Not many Nigerian films are rated G or PG. The G-rated or PG-rated symbol is often a voluntary gesture by filmmakers to indicate that their films are suitable for general or parental guidance audiences, according to the Motion Picture Association of America rating system. Although these symbols are not common or official symbols for Nigerian film productions, the idea behind them is universal for filmmakers – creating movies that can appeal to any audience, especially children. A look at the highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time shows that only a few such as Aki & Pawpaw, Breaded Life, and The Ghost and the Tout Too fall under this classification.
This leaves a void in the Nigerian film market for family-friendly movies, especially within the mainstream sector. “Nobody is taking steps to tap into this space, yet it’s one way to ensure our films are inclusive of everyone,” said Niyi Akinmolayan, the filmmaker behind Nollywood’s first family cinema movie, Mikolo.
The movie narrates the adventures of Funke and Habeeb, two spirited children whose curiosity leads them to the Irumole forest, where they encounter a mysterious creature named Mikolo. Their adventure becomes a catalyst for mending their parents’ troubled marriage, as well as for exploring their potential and identity. Although the film is still fresh in cinemas, it holds significance for the Nigerian film industry, showcasing the potential for Nigerian filmmakers to explore the thriving market for family and children’s cinema.
The big business of family cinema
Family movies are films with broad appeal, spanning audiences from children to adults. They often explore themes like adventure, comedy, fantasy, and animation, making them some of the most lucrative and beloved productions in the film industry. Notable successes in this genre, such as The Lion King, Frozen II, Toy Story 4, and Incredibles 2, all amassed over $1 billion in global box office revenue upon their releases. This impressive financial performance is attributed to their ability to draw substantial viewership.
Also, family cinema movies tend to generate revenue from various sources. They establish synergies with various media and entertainment products, including books, comics, games, toys, clothing, and theme parks. Merch sales alone can generate billions of dollars in revenue for the film industry and its partners. According to a report by Licensing International, the global retail sales of licensed merchandise related to entertainment and character properties reached $128.3 billion in 2019, accounting for 44% of the total licensing market.
Usually, filmmakers use marketing strategies like leveraging existing franchises to increase the demand and popularity of these movies and products. For example, Toy Story 4, one of the successful examples that grossed over $1 billion worldwide, is part of a franchise that has been running for over two decades. Another great example is the Barbie movie. The movie earned $155 million at the domestic box office on opening weekend alone.
Some studios use premium video-on-demand, where first-run of these movies are offered directly to consumers on streaming services for a higher price than regular subscriptions. Universal Pictures has used this medium to release some of their top family movies, such as Trolls World Tour and The Croods: A New Age. The studio reported that they earned more than $100 million each using this format. Globally, the family-friendly movie market generates about 60 million in revenue yearly.
Nigeria is a goldmine for family cinema
According to UNICEF, Africa’s child population will be 1 billion by 2055, making it the largest child population among all continents. Nigeria, which has the largest population on the continent, will account for a large percentage of this growth. Nigeria has a large and growing population of children and young people who are potential consumers and creators of family movies. For example, despite the current economic situation in the country and dwindling purchasing power, the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria reported that Nigerians spent N10.5bn to watch movies in the cinema in the last 19 months.
Nigerians (and Africans) are also increasingly becoming attuned to movies that reflect our social and cultural realities. In this light, Mikolo does not only offer a whimsical African adventure but also a social and cultural statement. Investors are increasingly looking for film industries that offer diversity. This is why streamers like Netflix have been investing in African content recently. So far the streaming giant has invested a total of $175 million in Africa, (especially Nigeria and South Africa) as part of its strategy to offer more diverse and original stories.
Moreover, family movies are an opportunity to tap into Nigeria’s talent pool. Most family content uses technology to create or incorporate stunning visual effects and realistic animations that enhance the storytelling and the immersion of the viewers. In an interview with ShockNG last year, Akinmolayan said, “We are using a lot of technology and VFX software for the film (Mikolo). For the first time in a Nigerian film, we are live scanning the humans in the project so that it would be easy to make their character move in a flying scene. This is just some of the tech involved in making sure the live-action comes out fine and smooth. An amazing fact about this production is how the animation team working on the project in comparison to Hollywood is quite gapping. Just shows how the team has built capability as a studio team,” he added. Currently, there are a few players exploring entertainment tech on the continent. Further exploration could also help break down the barriers that have traditionally prevented African talent from reaching a global audience.
Beyond cinema, children and family content is a big market. YouTube’s latest report shows that children’s channels are now more popular than any other channel. Kids’ channel, Cocomelon is the highest-earning YouTube channel of all time, with estimated earnings of $282.8 million since its creation in 2006. Nigeria is also home to the biggest film industry with the capacity of producing over 2,500 movies per year and employing 5 million people. It would be great to experience the rise of indigenous filmmakers exploring more family-friendly movies and the impact this would have on Nigerian cinema. According to Niyi Akinmolayan, “We’re doing something powerful, with family and children movies. We want to make films that get children to come to cinemas. I always say that as long as Nigerians keep supporting the industry, we’re going to do great things and we’re going to get bigger.”