PAMRO: fighting film piracy in Africa - survey results


PAMRO (Pan-African Media Research Organisation) held its 11th Annual Meeting on 23-25 August 2009. One of the key topics was about film piracy. The presentation was geared to helping African producers, distributors and broadcasters understand how the game is played and why they must respect intellectual property rights if they wish to build sound business relationships with major content suppliers.

The presentation was the outcome of a survey conducted a month prior to the event by Basic Lead in partnership with Balancing Act and with the University of Paris-Sud. Under the topic "Fighting Piracy With Creative Solutions", Cherise Barsell, Head of Audiovisual Sector-Africa, Discop explored how the industry should solve piracy. The presentation addressed the following questions: How much money do legal content distributors and broadcasters lose due to piracy? What explains the level of piracy in each country? How do audiences treat pirated content? What solutions can we implement or strengthen to best deal with the current problem?

As on most continents, film and TV piracy in Africa is rampant. Industry leaders regularly present new estimates for the global annual cost of media piracy- usually in the high billions!- and keep the discussion alive with new proposed measures to enforce copyright law. In South Africa alone, internationally successful South African films have reported numbers approaching US$1 million in lost revenue as a result of piracy. Every now and then, there are media reports on major actions undertaken by the police against pirates and TV stations being fined by authorities for illegal broadcasting. But what is the reality on the field? Sylvain Beletre of Balancing Act spoke to Cherise Barsell, Discop :

Q: Cherise, why did you decide to carry out this film piracy survey?

A: I talk to TV stations across Africa on a daily basis, but piracy is often a taboo subject. To better understand our clients and the African film market, we needed to get more insight into piracy as a major factor in the value chain, and how it influences our clients' decisions to attend and benefit from our trade shows. Film and TV piracy in Africa is rampant and it’s important for us to work with industry experts to overcome major roadblocks for the growth of the African audiovisual industry. Piracy has a devastating effect on the media industry for every country involved and local productions often suffer the most, as they are pirated locally and don’t have a chance to enter the international market. I wanted to dig deeper into the issue and to discuss concrete and creative solutions during PAMRO.

Q : Most of us know the negative effect of film piracy, are there any positive consequences to piracy in Africa?

A: That is another taboo subject which provides some interesting insights. If you have bought or watched illegal content, you may have realized that it is often hard to get, you take risks and you may end up with bad quality. Piracy consumers are usually young people and it is well-known that the most communicative generate positive PR for productions that can eventually result in greater sales.

In Nollywood, each film is replicated into 50 to 200,000 CDs/DVDs - distributed to markets, video clubs and eventually various homes, sometimes illegally. This process creates jobs and income for the people involved in the production and distribution of the DVDs. Pirated DVD are relatively cheap for consumers and therefore content spreads fast to a wide audience. Most importantly, film and TV content, including pirated material, is motivating consumers to legally purchase HiFi, TV, and home video devices, Internet connections, computer hardware and software, and cell phones, further generating jobs and increasing national revenue.

Piracy has also encouraged price reduction for legal DVDs, cinemas, and pay-TV subscriptions, making them more accessible to the general public. Some pirated documentaries, films and TV stations have improved information and education among the masses, with piracy enabling their message to reach more people. Lastly, piracy can motivate consumers to purchase better quality legal content. When you are a real fan, you buy the real thing! But these factors still do not hide the fact that legal content can do the same job, but with a greater benefit to producers, the media industry, and the economy as a whole. From our side, we are working to understand why piracy is so strong and widely accepted in Africa and how we can work with all players involved to reduce it where possible and profit from it where its not.

Q: How many responses did you get to the survey?

A: We got email responses from 45 people who are major industry personalities across Africa, representing 13 countries. Most respondents work for African productions companies, film distributors, TV stations, regulators, and other government bodies. We qualified the responses further via phone calls with a selection of experts on the African film industry.

Q: According to survey feedback, what do those in the media industry in Africa think should be done to counter piracy in Africa?

