Internet shakes up Africa
NAIROBI — From the juggernaut that is Nigeria’s Nollywood to the budget action films made in the suburbs of Uganda’s capital, Africa’s entertainment industry is on the rise and constantly innovating.
And thanks in large part to faster and more affordable internet connectivity, it is also breaking free from traditional production and distribution models.
The self-taught Ugandan director Isaac Nabwana makes an actionpacked movie every few months, at a cost of less than $200 (about M2 643), in a Kampala slum called Wakaliga. His studio Ramon Film Productions – which uses props made from scrap metal and condoms filled with food colouring for fake blood – has drawn such attention that the area is now known as “Wakaliwood”.
“I wanted to complete school but the problem was the fees, so I had to find my own ways to make movies,” Nabwana said. “I borrowed a camera – if I want something I don’t take long to learn it. Technology has helped a lot. I wouldn’t be able to broadcast myself if not for technology.”
The trailer for Nabwana’s hit action film Who Killed Captain Alex?, complete with violent fight scenes and special effects-laden shootouts, has been seen 2.6m times. The films are currently distributed through the sale of DVDS to fans in Uganda and beyond, but the team are considering other options.
“We want to sell online, that’s our next target,” said Nabwana. “We do promote our movies online already – people watch the trailers on computers but also on smartphones.”
Phones are also playing key production roles. Jongo Love, a love story and thriller released in Kenya last December, was shot entirely on a Nokia Lumia 1020. Produced by the team behind Shujaaz, a hugely popular multiplatform project targeting young people, Jongo Love was also widely promoted online.
“We first put out trailers and pumped it on social media, and then just before the school holidays put the full film on Youtube for free,” said Mnikelo Qubu, head of digital at Well Told Story, the makers of Shujaaz. “Within a month of being online, we’d already hit 100,000 views. Digital had totally great reach – we spent the next two months engaging young people off the back of the hype around the movie.”
The team also made about 7,000 DVDS that were distributed by hand, including many to established distributors and to video dens. The dens are an established tradition in many countries in the region, where audiences pay a small fee to watch films, soap operas and sport.
“There is still a need to put out content via physical means, to reach from the top to the bottom of the pyramid,” said Qubu. “Especially in the rural areas, people don’t always have access to smartphones or access to data.”
Video dens, public televisions and satellite offerings at home are unlikely to fade out any time soon, but as internet speeds improve and costs decline, more and more viewers turn to streaming sites and online viewing.
IROKOTV, launched in 2010 by the British-nigerian entrepreneur Jason Njoku and often described as the Netflix of Africa, offers an online catalogue of several thousand Nollywood films.
The streaming service has also been coproducing content since 2013 and a year later began to make original programming through Rok Studios.
“Nollywood fans are the original binge viewers – they’re used to having movies playing all day, every day – it’s part of the noise,” said Njoku.
The Nigerian movie industry produces up to 2,000 titles a year. “With digital means of consuming content, the catalogue they have access to is now larger than ever,” said Njoku, who also sees mobile as a key distribution tool.
Netflix recently became available legally across Africa, after rolling out in 130 new territories in early 2016.
Online video on demand (VOD) is still out of reach for many – the cost of high-speed data is often prohibitive. Regional competitors, such as Naspers, MTN and MultiChoice, have launched VOD offerings in an attempt to grab the top end of the market.
“Choice is what has been missing for the African entertainment fan; choice and access,” said Njoku.
“Online viewing has given fans choice – setting content free and making it more accessible than ever.”
Actors play out a scene in one of Nabwana’s movies, filmed in a scrapyard in Wakaliga, Kampala.