African films should embrace VOD

Admire KUDITA

In July 2019, French television company Canal+ acquired the ROK film studio from Video On Demand (VOD) company IROKOtv, founded by film magnate Jason Njoku in 2010 (and backed by US$45 million in venture capital) for an undisclosed amount.

IROKOtv has an extensive catalogue of Nollywood film content — the largest in the world.It has viewers in 178 countries. This ability to span a larger network of African consumers and the diaspora greatly contributed to ROK’s acquisition by Canal+. IROKOtv’s key online streaming markets are Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Monetising creativity

According to Fortune magazine report in 2014, the Nigerian government released data for the first time indicating that Nollywood is a US$3,3 billion sector, with 1 844 movies produced in 2013 alone.

The report states that “many observers believe that the global reach of African films could takeoff, led by VOD platforms and productions of Nigeria — the continent’s largest economy and most populous nation”.

African creatives and policymakers may also take a cue from the freakish success of South Korean musician PSY.Around 2012, PSY, the South Korean-born Park Jae-Sang — shot to global fame on the back of Gangnam Style — a satirical song. The video generated massive global attention, with 3,4 billion views on YouTube to date.

The South Korean singer and rapper is now worth US$60 million.On average, YouTube pays content creators who own copyright material on its platform, between US$600 and US$7 000. The company calculates these figures via a system called CPM or cost per 1 000 views. Other factors are considered, including quality of viewers (age, gender, location), views by geographic location, type of content (viral, informational, news, comedy), frequency of video uploads, duration of views, subscriber count and engagement.

Monolithic market not yet

The overarching aim of the Africa Technology and Creative Group’s (ATCG) — a coalition of technology and creative professionals — is to galvanise grassroots actions in the technology and creative industry.

ATCG’s aim is to make African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) work for Africans, as well as to relay the message of opportunities for “new market connections, cross-border trade and intellectual property and laws”.

Investment is poised to be inspired by an awareness of opportunities brought by the creation of a huge marketplace, scalability of operations and harmonised cross-border trade regulations and movement.

The integrative power of ICTs, especially the internet, is undoubtedly vast, but the major challenge with technology, is the cost of data for users.

This fact alone emphasises the inter-relatedness of ICTs and the creative sector vis-a-vis content distribution and scalability for businesses within the sector.

In 2018, Liquid Telecom and Telecom Egypt inked a deal which has enabled the completion of a 60 000km terrestrial data network, known as “The One Africa” — spanning from Cape Town to Cairo. Telecom Egypt is that country’s biggest fixed-line and mobile operator.

The memorandum of understanding stipulated that Liquid Telecom would link its “network from Sudan into Telecom Egypt’s network via a new cross-border interconnection”.

Econet founder and executive chairperson, Strive Masiyiwa, said at the time: “Completing our vision of building a single network running on land, all the way from Cape to Cairo, is a historic moment for the company and for a more connected Africa . . . This network not only represents a remarkable engineering achievement that has overcome some of the most challenging distances and terrains on the continent, but it is also supporting the rise of Africa’s digital economies. Wherever the ‘One Africa’ network has been completed, we have seen dramatic increase of data traffic between nations connected to it. We expect to see a lot of traffic between Egypt and the rest of Africa. Where there is improved communications, improved trade follows as well. We need to see more trade between African countries. Therefore, ‘One Africa’ will provide an alternative to the multiple sub-sea cables that connect sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa and in turn improving the connectivity of Africa and enhancing the prospect that business services such as cloud computing and storage will become more affordable.”

Governments and businesses will have to continue to find ways to co-operate to set up the infrastructure.Aside from this, regulation may be necessary to curb the predatory instincts of businesses in the ICT sector in terms of profiteering, at the expense of subscribers, as this will prove inhibitive in the long run.

Positive signs

Africa’s 1,3 billion people almost match China’s population of 1,4 billion and India with 1,2 billion, but it is largely unsynchronised and hobbled with tariffs and barriers between countries, meaning the free flow of goods is still a dicey proposition.

Take the recent spate between Nigeria and Ghana, where reports of Nigeria closing its borders to Ghanaian traders in agricultural commodities. Nigeria has a nascent agricultural sector.

It feels the need to protect its own. Even still, these are teething problems.Despite challenges, regional blocs have long removed visa requirements for citizens in regions such as Sadc and Ecowas.

The operational phase of the African free trade area was launched during last year’s summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on July 7, in the Niamey, Niger.

James Wolfensohn, who served as the ninth president of the World Bank Group (1995–2005) is quoted in an article by World Policy Organisation saying: “. . . the leadership of many African countries do not themselves support their cultures. And that’s a shame. I don’t know whether all the countries have cultural ministers. But if they do, I don’t think they meet together very much to project an African image.”

The creative and cultural industries need to be taken seriously and this means African administrations need to support research and development.

Entrepreneurs such as Masiyiwa and Njoku of IROKOtv, will propose and facilitate interventions to facilitate the growth of similar businesses.

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