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Streaming Wars: A New Dawn For African Cinema

The more streaming platforms we have on the continent, the more opportunities for filmmakers to create content, make money, and gain more global distribution and publicity. But the question is what is the main goal in the long run?

There was a period in Africa when the distribution of African films solely hinged on videocassette distribution companies and marketers before it would reach a household. A Nigerian movie could take several months before it circulates throughout the country and the better part of a year to reach at least two to three neighbouring countries. However, as several technologies in the film industry evolved over the years, new opportunities for the reimaging and re-engineering of African films have also emerged.

With technological advancement comes different structural challenges ー poor internet connection, high cost of data amongst many other things. Regardless, the number of video on demand (VOD) platforms active in Africa has grown over the past few years as the continent has responded positively to the global shift from linear TV to on-demand viewing. These changes have brought mixed fortunes to film industries across Africa, creating both opportunities and challenges to the creative chain.

African movies and shows like King of Boys: "The Return of the King'' directed by Nigerian filmmaker Kemi Adetiba, the South African hit series Blood and Water, Queen Sono, and Oloture has helped to place African television on the global map which has, in turn, sparked various engaging conversations from different parts of the world. These films have utilized the power of digital technology (social media and VOD’s) to convey to the world the diverse and unique African cultures through the language, settings, and general depth of storytelling.

"For a long time African stories have been told by non-Africans and so stories about black culture have been misrepresented. So it's exciting to see that African storytellers are now owning the narrative and telling the stories the right way and in turn gaining global attention." Ahmadou Seck Macro Studios at the 2021 AFRIFF Festival in Lagos.

The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were greatly felt across many sectors and the filmmaking industry wasn’t left out. Like elsewhere, African countries saw cinema closures, shoots suspended, unpaid actors and technicians, and additional job losses. This hiatus created room for streaming platforms and digital ecosystems to flourish as African film festivals streamed online across North America and Europe solidifying the intentions of other streaming platforms to expand their services in several African countries.

In many ways, streaming would appear to be the most viable solution for distributing and screening movies, series, and other TV programmes simultaneously across and beyond the African continent. It's no surprise that global streaming giants such as Netflix have capitalized on licensing African films for the international audience and expanded their subscriber base by millions while adopting new strategies that will keep them playing in the African market. Meanwhile, streaming platforms including Showmax, Iroko TV, Ibaka Tv, and TV providers Canal+ Afrique have tried to remain competitive during the pandemic despite layoffs by exporting African content to global audiences but specifically to Africans in the diaspora. The economic challenges of the pandemic in Africa encouraged these video streaming platforms to go global and focus on more North American and western European audiences to survive.

Likewise in Africa, it is expected that more streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ will begin competing on the continent in 2022. This will create an opportunity for independent content creators to have several platforms that allow them to distribute and promote their films as well as communicate directly with their public. The more streaming platforms we have on the continent, the more opportunities for filmmakers to create content, make money, and gain more global distribution and publicity. But the question is what is the main goal in the long run?

The number of subscriptions for video-on-demand users in Africa was projected to reach more than 5 million people by the end of last year and triple to 15 million people by 2026 according to a new projection by Digital TV Research, a London-based business intelligence company. Netflix’s presence in Africa is expected to have the largest share in terms of subscribers at the end of this year, at 2.61 million, and by 2026, the streaming giant is anticipated to have around 5.84 million. But its market share will decline, as it now competes with other international and domestic platforms fighting for eyeballs on the continent.

Although these are exciting times for filmmakers across Africa as digital technology has helped African cinema curb the problem of piracy as well as created an opportunity for both emerging and renowned filmmakers to gain visibility for their work, it is important to note that to maintain momentum alongside growing technology there is need to put more effort to the quality of stories that we put out to continue to attract more global opportunities to Africa.

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