In­ter­net shakes up Africa

Lesotho Times - - Weekender -

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.

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