Netflix and the business of film in Nigeria
Netflix Naija arrived earlier this year.  Source: Mollie Sivaram via Unsplash

“N is for Naija. N is for Nollywood….”

After work hours on Tuesday, February 25th 2020, Netflix tweeted its arrival in Nigeria. Netflix Naija was born. 

The tweet continued: “...N is the 14th alphabet. 14 is also how many great talents you’re looking at.”  

A witty caption with an image of Nollywood’s most beloved icons sitting elegantly, accompanied by Netflix’s officials and the big red ‘N’ logo in the background. 

At Nigerian twitter peak time, the delivery achieved its goal: excitement.  

It wasn’t a surprise though; given the scale of Netflix’s global expansion ambitions, its formal arrival in Africa’s largest country was an expected call. 

The American media service had streamed a few Nigerian movies on its platform before. It kicked off with October 1 in 2014. A year later, IrokoTv licensed 20 movies to Netflix as an experiment, and between 2016 & 2017, FilmOne licensed 18 titles to Netflix including the famous Wedding Party 1. 

Finally, in 2018, Netflix acquired Lionheart —its first original film from Nigeria. 

Netflix could have continued with this model of collecting movies from Nigerian filmmakers at a licencing fee to stream online. But you don’t become a $185 billion company with an annual subscription growth of over 20% without being more aggressive.   



A local strategy 

Getting closer to the ground is a similar path that IROKOtv, a digital distributor of Nollywood movies, took after initially targeting the diaspora (due to better internet infrastructure abroad).  

They later learnt that to capture the African market and gain more subscribers, establishing a better presence on the continent was important. 

For Netflix to grow its African content, it had to expand its operations within the region. Though Netflix Naija has no physical office (yet) in Nigeria—the Africa team, led by Dorothy Gettuba, will still be operating from their physical office in Amsterdam—the latest expansion into Nollywood is more about “thinking globally, and acting locally in terms of content and decision-making.”

Netflix’s investment in Nollywood is only the latest in a series of strategic moves. The goal is to grow the business by entering into more countries; Netflix Naija joins the company’s subsidiaries in South-Africa, India, UK, Canda, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Italy, France, Brazil, and others. 

The pattern is clear; these are production hubs of movies across the world. Netflix strengthens its business by expanding operations into multinational markets. 

Nollywood, the second-largest film producer in the world (number of films), is a big market and the streamer is here to benefit from it. In exchange, Nigerian movies will get more visibility through the platform —the core reason for the fanfare when it arrived. 

Netflix Naija joins several major acquirers and distributors of filmed content in Nigeria - each with a niche market segment. These include TV (M-Net’s Africa Magic on DStv), cinema (FilmOne, which is also non-theatrical distributor), and subscription video on demand—SVoD (IROKOtv).  

For filmmakers, this could mean extra cash in their pockets. 


What’s the value of a Nollywood movie?

Netflix’s acquisition of Nigerian movies ranges between ₦2 million and ₦100 million - keyword, ranges. This is more than the previous players such as IROKOtv and M-Net who acquire films for between ₦2 million to ₦4 million.

But these acquisition fees depend on several factors. Ultimately, filmmakers won’t receive more generous licensing fees if the value and profitability of movies do not improve within the local industry. 

Ife Idowu, a contracts manager who leads the non-theatrical team for licensing and international sales at FilmOne, says “We cannot expect to get the [same] fees paid for foreign movies, as the key to this is intentional internationalisation of our own movies.” FilmOne is a content company that has executed many deals with Netflix for Nollywood producers.

“As it stands, African content is majorly for Africans in Africa and Africans in the diaspora. Until that notion changes, it will be difficult to compete with foreign movies, financially,” he explains.

Nollywood rides on the glory that it is second in the world, but there are limiting factors holding the value of movies back. 


Quality is value

First, the familiar discussion on “quality.” 

Nollywood movies have a strategy of low quality, high output.  

An average of 50 movies are produced in Nigeria every week, compared to 14 in the US. 

In Hollywood, the average production time for a movie is one year with a budget of $7 million. Whereas in Nollywood, movies budget for an average of $10,000 - completed in seven to ten days.

Of course, the markets are different. It’s not as viable to budget millions for a movie in Nigeria if there is no demand to make profits.   

“Movie creators have learnt to make movies within a strict budget because they know that they would lose their capital if they spend too much on one movie,” says Ehizojie Ojesebholo, an expert in the Film Industry. 

But rushed scriptwriting and lack of adequate funds affect quality, which inevitably changes how a movie is valued in Nollywood. 

The Wedding Party (2016), Nigeria’s highest-grossing film became a success thanks to celebrity casting and partnerships, but also because some attention was given to the script. One of its executive producers, Mo Abudu, told a magazine “You can’t just wake up and say, ‘I’ve produced a film’.” 

The movie was able to capture a wide audience across backgrounds; and there lies another key to creating a high-value film. 


