conducive atmosphere in Ghana, the easy-going lifestyle of the people, and most importantly, the fact that they cherish the time they spend with their families. Weekends, particularly Sundays are family days where a lot of families come to watch movies together unlike in Nigeria were families go out more on public holidays.

We have a lot of expatriates in Ghana, ambassadors come with their families and we have never heard of any security threat for the past 10 years. The good performance of Silverbird Cinema in Ghana is in spite of other cinemas. We have two cinemas in Ghana and there are other cinemas that have come after us, but we standout because we offer trendy and world-class movies, good customer service, amid addressing issues when they arise. Again, our founders are people that whenever any issue concerning their business comes up, they address them. Ben Bruce, our co-founder, and Edward Boateng, our chairman and co-founder in Ghana, who is now the ambassador to China, are friends who came together to start the cinema business in Ghana.

The business has been good despite normal issues, which the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has been very helpful in tackling like piracy and some TV stations showing some of our movies and we wrote them and they acknowledged it and we had meetings with them. The ministry wrote the TV stations and addressed the issues immediately. They did not say we are a Nigerian company. We have over 72 staff members and only two Nigerians are working in here (a business manager and myself).

 So far, what factors do you think contributed to your success in Ghana?

Ghana is peculiar. If you look at the position of Accra Mall, you have 11 roads leading to the mall and the airport is just behind, we have the expatriates, we have the schools and there are more universities in Accra than in Lagos.

The demography is a boost to our business here. Most of my customers are between the ages of 13-35 years old. So, when you have more than 11 universities in Accra that is a lot of numbers for the business.

Prior to my arrival here, we were using the old projector, the 35mm; now we have fully digitalized here and with that we were able to get new movie releases. So, when students are in session and the new movie releases come out, it is good for us. Like Black Panther, they had a lot of Kente in it and Ghanaians pride themselves with Kente anywhere they go. I knew about Kente because of Jerry Rawlings’ wife. When I was younger, I used to watch her on TV. Now I am in Ghana, I have seen designs for royalty and all that made from Kente. So, it is a source of pride when you see it on an international movie that was not meant to succeed with the budget and the wrong timing of the movie because blockbusters usually come out in summer and not in February when Black Panther was released.

The Republic of Togo is nearby and we do not have cinema there, so a lot of people came from Togo, Cape Coast, from different places and even some traditional chiefs came with lots of drums to see the Black Panther. So, it was overwhelming, people came in groups to see it because it touched different parts of their lives and cultures.

Of course, Ghanaians cherish family time and were not running after money all the time. Many families came to see the Black Panther movie.

Again, the Ghanaian style of seeing movies is different, it is new to them and when a new movie comes out, they want to be the first to see it and to assert to other people in the western world that we too have seen it.

Cinema culture was once vibrant in Nigeria, now trying to rebound, but it is just beginning in Ghana and they do it well. While we rush, come back and start again, Ghanaians take their time to do things. So, before even coming to see the movie, they must have followed the trend online on social media and searched for it on Google. Like Avengers, the move was done 10 years ago and a lot of young people watched it and you know that they are more active on social media nowadays than the 35 and 60s.

The intrigue of the Avengers was that a lot of people, who grew up reading comics came to see the movie and it was a three-hour film and certain super hero died that will not come out may be in our lifetime. Young people want things now and when they see it, they go online talking about it, as someone in Asia or America is talking about it, they too want to be current. The future is now for the younger generation and not tomorrow.

How many cinemas do you have in Ghana?

We have two with five screens each. The first is here at Accra Mall while the other cinema is at West Hills Mall at Weija.

We look to expansion but that is the founders’ decision to make. But next year is an election year and it would not be a wise business decision to go into any huge project.  Again, technology is changing; we have 4DX, and IMAX. So, we plan to upgrade what we have to international standard because these young people want something that is current. In Silverbird in Nigeria we have 4DX, in Filmhouse they have IMAX, and so a lot of Ghanaians want that same experience, so we are working to get it because some of these things require lots of licensing, review of your facilities among others by the regulators.