A: The majority of respondents - especially producers - have confirmed that there is a lack of information on the level of piracy in each country and what fines or penalties pirates can expect to incur. They have expressed that governments, with the support of media firms, should make the population aware of copyright laws and provide relevant guidelines via major media outlets and schools.

Unfortunately, the industry is battling hard but the pirates are sometimes stronger than the authorities. Destroying pirated content is not enough: To fine, sue and follow up on major piracy groups is essential. Monitoring shops, TV stations and cinemas closely is also paramount. We understand, however, that these measures require a lot of resources which governments and local firms often do not have. Some respondents came up with the idea of taxing video consumer goods like blank DVDs and Internet access to give a share back to film producers and to make it more difficult for pirates to sell cheap DVDs. Another option is to include more sponsorship and advertising as part of productions to balance revenue losses from piracy, since advertisers can also benefit from the content being highly pirated.

A few producers are getting nervous about the next few years, with the arrival of cheaper and faster Internet access in Africa potentially offering uncontrollable possibilities to piracy. It must be carefully controlled to avoid illegal download and streaming. The survey provided some interesting insights concerning illegal TV access: $18 dollars to get connected at a monthly fee of $3. Cable TV operators and ISPs should, and some have, consider these figures and see how they could reduce subscription prices with relevant bundle packages while being able to cover their costs, pay their employees and make money in the long run.

One respondent reminded us that piracy is also limited to a limited number of the population: We should remind ourselves that 550+ million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa have no electricity (World Bank) and cannot therefore have easy access to audio-visual content and the knowledge that comes with it. Another 46% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than 1$ a day (Economic Report on Africa, By Economic Commission for Africa, United Nations). It is important that we understand the context in which piracy has a stronghold before implementing barriers and constraints on an already constrained industry.

Q: What are the reasons for film piracy in Africa?

A: A few respondents explained the key reasons for piracy. First, as we can also see in Europe and the US, piracy is the cheapest option and therefore often the most attractive consumer choice. Jobs are also scarce and selling illegal content is a way to make money. As the sector is more often than not under-or unregulated, the risk is relatively low for pirates. Adding to this, corrupt officials sometimes liaise with pirates, further reducing their risk of prosecution. Lastly, people are often uneducated on the value and importance of original material and are unaware of the laws against piracy in their country.

Q: What are the negative impacts of film piracy in Africa?

A: Piracy has had a strong negative impact on local production, pay-TV subscriptions, advertising revenues, cinema attendance and legal DVD sales. Since illegal copies sometimes offer low quality, film piracy also affects the image and branding of large productions. Local producers and distributors of legal content suffer directly, but the media industry, the economy, and the citizens who have reduced access to quality content suffer alongside them. The black market may be strong, but it can’t make up for the money lost from new and adequately valued productions and their distribution. Since African films are rarely distributed outside of Africa, it’s essential that producers can rely on a local legal consumer base in order to foster and build a local voice on TV and in films. We can only expect quality productions when the society values the work.

Q: Did you learn anything new and what are the key survey findings?

A: There is not much information about the topic and thanks to this survey and our discussions with experts in the field; we now have a much clearer picture of how illegal content affects the whole African film industry. We are now certain that most of African countries are confronted with artistic content piracy, mostly for films and music. DVDs are cheap and easy to replicate, and this is the first threat. Next comes a few TV stations not paying TV rights to the producers. Authorities must punish TV network who broadcast pirated programmes. Lastly, pirating pay TV channels is one of the strongest threats in many countries. It seems that illegal Internet streaming and downloads, common in the West, has not yet arrived in Africa, simply because Internet penetration is very low. According the International Telecommunications Union, less than 5% of the population of Africa has access to the Internet, and only 0.2% of Africa’s population has broadband access. But that should change rapidly within the next 5 years as significant fiber optic cable projects are making waves on the African continent. African telcos and cable operators need to get their act together fast to plan for piracy threats.

A summary of the survey results will appear in a later issue.