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Cinema industry seeks to recover from six-month zero performance

…hope of surpassing over N6bn earnings in 2019 dims

The Nigerian cinema industry is looking to recover after over six months of inactivity and zero revenue occasioned by the lockdown and safety measures imposed by the government at the peak of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Sadly, cinemas across Nigeria have been closed since late March 2020 until late September, even when other businesses were allowed to open at the easing of the five-week lockdown.

While the industry made no revenue from late March to late September 2020 due to the pandemic, cinemas raked in over N1.5 billion in movie ticket weekend sales the same period in 2019.

Considering the impressive growth of the industry in the last five years, movie industry experts and film distributors regret that the N1.5 billion loss from movie ticket weekend sales within that period would have been N2 billion revenue or more if there was no pandemic.

According to data released by the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN), Nigerians spent about N6.7 billion on movie tickets in 2019; a figure that represents over 200 percent increase from about N2 billion spent on movies at the cinemas in 2018.

READ ALSO: Cinemas have re-opened across Nigeria

Going by the data and annual growth, the industry is expecting to earn at least N8 billion by the end of 2020. But that feat seems a dream this year considering the economic reality and health challenges.

“With the six months shutdown, we have suspended all our revenue targets for 2020. Our worry now is recovery, and how to get more Nigerians to visit about 80 cinemas across the country to improve patronage,” Clement Omoruyi, a cinema exhibitor, states.

Speaking further, Omoruyi says the pandemic made most producers already at film locations to suspend their shooting, resulting in lack of quality movies for both Nigerian and foreign blockbusters, while most schedules for cinema premiere have been called off for lack of movie to show.

“After months of shutdown, you need exceptionally thrilling movies to lure cinema-goers back on the big screens or else, they will stick to the streaming platforms, which are their newfound love,” he says.

In line with Omoruyi, a source at FilmOne, a foremost movie distribution company, and an arm of FilmHouse Cinemas, notes that patronage is improving and that there is no increase in the prices of movie tickets yet in order to woo more patronage.

Further investigation by BusinessDay reveals that movie ticket price ranges between N1,000 and N3,000, the rate they were before the pandemic and cinemas are not going to increase the prices for now.

However, industry stakeholders express hope with the increasing patronage since the partial opening of cinemas in late September, and the full opening this October.

Cinemas made N20.6 million from movie ticket weekend sales in the month of September 2020, according to CEAN data. The earning, which was a somewhat relief, was also unimpressive because few cinemas were open, while Lagos cinemas, which make up over 70 percent of cinemas across the country, were still closed.

But in October, when the Lagos cinemas were opened, after a six-month shutdown, the numbers improved.

Surprisingly, Nigerian cinemas earned N27.6 million in the opening weekend of October, a figure movie distributors assured would increase to N30 million weekly and over N100 million at the end of October.

Speaking on the improvement in patronage, Josephine Okaka, a film distributor, notes that at the opening week in September, Lagos cinemas were not opened, opened cinemas were operating at 30 percent capacity, few people were willing to visit and blockbuster movies were not out then.

“The situation is getting better and more people are willing to go to the cinemas now,” she says.

Though the numbers are improving now, Kikelomo Obembe of Silverbird Cinemas notes that the reduced capacity in line with social distancing is forcing cinema outfits to take only the contents that they are sure will make money in the cinemas and give them more playing time.

“For instance, a screen normally has five shows in a day, now it will have as many as 10 shows so that people can have the opportunity to see it more.

“We now maximise our number of shows and good films can get to the cinemas and have very good playing time so that we can increase our viewing time and can make more money,” she states.

Despite the improvements, industry experts think Nigerian cinemas may not earn up to N3 billion at the end of this year, the lowest in five years, because of the six months of inactivity and the low patronage that trails the remaining part of the year.

Meanwhile, some industry experts think that patronage may not be the same again considering the competition from Video on Demand (VoD) platforms, which is getting intense with the acquisition of content by the platforms for their users before they are out on the cinemas for moviegoers.

They also think that the competition was stiffer during the pandemic with the VoD platforms latching on the opportunity to gain more patrons at cheaper rates and convenience of their homes.

But cinema houses think otherwise. “We are not scared of the VoD platforms because about 95-98 percent of the films that are streamed on these platforms have already done their cinemas runs. They have gone to the cinemas and are now out of the cinemas. So, it is not really like we lost any content,” an anonymous source at FilmHouse Cinemas explains.

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