Until the Lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the Hunter.
Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author, said this.
The African film industry began its rise during the decolonization period of the continent. At the time, African directors began to use the art of filmmaking as a political instrument in order to restore an image that had been wrongly depicted by Westerners. For generations, Africa’s stories have been continuously told by those who colonized it, but things are changing.
The African film industry
Urbanization, young demographics and the expanding middle-class are success drivers for Africa’s film industry. They are likely to contribute to its rapid growth in the future. Perhaps one of Africa’s greatest assets is its highly diverse cultural, historical and social composition. Experts say that if Africa were to invest in cinema infrastructure, it could achieve annual box office revenues of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
The Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) is the most popular on the continent. It produces 2,000 films a year, and is only behind India in world rankings. It is the country’s second largest employer and its estimated annual revenue is $590 million. On average, producing a movie in Africa costs between $25,000 and $70,000, says the British Broadcasting Corporation. African films are by far the cheapest and quickest to make anywhere in the world! The films are produced within a month and are profitable within two to three weeks of release.
Despite the success of the movies, actors’ incomes are low. Even the most popular get paid between $1,000 and $3,000 per film. The film industry faces the ultimate challenge of piracy. The World Bank estimates that for every legitimate copy sold, nine others are pirated. The industry is also plagued by low funding and poor distribution networks. Finally, physical restrictions caused by the coronavirus have put movie production on hold.
These challenges have brought streaming platforms to the forefront of the conversation. Enter, Netflix.
Subscription Video on Demand – Netflix
According to the latest report by Digital TV Research, Netflix is dominating the subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) market in Africa. The American VoD platform is crushing local competition. In 2019, its 1.4 million subscribers in Africa stood next to Showmax’s 550,000 subscribers and Iroko TV’s 300,000 subscribers. Amazon’s Prime Video, a new entrant into Africa’s VoD space, is only projected to grow its subscriber base from 56,000 in 2019 to 400,000 in 2025.
Netflix is available in 190 countries with about 200 million subscribers globally. Oh, and 2020’s pandemic has been good to Netflix. Its paid membership numbers grew from 182.856 million at the end of March 2020, to 193 million at the end of June 2020. Yet, the future is even brighter. RBC Capital Markets predicted an increase in subscribers from June’s 193 million to 500 million by 2030.
In 2018, Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart made headlines for its milestone as a pioneering African Netflix original. Queen Sono, Africa’s first Netflix original drama series created by an entirely South African cast and crew, had a good first season and has been renewed for a second. Within its first few weeks of release, the series shot to #1 in viewership in several African and Caribbean countries. In May, Netflix launched its second Africa series, Blood & Water.
Importantly, Netflix is working with a $15 billion original production and licensing budget for Africa. One that will enable Nigerian filmmakers achieve high-quality, globally competitive productions. Profit is Netflix’s clear priority and the continent offers incredible returns. According to Digital TV Research, revenues from streaming platforms are expected to exceed $1 billion in sub-Saharan Africa by 2024. Already, Netflix attracts 39% of subscribers.
But is this good enough?
Indeed, Netflix accounted for 1.4 million subscribers on the continent in 2019. To offer comparison however, there were 60 million subscribers in the US! The cause of the disparity is singular – the high cost of Netflix subscriptions relative to the purchasing power of African households. What is Netflix doing about this?
Previously, three subscription plans were available – Basic, Standard and Premium. This year, it announced the launch of two lower-cost plans aimed at smartphone users. The new plans are called Mobile and Mobile+ and they are available in Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria.
For the lower price, they limit users’ flexibility. The Mobile plan only affords streaming on a smartphone and tablet while the Mobile+ plan includes the option of watching on a laptop. Notably, TV is excluded. But who needs TV? This population of smartphone users is increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa. The GSM Association expects the number to reach 500 million by 2021.