Ghana has been good to Silverbird and we have also been good to the people and the economy too.

Are the local films seen more than the foreign ones?

Funny enough, they have good producers in Ghana. But the only problem is that nobody supports the film industry in Ghana the way Bank of Industry has done in Nigeria. They do not have access to funding, but when they do, they come out with good numbers. We have had one or two producers like that, we had Keteke last year, and Lydia Forson, one of the cast members, won award at the AMVCA.  The producers are good, but government needs to support them because Ghana has lots of historic stories to tell the world such as the Kwame Nkrumah story, which needs to be made.

But the patronage of local versus foreign content in our cinemas in Ghana is 50:50. We also have Nigerian, Indian and other movies here, but Ghanaians support their own a lot. As well, there is a lot of Nigerian university undergraduates here in Legon, Kumasi among other cities in Ghana, that see Nigerian movies too.

Beyond bottles of soft drinks and packs of pop corn, what others perk do you offer customers?

We have partnerships with hotels, and other companies where we have lucky dips and give out phones, among other gift items to ensure there is no dull moment for our customers because some people might just wait for the movie to get to Netflix and download it. So, we do giveaways and packages where we get people to sponsor tickets to shows, and we also give out free tickets to music and comedy shows and concerts. There is a giveaway to our customers every month.

Our major targets for the giveaways are the young people because when they are on holidays, they do not usually get allowances, so they need all the freebies to keep positively busy with friends at the cinema. A lot of companies in Ghana have been very supportive in the giveaway packages, especially MTN and Glo.

What impact is cinema making in the tourism landscape of Accra?

If you are new in town, there is a handout they give visitors at the airport, our cinema is there. Silverbird is among the top 10 places to visit in Accra because Accra Mall, the host of the cinema, is a landmark.

Pricing has always been an issue for many would-be cinema goers, how affordable is your ticket?

Though ticket prices vary, we carter to all class of customers. We have packages where you can watch a movie for GHC 25 with popcorn and drinks on a certain day and about GHC40 on a different day. We have movies that go for GHC 40 but there are different titles based on different agreements I have with different studios. Some studios insist that you do not give discounts in the first two weeks and I will sign and after two weeks we start giving discounts. Discounts are also based on the movie, but you will always get a discount on Mondays. We have children price, which is cheaper than adult, and also ‘buy one, get one free’ on Thursdays, which is sponsored by some of our clients. We do that with banks too; Ecobank and GTBank have been very supportive. The ticket sponsorship helps them to get statistics for their data base and makes their customers to feel well-appreciated. So, in Silverbird Ghana, it is standard to buy discounted tickets at GHC 25 on Mondays and ‘buy one, get one free’ on Thursdays. Across others days, there are promotions depending on the movie you want to watch.

How do you source your movies?

We have different distribution companies and Silverbird also has its own distribution company in Nigeria called Silverbird Film Distribution (SFD), we have FilmOne Distribution, Blue Pictures, Crimson, among others that have rights to different studios. Silverbird has right to Universal Studios, FilmOne has Warner Brothers, and Crimson has Disney. So, it depends on the movie they are going to get. Then we have the local distributors in Nigeria that distribute movies such as The Wedding Party among others.

The intrigue of the cinema business is that even in 2022, we know the movies that are coming out. There is CPRS, which distributors send around to know the movies that are coming out, when, where they are shooting it, the characters and other details.

What are the challenges of running cinema business in Ghana?

Well, the initial challenges were currency issues, technology not meeting international standard, staffing and training them to render service to different kinds of people from different cultures. For instance, the India community here is very large, and you have the Arabs, among other African cultures. I never knew that Coca Cola is made in different countries and people ask specifically the country the Coca Cola you are serving is made or imported from. Some customers are sensitive to some of these details and you have to serve them because you are dealing with multicultural clientele.