On 4 January 2015, India’s Acting High Commissioner in Nigeria, Kaisar Alam, announced that the Indian commission is facilitating a partnership between Nollywood (Nigeria’s movie industry) and Bollywood (India’s movie industry). Mr Alam noted that the two industries contribute greatly to their respective countries’ gross domestic product and stated that “India can use its more than 100 years of experience in Bollywood to assist Nigeria”.
This announcement must be a very welcome one to Nollywood, which has suffered decline in recent years. In a 2006 study by UNESCO, Nollywood was once deemed the second-largest producer of movies in the world, ahead of the US and behind only India. Its success unquestionably contributed to the transformation of Nigeria’s economy; after agriculture, Nollywood is the second-largest sector of employment in Nigeria. However, in a later 2013 report by UNESCO, Nigeria did not feature in the list of top ten movie producers in the world.
There are a number of reasons for Nollywood’s decline, including the substandard quality of the movies that it produces, an unsatisfactory distribution network and lack of adequate regulation.
The majority of Nigerian films are, due to lack of facilities and resources, informal productions which are recorded on video format instead of being produced for theatrical release. Piracy plagues the Nigerian film industry as regulations on rights and distribution are deficient and this means that the filmmakers, who are already working on tight budgets, are incurring substantial losses. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, when the filming and editing of Nollywood movies is completed, the movies are burned onto approximately 15,000 DVDs with no copy protection and are released to marketers and street-side vendors to be sold. It has been estimated that as much as 70% of producers’ annual revenue is lost to piracy and, as piracy takes a large chunk of the profits, sourcing enough funds to shoot a movie is becoming more of a challenge for producers.
According to the Financial Times, Nigeria has only 0.4 cinema screens per one million people (in contrast, the US has more than 100 screens, and India has about 12 screens, per one million people) and UNESCO’s 2013 report provides that Nigeria is one of the top five countries in the world which has the fewest screens per 100,000 inhabitants. Box office sales of Nollywood movies are virtually non-existent despite the popularity of Nollywood movies among the Nigerian population (in a 2012 Nigerian survey by NOI Polls, just 2% of respondents said they did not watch Nollywood movies). This points to the untapped potential for a country with a young population and a rapidly growing middle class. Clearly, Nigerians are aware of the potential financial benefits that the opening of additional movie theatres can bring to the economy. This, and the resilience for which Nigerians are known, was demonstrated when a multiplex was opened in December 2014 in Kano just weeks after an attack on that city’s central mosque which resulted in the deaths of more than a hundred people.
It is vital for Nigeria’s film industry that Nigerian filmmakers recoup the money that they incur producing a movie. Services that stream Nollywood movies, such as iRokoTV (known as “the Netflix of Africa”), are not particularly lucrative for filmmakers. As observed by the editor-in-chief of Nigeria Entertainment Today, Ayeni Adekunle, “outlets like iRokoTV, Pana TV and Ibaka TV are only offering streaming services…we need to be able to buy these films online because the filmmakers need to make their money back and they are not doing that right now”. In addition, access to the screening services is difficult as Nigeria has erratic internet connections and the services are not affordable for the majority of Nollywood fans. In fact, internet penetration in Nigeria is just under 40%.
Nigerian filmmakers are keen to launch their movies in foreign markets in order to recoup the money spent on production. Nollywood’s highest grossing movie of all time, “30 Days in Atlanta”, which had grossed approximately $693,000 as at 7 January 2015, is set to premiere in Atlanta, Houston and London. Product placement also serves as a means for Nigerian filmmakers to recover production costs. Afolayan, whose film “Phone Swap” centres on the two characters accidentally swapping BlackBerrys, has stated that product placement can finance up to 30% of a movie’s budget.
While it remains to be seen what will be the outcome of the collaboration between Nigeria and India, one hopes that it will lead to increased success to both countries’ respective economies and that India, the world’s largest producer of movies, will be able to help Nollywood regain its position as one of the top producers of films in the world.