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Nollywood: Booming Industry, Poor Practitioners

Posted: Apr 26, 2016 at 2:19 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Hazeez Balogun – Lagos

The story of Nollywood, Nigeria’s revived film industry goes thus: an Alaba marketer bought container loads of VCR tapes for resale, but his merchandise was not moving fast enough. He then had a brilliant idea of putting some contents in the tapes to get them moving. He contacted Kenneth Nnebue and asked him to make a movie for him. Nnebue went ahead to make the unforgettable Living In Bondage in 1992. The tapes flew out of the shelves and an industry was born.

In fact, Living in Bondage revived interest in films, which slowed in the early 70s after the Nigerian Civil War. Though government tried to inject some interests with the hosting of FESTAC in 1977, watching of films at home with the family was practically non-existent until Living In Bondage arrived.

Nollywood has been the name the Nigeria movie industry has been tagged for over 25 years now. It was a rebirth from the good old days when Nigerians troop into cinemas to watch Nigerian films. From the onset, money and profit has been the driving force of this new industry.

Booming Industry

Today, Nollywood is a multi – billion dollar industry and it is the second foreign exchange earner for the country after oil. Nollywood, which now accounts for about 1.3 percent of the newly calculated GDP figures for Nigeria, has been growing gradually in the past two decades.

Confirming these figures is Robert Orya, the former CEO of the Nigeria Export Import Bank. He says that Nollywood generates at least $590m annually, behind only Hollywood and Bollywood. Quoting a UN publication, he added that the African film industry, in which Nollywood is by far the dominant player, would contribute significantly to the expected 5.2% GDP growth projection for the continent in subsequent years.

So where are all these money coming from? Unlike its counterparts in Hollywood and Bollywood, Nollywood’s major source of income is direct sales and not the cinema. This means that most films are made into CDs and DVDs and sold in the open market like any other product. The process usually involves a marketer who funds the movie production and in turn distributes the film when it is ready.

However, this trend is changing. There is now a new rise in the cinema industry. More and more Nigerian movies are going to the cinemas before going on CDs. Usually, Nigerian modern cinemas hardly show Nigerian films. Today, Nigerian films are doing well at the Box Office. Two years ago, for the first time, a Nigerian film out sold any foreign film ever to go on cinema in Nigeria. The movie 30 Days In Atlanta made over N 137,200,000 just from cinema sales.

The Cinema culture is however still very low and the income through them are merger. In Nigeria, there are only 130 functioning standard cinemas. This translates to less than 0.1 cinema house per 100,000 people. This is a far cry from the US which has 39,641 screens (14.0 per 100,000 people). Even South Africa is over 10 times ahead of us when it comes to cinemas. She has 857 cinema houses which means 1.9 per 100,000 people.

The income from the CD sales is still the bread and butter of the industry and it contributes immensely to the GDP. Millions of CDs containing Nigerian movies are distributed across Africa every year making it the major Nigerian export to African countries. Most of these films are even subtitled in French and Portuguese which allow deeper penetration across Africa. These films also find their way to the Europe and America which are sold at a premium. This in its own has helped with the balance of trade.

Today, many see the digital world as the future of Nollywood.  The spread of digital technology will be a major driving force for the film industry in the years to come, as domestic consumption for movies online is on the increase. Higher levels of internet access, increased penetration rates for smart phones and improved bandwidth are all expected to help generate a production boom.

An increase in demand for programming is also likely to generate new opportunities for content producers. According to a report, Nigeria’s entertainment and media revenues will more than double to reach an estimated $8.5bn in 2018, from $4bn in 2015, with internet one of the key drivers. Mobile internet subscribers are forecast to surge to 50.4m in 2018 from 7.7m in 2013, according to the report.

