Streaming vs cinemas: How Nollywood can thrive
Nigeria’s over 100 million internet subscribers may not fit into the about 70 cinemas across the country or even be able to afford the average N1,243 movie ticket the cinema operators demand, but they do not have to miss the fun with the many streaming services now in existence.
There is, however, a bigger incentive pushing producers and investors in Nollywood toward streaming services – the promise of a global audience. Recent movies such as King of Boys: Return of the King, produced by Kemi Adetiba have ridden that wave to success. In 2021, the seven-episode series ranked seventh in the world on Netflix’s global viewership board (a streaming platform).
Nevertheless, experts say there is a difference between popularity for a movie and becoming the most-grossing movie like Omo Ghetto: The Saga in 2021. The debate is that should the Funke Akindele comedy movie had ended up only on Netflix without making the rounds in cinema halls, it may never have raked in N640 million it recorded at the Box Office.
Sadly, Netflix does not release data on movie earnings; hence, one may never know just how much was realised from streaming the movie on that platform.
As alluring as the revenues from cinemas may be, they have a serious limitation in supply and capacity.
According to a UNESCO report in late 2021, the number of cinema screens in Africa is at 1,653, which is one screen per 781,402 in population coverage, compared to the United States which has a total of 44,111 cinemas, which is 7,503 per screen.
Nigeria, the largest country in Africa, and Lagos being the home of the second biggest movie industry in the world, can only boast 237 screens as of November 2021. This amounts to population coverage of one screen per 843,881 people.
While revenues from cinemas may be bigger than streaming at the moment they are only just recovering from a pandemic hit, going by data released by the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN). The data found that the total weekend movie ticket sales rose by 100 percent to N2.4 billion ($5.4m) in 2021 from N1.2 billion in 2020. The figure however is a decline from the record in 2019 at N4.1 billion ($9.9m).
On the other hand, South Africa, the second-largest economy after Nigeria, has about 120 cinemas and was able to generate $18.8 million (N7.7bn) in weekly sales in 2021.
Factors that affect cinema revenues and ticket sales are not far-fetched, according to experts. They include multiple taxations, low-income levels, inflationary forces, foreign exchange in terms of equipment import, quality content, among others.
These limitations have played a role in the popularity of streaming services. The emergence of streaming platforms such as Iroko TV, YouTube, Netflix, Showmax, Amazon Prime, Ndani TV, etc, is considered as the new era of movie production.
“Netflix is like one of the major investments that have actually put the industry out there. People from outside the continent of Africa can now watch content, view our stories, relate to how we tell our stories. It has also paved the way because filmmakers can now go directly to the audience in terms of telling stories,” said Damilola Aleje, a creative producer in Nollywood.
Netflix and Amazon Prime did not just thrust the industry into the global stage, they also have helped set the gold standard for movie making in Nigeria. Prior to their coming, hurriedly made movies proliferated the market and were marketed and distributed by traders in Alaba Market, Aba, and Upper Iweka in Anambra. But the streaming services have made quality production a must-have and now control how the distribution of the movies is run. Importantly, they brought competition to the market.
“I think each platform is going to play their game and it’s also going to get as much revenue as they are going to get. Streaming platforms are coming in hard. The competition is becoming stiffer. 2022 is streaming wars. It’s not just one major player anymore. The players are now going to be distributed into different angles,” Aleje said.
Notwithstanding, old hands like Kunle Afolayan, the producer of hit movies like Citation, October 1, A Naija Christmas, and many others, believe the best revenue model for Nollywood is one in which streaming and cinema exist side-by-side irrespective of their differences.
Streaming services face significant limitations in Nigeria, especially in the availability of internet infrastructure, the rising cost of living, and uncertainty in regulatory policies. Broadband penetration currently stands at 39.9 percent and streaming relies heavily on mobile broadband.
This means that the speed for videos is very low and quality may vary depending on the network service a user is using. For example, in areas where 4G is scarce, users may not be able to enjoy the streaming services. It would require huge investments in fiber-optic cable deployment to get the services across the entire country. It is estimated that Nigeria requires about 120,000km of fiber cables to achieve full internet service, as the country has a deficit of 80,000km.
In the absence of streaming services in major parts of the country, cinemas can fill the gap for movie lovers through community cinemas.