Powered by growing demand for local content and a rapidly expanding theatrical sector, Nigeria is expected to hit box-office highs in 2018, with the industry on track to shatter the record it set last year.
As Africa’s largest economy continues to rebound from recession, bizzers are bullish that steady gains in recent years will continue to push the industry toward new heights. “It’s looking really positive for the prospects for the industry,” said Moses Babatope, group executive director and COO of FilmOne Distribution.
Total B.O. is on track to top 5 billion naira ($13.8 million) for the first time in 2018—a 25% increase from last year’s record-setting haul. While the actual take is still a drop in the ocean by global standards, investors continue to pour money into new theaters, fueling hopes that Nigeria is only beginning to scratch the surface of its exhibition potential.
“The thing that we’ve suffered from the most is not having enough cinemas,” said Mo Abudu, whose EbonyLife Films has produced the two top-grossing Nigerian films of all time, “The Wedding Party” and “The Wedding Party 2.” “It’s great to see people investing more in the sector, because it’s the only way we’re going to grow.”
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New players are entering the market, with 12 new theaters slated to open by the end of the year, almost increasing by half the total number of cinemas in Nigeria. That’s impressive year-on-year growth, to be sure, but it’s also a reflection of how far there is to go: by year’s end, just 40 cinemas will be servicing a country of 190 million plus, pointing toward a vast, untapped audience still waiting to be reached.
“If we have another 24 cinemas than we did last year, then it becomes much easier to break the box office,” said Abudu, whose EbonyLife will release its next feature, “Chief Daddy,” in time for the holiday season.
Expansion isn’t the only healthy sign for the local film biz. Earlier this year, industry professionals came together to launch the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association of Nigeria, a body that Babatope said will go a long way toward boosting the professional standards of an industry often criticized for lax bookkeeping. “For the first time, we were able to get all the cinemas together to see…the benefits of box office collation, data gathering, and how we can help investors see what is going on,” he said.
The association was instrumental in bringing comScore to Nigeria, which will help the country align with global norms in gathering and analyzing B.O. data. “Beyond the benefits of better decision-making and more transparency…I think that could really go a long way to create confidence in the system,” said Babatope. “That’s really major for the industry.”
Perhaps most encouraging is how Nigerian audiences continue to support local films. Gone are the days when Nigerian cinema was only defined by the low-budget, straight-to-DVD fare of its Nollywood industry; more than 80 local films will get a theatrical release this year, with gross B.O. expected to top 1 billion naira ($2.75 million) for the second year running.
That would have been unthinkable just five years ago, when local films took home just 5-10% of the total box office. Last year, that figure was closer to 40%. “To be at 40% in just a short space of time, with more and more cinemas being built, just tells you where the money is,” said Babatope. He added that it’s become “very compelling for studios to take a look at the local production market,” since Nigerians are “able to tell our stories in a cost-effective way.”
FilmOne is in discussions with a studio for a co-production slate deal that Babatope said “will change the landscape completely.” EbonyLife’s TV division has already inked deals with the likes of Disney and Sony Pictures Television, while Netflix’s most recent Nigerian acquisition, actress Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut, “Lionheart,” was its first Netflix Original in the country, and the latest sign that the streamer is determined to add more Nigerian content to its globe-spanning offerings.
International players are keen to take a seat at the table of the continent’s most dynamic entertainment biz, said Abudu. “There’s a new scramble for Africa, and we have stories that…global audiences will enjoy.”