Netflix, Amazon contest for audience with Nollywood

With the growing streaming culture among Nigerian movie fans and filmmakers, streaming giants appear to be taking over Nigeria’s film industry in terms of distribution, especially among the younger demographics.

Netflix, on its launch in Nigeria, adopted the tagline ‘Nollywood is Home’, and is gradually altering how movies are distributed in Nigeria.

Eighty-three percent of the 1,000 people surveyed by Inside Nollywood say they prefer waiting for movies to be available on streaming services because most films would get there anyway. Additionally, they say they prefer to purchase tickets for Hollywood films with higher production values.

Young Nollywood filmmakers with the promise of a global audience as a bigger incentive are more likely to release their movies on streaming platforms than go the rigorous route of campaigning for their movies to be on the big screens.

Streaming platforms have made efforts to enter the Nigerian market by partnering with local studios. Netflix partnered with Kunle Afolayan and Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife Studios, and Amazon Prime Video with Niyi Akinmolayan’s Anthills Studios.

Brief history

For many years, the Nigerian film business relied on home video distribution, plagued by piracy issues that made filmmakers unable to draw in even 5 percent of moviegoers. Kunle Afolayan and some other filmmakers brought back films deserving of the silver screens to the Nollywood audience, beginning with his 2014 crime thriller ‘October 1’.

Other movies like Ayo Makun’s ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ (2014), its sequel ‘A Trip to Jamaica’ (2016), and Kemi Adetiba’s ‘The Wedding Party (2016) followed suit and ushered in a new genre of Nigerian blockbusters, which paved the way for filmmakers to confidently debut more films to the cinemas. From 2014 to 2019, the process became simple, from the production of the movies to nationwide distribution to heavy marketing.

Due to the rapid expansion of the film industry, this formula created a demand for accurate box office revenue collection, which started in 2018. ‘King of Boys’ (2018, N231.7 million), ‘Chief Daddy’ (2018, N387.5 million), ‘Merry Men 2’ (2019, N233.9 million), ‘Sugar Rush’ (2019, N287 million), and ‘Living in Bondage – Breaking Free’ (2018, N168.8 million) are a few examples of previous blockbusters that performed well financially.

At the start of 2020, weekend sales for the first quarter of that year were N888 million, the highest Q1 earning in four years, and just as filmmakers were beginning to reach a new high in cinema earnings the COVID-19 pandemic happened, forcing a global lockdown and sparking a huge interest in streaming.

Lockdown and the dawn of the streamers

Netflix arrived in February 2020 to the delight of movie fans who couldn’t wait to stop feeling their personal spaces with DVD plates and instead binge-watch a full season of their favourite movie or series, just by a tap of the play button for a basic plan of N2,900 monthly.

The pandemic brought uncertainty, and the Nigerian audience was obliged to stay at home as the cinema business dipped significantly, much like the world economy. Since no one knew with certainty when things would return to normal, switching to a streaming service or releasing films in cinemas first before selling the rights to streaming services a few months later seemed like an intelligent business decision.

Towards the last quarter of 2020, cinemas opened for business with strict COVID restrictions such as operating at 60 percent capacity which saw movies released in that period struggle financially. However, the pandemic fatigue and yearning of movie fans to return to their movie routines in full force got cinemas filled on the release of Funke Akindele’s ‘Omo Ghetto: The Saga’ in 2021, which grossed over N636 million, making it the highest-grossing Nollywood movie of all time.

Cinema business in 2021 looked to recover from pandemic woes as the total weekend movie ticket sales for the year rose by 100 percent to N2.4 billion from N1.2 billion in 2020, with Nollywood titles accounting for 39.3 percent of the tickets sold in that year.

Fast forward to 2022, two years after the lockdown, data has shown that cinema attendance has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but people are going for Hollywood titles more than local content.

According to reports, despite admissions remaining at their typical level during the same period in 2021, Nollywood’s market share in cinemas fell to 25.8 percent in the first half of 2022.

Hollywood movies benefitted from the slight increase in ticket sales, which left Nollywood movies competing for an even smaller share of moviegoers. Despite the steady increase in movie attendance over the previous five years, the decline in 2022 is a record low.

Out of more than 1,491,000 tickets sold, Nollywood secured 964,523 in the first half of 2021. In contrast, it only sold 520,656 of the more than 1,498,000 tickets that were sold in the first half of 2022, a 46 percent decline from the prior year.

In its third week of release in January 2022, ‘Spiderman: No Way Home’, the biggest grossing movie at the local box office, continued to compete for viewers’ attention with other Nollywood productions because it was still the most popular film of the period. ‘Superstar’, ‘Aki & PawPaw’, and ‘Christmas in Miami’ were a few of the films.

While new films struggled to find a niche to thrive on, the first eight weeks of the year saw cinemas continue to run leftover Christmas films in an effort to grab the last of the money they could offer.

By March, ‘Before Valentine’ ‘Dinner at my Place’ and ‘A Simple Lie’ were the only Nollywood films to perform slightly above average with opening week scores of N11.6 million, N17.6 million and N15.2 million respectively.

As the market share for Nollywood declines, this begs the question of what role streaming services play in the story as the answer lies in how the audience prioritises the content it pays for and consumes.

Study by Inside Nollywood demonstrates that the audience will choose free material first, then premium paid-for service in absence of free content and finally streaming services like Netflix, which permit password sharing and serve as fresh pop culture touchstones for the younger generation.

Audiences are increasingly reliant on streaming services to watch Nollywood movies as filmmakers follow the new pattern of releasing their cinema before transferring them to streaming services. In the long run, this strategy might be a barrier to the movie industry, even while filmmakers and stakeholders strive for better returns on investment.

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