The Nigerian film industry has long grappled with distribution challenges. For years, filmmakers were either losing 82 billion naira to piracy as in 2014, or struggling with distribution channels to give audience access to their films. According to filmmaker Imo Umoren, there always seems to be a bottleneck between filmmakers and distributors. “This limited how far the local content could travel and filmmakers could not earn well from their content,” says Umoren. In no time, people began to look for a way to tackle the distribution problem faced by the film industry. One way the industry approached this was with the entry of subscription-based platforms.
One of the pioneers of this innovation was Irokotv. The platform launched as a subscription-based platform negotiating distribution deals with local movie producers and offering a wide range of films to subscribers. In no time, the online streaming service was often dubbed the ‘Netflix of Africa’. By 2016, they had raised $19 million in a series E, to invest in producing 300 hours of original content. According to Iroko’s founder, Jason Njoku, his early investors made a whopping 3,000% profit on their early investment. Since then, the rise of streaming platforms in Nollywood has been nothing short of meteoric. There were a few homegrown platforms, such as IbakaTv, Afrinolly, and NollyLand. And it wasn’t long before global streaming giants, like Netflix and Amazon, made their way to the continent. However, the presence of global streaming giants in Nollywood continues to raise concerns about the survival of indigenous streamers.
Netflix was the first to make its mark in Nigeria strategically. By acquiring local theatrical releases and collaborating with established filmmakers, Netflix produced many high-budget local productions. The streaming giant invested around $29 million each year of operation in the Nigerian film industry from 2016 to 2022. Their global brand recognition and the availability of local content to a worldwide audience also positioned them as a significant player in Nollywood.
Amazon Prime Video followed suit, launching a localized version of their service in Nigeria called Prime Video Naija. The company implemented marketing techniques such as affordable subscription plans, a free seven-day trial, and increased investments in local content production. They allowed Nigerian subscribers to pay in naira and decreased their subscription price to N 2,300 per month. This helped the streaming platform swiftly gain traction in the Nigerian market.
The last few years have seen both streaming giants steadily growing their subscriber bases in Nigeria, with both companies fighting for dominance in the Nigerian market. Their presence has also been crucial to the growth of the industry. Since entering the Nigerian Nollywood market in 2016, Netflix has committed $23.6 million to more than 250 locally-produced, co-produced, and commissioned video content.
However, the rapid evolution of Nigeria’s streaming landscape, means local streamers have to face intense competition. In 2020, after 9 years of being Nigeria’s top movie streaming service, IrokoTv said it no longer found it comfortable running its African operations and had decided to scale them down. “Over the next week, iROKOtv will be defocusing our Africa growth efforts. And we will revert to focusing on higher ARPU (average revenue per user) customers in North America and Western Europe.” CEO Jason Njoku said in an official statement.
Although global streamers have a significant advantage over local streamers in terms of financial resources and innovation capabilities, some local streamers are finding ways to stay afloat by finding alternative ways to reach their audience. For example, IBAKATV introduced a new system of movie distribution and free data for subscribers last year. In an official statement, CEO Blessed Idornigie said, “We’ve noticed that many customers have difficulty streaming movies due to the high cost of content consumption. The issue isn’t the cost of the subscription, but the cost of the data.” The company partnered with two telecommunications companies to provide free data to customers. Some other local streamers have opted to post their films on YouTube.
As much as the streaming giants are currently dominating the Nigerian film industry, the struggles faced by the local streamers should serve a valuable lesson for them. The Nigerian market presents unique hurdles, including rising inflation and high data costs that deter potential subscribers from having dual subscriptions for both data and streaming services. Moreover, piracy remains a concern, as cheaper yet illegal streaming websites and Telegram groups continue to distribute popular films, unauthorized.
Nevertheless, Nigeria’s market offers significant growth potential, with a large and youthful population showing increasing interest in streaming content. The important thing for both local and global streaming companies is to understand the market and meet consumers’ needs effectively. This may involve addressing affordability concerns, exploring partnerships, and developing innovative strategies tailored to the Nigerian audience. By adapting to the local landscape, both local streamers and global giants can carve out their respective spaces in the growing Nigerian streaming industry.