Nigeria’s film industry: a potential gold mine?

On average, producing a movie in Nigeria costs between $25,000 and $70,000, says the British Broadcasting Corporation. The films are produced within a month and are profitable within two to three weeks of release. Most DVD movies easily sell more than 20,000 units, while the most successful ones sell over 200,000. But despite the success of the movies, Nollywood actors’ incomes are low. Even the most popular get paid between $1,000 and $3,000 per film. Only a few can claim higher earnings. Actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, one of Nollywood’s highest-paid performers, recently topped the charts at 5 million naira ($32,000) per film.

Tackling piracy

Author Patrick Ebewo attributes the popularity of Nigerian movies not only to their low unit costs, but also to their “indigenous content of issues relevant to a mass audience”. Through a combination of African storylines and Western technology, “these films document and recreate socio-political and cultural events”, states Ebewo.

But Nollywood’s popularity also means serious piracy problems. The World Bank estimates that for every legitimate copy sold, nine others are pirated. “In terms of exports, these movies are purchased and watched across the world  in – other African countries, Europe, USA and the Caribbean, and almost all the exports are pirated copies,” remarks Nwagboso. She adds that because there are currently few legal channels for exporting movies, few or no returns go to the filmmakers and practically no revenue goes to the government. The current collaboration between the World Bank and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, the Nigerian Copyright Commission and the National Film and Video Censors Board is therefore necessary and urgent, many analysts believe.

Legitimate distributors also want an end to piracy. “We’re the first guys to actually legally reach out in Lagos to the production houses, the owners of the movies, and negotiate and sign deals with these guys so they can finally get remunerated for their hard efforts,” claims Njoku.

Shining light

The Nigerian government and other industry players, assisted by the World Bank, hope to fund anti-piracy measures such as the source identification code, which will create “a digital distribution platform for Nigerian films”. The code will connect video clubs and retail outlets and ensure that only digitally secured content can be rented.

Euromonitor International and Reed Exhibitions, organisers of the World Travel Market, a global event for the travel industry, predicted in their November 2012 report that Africa’s projected 5.2% GDP growth rate in 2013 would be due in part to the popularity of the Nigerian film industry, which it said would also attract domestic and regional tourism. While Nigeria was hosting the industry’s top brass in March, President Goodluck Jonathan referred to Nollywood as “our shining light,” adding that “whenever I travel abroad, many of my colleagues ask me about Nollywood”. The challenge is to ensure this light shines even brighter in the future.

This article was first published in Africa Renewal