Mobisodes for Nigerian Film Industry

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For stakeholders in the Nigerian film industry, the just-concluded 7th Lagos International Film Festival (LIFF) in Lagos was a ground-breaking event. It was at the Festival that a new product in the country's telecommunications sector, Mobisodes, were introduced to the Nigerian film industry.

A three-hour film, for instance, can be summarised and transmitted and the highlights watched in fleeting moments of two or three minutes. Reports indicate that the video-call technology is already raising the profile of service providers from Voice Calls and Short Message Service (SMS).

But for other participants at LIFF, held between December 4 and 6, with the theme "Cinema and

Development", the event would remain memorable because, for the first time, journalists and telecoms operators brainstormed on the relevance of cinema in national development. Among the discussants were Globacom's Bankole Ojutalayo and Samson Isa, as well as Jane Egerton-Idehen and Omason Ogisi, both from Erickson. Specifically, their focus was on how Nollywood could take advantage of the "more than 57 million phone subscribers".

"The Nigerian movie industry is an emerging market. A successful market. A rich market, with millions of Nigerians having handsets. So Nollywood will be a good content provider", Ojutalayo said. Re-echoing her colleague's assertion, Egerton-Idehen called for a synergy between content and service providers to provide entertainment, education and information.

But as alluring as the market is, the content providers are scared stiff of doing business with the telecoms companies. Many accuse the telecom outfits of trying to short-change them. A content provider, who pleaded for anonymity, said that an agreement reached with one of the service providers recently was an "unpleasant experience". "They offered us peanuts for our works to be marketed on their network. The deal was very much tilted in their favour", he said.

But Stephens Osezua, a popular Lagos-based home video producer, says that the new vista is

a good development. "It is the new media capable of enhancing the quality of our programmes. That is our hope and our aspiration", he stresses.

The Secretary-General of Independent Television Producers Association, Ndidi Nwabueze, who also canvassed support for the video call, described the market as a "huge one". Allaying the fears of content providers in negotiating good deals with the service providers, Nwabueze said that there was hope. "The only way to get a good deal is to insist that such negotiations are done professionally. We must engage the necessary expertise to go into negotiation with the service providers so that we will not be disadvantaged", the official said.

But one thing analysts say remains an impediment are the existing laws. They say that the laws give the various networks enormous powers and leeway in such negotiations and want the National Assembly to provide a level-playing field.

But Sylvester Ani, who runs a video club, says that the only way out is to forge a sound working relationship between content providers, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the various networks.

The discussants at LIFF, who also harped on that, agreed that content providers should form a union to protect and defend the interests of members and promote professionalism. On the tariff for the video-calls, the discussants expressed the hope that the price would drop if more subscribers patronised the product.

LIFF's Chief Executive Officer, Madu Chikwendu, says however that he is looking beyond the Nigerian market for the content providers. "There are about 700 million people in Africa who subscribe to telephone services and my target is get at least 600 million", he says.

He said that the desire to open up the market informed the choice of the theme of the Festival.

"We want African film makers to devise a means of gaining access to the sprawling market so that they can make more money", Chikwendu says.

Like many anlysts, he says that a major achievement of the Festival was its ability to move the film industry to a level considered "piracy-protected". "The coded downloadable snippets of films, live matches and landmark events on mobile telephony is a great achievement", Chikwendu says. While celebrating the new vista, anxious subscribers say they just cannot wait for the time it will take off.

Filmaker South Africa