For Nollywood, Nigeria’s burgeoning filmmaking venture, the more things seem to get better, the more they remain stagnant. A little over two decades back when the revival that birthed Nollywood started, the most critical problem practitioners battled with was piracy. Although there were also the issue of poor quality a sizeable number of productions, something which eventually led to a lull that sent many emergency merchants turned film producers and marketers out of business, films which were initially produced on Video Home System(VHS) cassette tapes and Compacts and (ultimately) Digital Versatile Disks were subject to various levels of illegal exploitation by criminally minded people.
The biting effect of piracy has however begin to reduce with the adoption of innovative technologies that have provided alternative first level distribution channels for filmmakers in Nigeria over the past couple of years.
First, it was the gradual reintroduction of the cinema tradition, which provided an outlet for many filmmakers. Soon complains got rife about the exploitation of filmmakers by cinema owners as well. This added to the question of multiple taxation of filmmakers and the few numbers of screens available across the country dampened enthusiasm about the prospects of cinemas even though it remains one of the most veritable outlets available till date.
Enter the opportunities that attend the internet.
One of the producers who faced the tyranny of cinema owners was Blessing Egbe who fell out with the disturbing cinema of her film, Two Brides and a Baby after a breakdown in confidence. The fireworks which followed were accompanied by a threat to blacklist the producer from releasing films in the cinema. She had to find another outlet for her next production, and this took her Lekki Wives unto streaming site, distrify.com. Before then, Jason Njoku, a England based Nigeria had established a subscription video on demand (VOD) site known as Irokotv, a platform that positioned itself as a premier streaming site in Africa. Iroko also had the company of other sites like Ibaka and Blessing Egbe’s bconceptnetwork.
In addition to the fore listed outlets, filmmakers in Nigeria have the benefit of what could be described as Nigeria’s version of the studio system with DSTV’s Africa Magic and Iroko TV channels leading the park. These outlets started out by acquiring the broadcast rights of films. However, they began to produce original stories under the commission of independent producers and directors for sums said to anything from two, million, five hundred thousand naira and four million naira (N2.5m- N4m). Sources told eelive.ng during the week that increasing low quality and the deluge of offerings available has brought a significant crash in the financial consideration attached to these opportunities.
This pretty much is the situation that currently exists with Nollywood’s relationship with Netflix
NETFLIX NOLLYWOOD ROMANCE
With demographic penetration in about 190 countries globally, and a subscriber base averaging 160 million people from these countries, Netflix is rated the world’s leading streaming service platform. The company was founded in 1997, by two serial entrepreneurs Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings.
Netflix took its first Nigerian film in 2015, 18 years after it was established. At the time, the streaming service acquired rights of blockbusters such as Kunle Afolayan’s, October 1st, Biyi Bandele’s Fifty and several other titles. This was after these movies had already made rounds in Nigerian cinemas.
To further deepen their relationship with Africa’s most vibrant motion pictures industry, in 2018, during the Toronto International Film Festival, Netflix announced the acquisition of worldwide exclusive distribution rights for Nollywood royalty, Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut, Lionheart. Why the deal on Lionheart was worth all the rave it garnered, Wunmi Ralph, a Nigerian distributor who acquires film contents for multiple platforms locally and internationally including Netflix explains to eelive.ng that “… as far as both categories of acquisition go, Netflix Original gives Netflix the right to exclusively become the sole distributor of a film, while other films on their platform are non-exclusive.
“Before the current trend, Netflix Original were funded and owned by Netflix, but that is not the case anymore. There are numerous contents on Netflix now that they did not create from the scratch or fund.
“A movie like ‘Beast of No Nation’ was not produced by Netflix. They acquired it after and became the exclusive distributor globally. That was the nature of the deal they had with Lionheart,” she enlightened.
Since 2015, eelive.ng has learnt that Netflix has acquired about 42 Nollywood movies, including Ebony Life’s Wedding Party and WP2, Fifty, and Chief Daddy, Kunle Afolayan’s Figurine, Mokalik, The Bridge and CEO.and AY Makun’s Merry Men: Real Yoruba Demons.
