What Netflix’s involvement in Nigeria’s massive film industry really means

4 January 2019

Distribution

Big investors seem to be mainly interested in Nollywood's already established popularity with African audiences

Global streaming service Netflix set its eyes a few years ago on Nigeria’s film industry, better known as Nollywood. Distribution of Nigerian movies on Netflix started around 2015. At the time the American giant bought the rights of blockbusters such as Kunle Afolayan’s October 1st, Biyi Bandele’s Fifty and several others, after they had already been distributed in Nigerian cinemas.

During the Toronto International Film Festival 2018, Netflix announced the acquisition of worldwide exclusive distribution rights for Nollywood star Genevieve Nnaji’s debut film as director, the comedy Lionheart. The film marked the first Netflix original film from Nigeria. Many saw this as the beginning of a new era in the relationship between one of the world largest streaming platforms and Africa’s most prolific film industry.

But, is this actually true? Is Netflix going to transform Nollywood? And how significant will its impact on the Nigerian film industry be?

Difficult questions

These are not easy questions to answer. Nollywood’s economy and modes of production are unlike those of most other film industries. Over the past 20 years Nigerian films have circulated mostly on videotapes and Video Compact Discs (VCDs).

This distribution system made the industry widely popular across Africa and its diaspora. But it prevented Nollywood from consolidating its economy and raising the quality of film production. Piracy dramatically eroded distribution revenues and producers had trouble monetising the distribution of their films. Nollywood prioritised straight-to-video distribution because cinema theatres had almost disappeared in the country (as in most other parts of Africa) as a result of the catastrophic economic crisis that affected Nigeria in the 1980s. Read the full article on Salon here.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.