Roaring out of the gate at the start of the year on the heels of a record-breaking 2016, Nigerian exhibitors look to have shaken off the economic slump that’s slowed Africa’s largest economy since early last year.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth in the sector, both from the distribution and the cinema side,” says Craig Shurn, CEO of Part Two Media, and a board director and adviser to Nigeria’s largest theater chain, Filmhouse Cinemas, and its production and distribution arm, FilmOne. “It’s become a lot more open, where people are approaching us to invest.”
The rebound is giving a boost to an industry that has plenty of room to grow. It’s been just over a decade since the Silverbird Group built the first multiplex in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation; with a construction boom in the past five years, there are now around 30 modern cinemas operating across the country.
But with most of those concentrated in the largest urban centers, the bulk of Nigeria’s population of 180 million remains underserved.
More screens would have a dramatic impact on the country’s box office. Though a 53% spike over 2015 helped to smash records in 2016, total B.O. was just 3.5 billion naira, or around $9.8 million — a fraction of the $85.5 million recorded by South Africa, which is the continent’s second largest economy (and could overtake Nigeria this year).
But in order to put those numbers in perspective, says Shurn, one need only look at the screen averages in Nigeria, which he describes as “staggering.” He points to the example of “Furious 7,” which pulled in around $1 million of foreign exchange in just 18 cinemas.
“That would be one of the highest [averages] in the world,” he says.
Executives at Imax, which partnered with Filmhouse to open its first West African theater in Nigeria in 2015, have said their Lagos outpost outperforms theaters in many other territories.
The partners are looking to open another Imax theater in the next year, and Filmhouse has continued to expand into second-tier cities, even in light of Nigeria’s economic struggles.
Expansion can’t come fast enough for an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds. Just a few years ago, Hollywood ruled the Nigerian box office, but today, local films are accounting for 30%-40% of total B.O. each year. That means a crowded slate for exhibitors hoping to juggle the latest Hollywood blockbusters alongside a steady stream of Nigerian content that local audiences are clamoring for.
Release windows are shrinking. A film that enjoyed a six-week theatrical run just a few years ago is lucky to stay in cinemas for a month, according to Joy Efe Odiete, CEO of distributor Blue Pictures. “Unless a movie can prove itself in the first weekend, it’s on its way out by the second weekend,” she says.
That’s put added pressure on distribs to build buzz around new releases. Studios that overlooked Nigeria until recently are starting to raise their marketing budgets, according to Shurn, as they recognize the growing importance of the Nigerian market.
“The smart ones will jump onboard quickly,” he says.