Other titles worthy of mention are Bolanle Austin-Peter’s 93 Days, King of Boys by Kemi Adetiba and Genevieve Nnaji’s Road to Yesterday and Lionheart among others.
But It is not an entirely happy story
Recently, an actor, Bobby Obodo called out producers of some of the films on Netflix when he described some of the Nigerian films on the platform as “painful to watch.” Obodo suggested that some Nigerian filmmakers put out their content on Netflix only for the money and bragging rights and admonished that urgent attention must be paid to what goes on this platform for the preservation of the industry.
Although his social media post received mix reactions from practitioners and film enthusiasts alike, eelive.ng’s investigations revealed that there are deep seated misgivings about Nollywood and the growing Netflix interest. A couple of filmmakers who spoke to us with requests not to be named indeed validated Obodo’s assertion that some of the films on the global platform do not reflect the best of Nigeria’s potential. They argue that since the Netflix is seen all over the world, it should exhibit only the best of Nigerian films so that film lovers of not go away with the wrong impression that filmmakers in Nigeria were unable to produce quality work.
Multiple respondents who hold the view that Nigeria needs to be a lot more discretionary about films that go on the Netflix explain that most of the movies perceived to be of low-quality sell for peanuts and have started to affected prospects that quality films would get better bargains from the streaming platform. One of the respondents told us that “when we were told that a film like Lionheart was taken by Netflix for tens of thousands of dollars, I know for a fact that some of the films that people are now complaining about go for as low as three or four thousand dollars! You can imagine how bad that is for Nigerian producers. If people go to sell their films for Netflix for as low as that, how do people who invest so much time, energy and money on their films get to sell and recoup their money.”
Those who oppose the current state of affairs are also unhappy that there is a lot of concentration on films that have the seal of the distribution outlet known as FilmOne on Netflix. One of our sources asked; “why is it that well over 90 percent of the films that you find on Netflix came from FilmOne. Aside from the fact that there are a lot of substandard Nigerian films on Netflix, one also wonders why it seems that there is a monopoly as per the supply of films to the platform.”
What others say
But some filmmakers do not see the point in the argument of Obodo and others who insist that there are poor qualities films on Netflix. CEO of Big Sam Media and one of the filmmakers, whose film Seven and a half dates is on the platform does not agree that the Nigerian films on the platform are substandard. While conceding that it is within the right of people to express their opinions about movies, he pointed out that people are largely subjective about the appreciation of films such that there cannot really be a universal definition of what is substandard.
Concerning the preponderance of movies with the FilmOne signature on the Netflix, Olatunji does not see the point in the argument of critics. He opined that what is happening is that Film One realised the potential of the industry and started investing much earlier than most of their peers. He gave the example of the Chinese investment in Nollywood as a result of the proactive disposition of promoters of FilmOne.
This position was corroborated by another filmmaker who explained that the number of Filmone films on Netflix only shows that the organisation is doing its job as a distributor and the question we should ask is what happened to other distributors when Filmone was making these deals. Besides, Filmone said at the beginning of next year that they had a catalogue of about 60 films for sale, so I don’t think there is anything suspicious in this move”
While agreeing that quite a number of films on Neflix were of poor quality, this producer explain that there is a good mix of good quality films that speaks well of Nigeria clarifying however that the “only new challenge now is Netflix isn’t paying well anymore due to the fact some of these films were sold to them at cheap prices. Therein lies the problem that concerns me and serious producers.”
Yet another producer however suggests that while not all Nigerian films on Netflix speak to the potential of the industry, there is a possibility that these criticisms may be borne out of sheer envy from people who feel left out of the avalanche of opportunities that Netflix currently presents.
And that is one of the other things that stand in the way of Nollywood’s progress- the failure to present a common voice as well as divisiveness encouraged by all forms of primordial considerations. Although Netflix presents a unique opportunity for the industry to expand, the failure to put the first foot forward and agree on what is best for the industry rather than individuals might ruin this grand opportunity as several sources testified to the reduction in the cost of acquisition of films, which is invariably a blow on improving capacity!