Audience culture - losing a generation 

In the Nigerian box office last year, only four Nigerian films crossed the hundred million naira mark. Among the 18 movies that achieved the feat, the top nine were foreign. 



These numbers can be explained by the behaviour of cinemagoers and their consumption habits. The calibre of movies on the top spots are those that Millennials and Generation Z consume the most (Avengers, Lion King, Captain Marvel, etc.) 

Well, Nigerian filmmakers are currently losing the next generation —a sentiment Naz Onuzo endorsed in an IG-Live film school with film director, Niyi Akinmolayan. Both have worked on two of Nollywood’s biggest box office films including Wedding Party and Chief Daddy. 

The growth of the industry hinges on captivating this generation. 

“Baby boomers are ageing out of their prime consumption years, and the generations that replace them may not exhibit the same propensity to spend on Entertainment and Media,” PwC states in their 2017-2021 Entertainment & Media Outlook report

Entertainment and Media CEOs revealed, in PwC’s survey, that the top-most concern for them is consumer behaviour of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1998) and generation Z (born 1998 to now). 

All of these factors make up a complex ecosystem, which international distributors like Netflix consider when acquiring a filmmaker’s movie. How many people will watch it? Will it increase subscribers?

This will determine just how much filmmakers can squeeze out of Netflix Naija. 


Another avenue for revenue 

But will there be a rush towards Netflix, replacing other distribution channels?

Currently, the big films have a few options: cinema, DVD, TV, and online streaming. All with different arrangements. 

While FilmOne will acquire a movie with an agreement or contract to share the profits after it has gone round various cinemas, Africa Magic will acquire it for an upfront fee, and place it on their cable channels.

In practice, it is unlikely that producers will skip other distribution channels at the expense of one. That way, they can maximise revenue. 

Nollywood producers will want to make a good ₦20 million at the cinema box office, as well as getting the movie on another financially rewarding platform like Netflix.  

“Every producer’s intention is to add what they can make from Netflix’s range of movie acquisition to what they make at the box office,” Ehizojie Ojesebholo, actor and filmmaker of ‘Jimi Bendel’, explains. 

Still, there will be more competition in the space. Multichoice has been lobbying for Netflix to be regulated and taxed since 2018. Multichoice has been trying to break into the video-on-demand space. 

But where Netflix could leave the other distributors behind is where it decides to create its own Netflix Originals. 


Netflix X Nollywood  

Netflix’s media rounds have been impressive and calculated. It’s officials toured Nigeria and SA on arrival and succeeded in wooing local creators and audiences. 

First, Netflix officials had lunch with those in the famous announcement photo, who have either signed deals for the distribution of their films on Netflix before or plan to produce original content with them. 

Some of them, like Omoni Oboli and Mo Abudu teased on social media that they have upcoming projects with the streamer. 

Next, Netflix had an industry round table with filmmakers and other stakeholders in Nollywood, where Netflix officials disclosed a six-part Nigerian original series —the second of its African original content after “Queen Sono” in South-Africa.  

Veteran director, Akin Omotoso will direct the sci-fi drama. which is “set in modern-day Lagos that tells the story of a goddess who is reincarnated as a human being to avenge her sister’s death, but must first learn how to harness her superpowers for good.” 

This storyline isn’t new to Nollywood films. But Netflix’s international brand prowess gives room to expect that it will integrate the ‘fantastical’ standard that pervades sci-fi films and makes it true to form. 

This is important for two reasons. First, the stories we know and love —which made Nollywood today— will continue to be produced at a high quality. Second, the production of diverse movie genres like sci-fi may be what Nollywood needs to capture the Avengers-watching Gen Z. 

“Netflix has bigger budgets per project. This enables more room for filmmakers to play creatively and accommodate higher value concepts and genres compared to what we are used to. 

As per: Sci-fi, fantasy, action, and thriller, with all the cool stuff like explosions and CGI animated content,” explains Ifeoma Chukwuogo, film director and producer of ‘Bariga Sugar’. 


Not so fast 

However, even though Netflix will be commissioning and producing Nollywood films, that strategy could be secondary. 

Dare Olaitan, film director and producer of ‘Ojukokoro’, highlights that ultimately, “Netflix is entering into the Nigerian market as an aggregator and distributor of content. They are coming in to make profit.” 

Netflix’s modus operandi has primarily revolved around the licensing of already made content (Feature/Series). “This has been their major mode of operation till date. The commissioning of original content will take some time to develop into a mainstay for Netflix [Naija],” Ife Idowu of FilmOne corroborates.

In any case, Netflix Naija is here for business, and the American media service presents a unique opportunity for Nigerian filmmakers to rethink the conditions to which their movies will fare for acquisition, even before producing it. 

Original or not, though, you can now expect to enjoy a curated experience of more Nigerian movies on Netflix.


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Fisayo Okare

Fisayo Okare

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