Likewise, pay-TV penetration is forecast to reach 24.4% by 2018, with competition amongst digital terrestrial television operators set to grow after Nigeria migrates to digital. However, doubts remain over whether the country will be able to meet the June 2015 digital switchover deadline set by a 2006 agreement brokered by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Jason Njoku, the CEO of iROKOtv, a Video-On-Demand (VOD) platform for Nollywood movies, says Nollywood can now be mentioned in the same breath as Hollywood and Bollywood, producing about 1,500 and 2000 films each year.

“Nollywood is the most hard-working, brutal and dynamic of industries that Nigeria has spawned. It is an economic miracle that the industry has not only flourished, but grown exponentially, considering the conservative budgets movie producers have to work with, as well as the antiquated methods of distribution that held the industry back for so many years,” Njoku said.

iROKOtv, often described as the ‘Netflix of Africa’, was started by Njoku, the London-born Manchester University graduate after he identified an opening in the market for Nollywood distribution in 2009. Today, millions of people around the world flock to watch Nigerian movies on his platform. Though he refused to divulge, his business is believed to worth over $7,000,000

With all these money flying around, one is tempted to ask, where is all these money going? From figures, the movie industry is doing close to the banking industry when it comes to profit. Yet one can see how well the banking sector is. We see bankers dressing up smartly. We see their official cars, their big buildings and the technology they employ.


Poor Practitioners

For Nollywood which is meant to be a big industry, reverse is the case. None of the wealth of the industry reflects on the practitioners. Only very few of them are well off and those are the ones in the upper echelon. The offices of the Actors Guild and Directors Guild are small rented apartments. There are no big studios. 90 per cent of the set used are people’s houses.

Even the income they make are meagre. Per film, a top actor or actress playing lead gets about N500,000. If it is a very big production, it can get up to N1,000,000 but only very few actors do get such amount. Supporting actors earn between N100,000 and N250,000. Extras can earn as low as N5,000.

This reporter once acted in an Obi Emelonye production, titled ‘Calabash’. It was a television drama series. He acted as a director in a company and he appeared six times in the whole series. Though there was no formal payment agreement with the casting director, he was paid N10,000 for all his worries at the end of the day.

Crew members are also not well paid for their efforts. Directors earn between N250,000 and N500,000 for an average movie that will take about two weeks longer to complete. Only very large productions pay more. Director of Photography (DOPs), Camera assistants, lighting assistants, casting directors and the rest all live on very little income.

Why are the industry people poor when the industry itself is rich? Speaking with Don John, a movie maker in Asaba, he explains that making a movie is a very expensive venture and the returns are not much. That is why a producer needs to make as many movies as possible to stay afloat.

“Shooting a movie is very expensive. Gone are the days you will shoot a movie for N1m. To shoot an average film these days you should have at least N3m. The bulk of that money goes into equipment. To get a standard equipment you will spend nothing less than N700,000 for two weeks. Asides from the payment to the cast and crew, you also need to feed them as long as they are on set. You provide accommodation for them. Do you know how much you will pay a hotel for your all crew? At the end of the day you make less than N4m from the movie.”

Veteran movie producer, Fidelis Duker also wades into the issue. To him, the billions are real but the money does not find its way down to the least set workers. “The Worth of the Industry is not in doubt but however in comparison to the practitioners, there might be some level of disparity which becomes obvious to the outside world especially when you begin to compare the lower echelon of the industry to those at the top.

This can be attributed to the way the industry is structured. A very few are living well but the tragedy which is with shaky structures does not protect those in the lower echelon who are more in number. You must realise that the big producers, actors and directors are doing well,” Duker said.

He also ascribed the woes of the industry to activities of pirates. “Remember also the value of Nollywood involves pirated products too. Whatever the pirates make are counted as industry sales, but the real owners of the works do not get the money. The billions are real but it hardly trickles down,” Duker explains.

As a solution, Duker advised that producers treat their crew members better. “Somebody claims in a newspaper report that he spent $2m to make a movie and yet pays the Production Assistant N10,000 for a 30 days job. What is that but wickedness?


One major threat to the industry is piracy. It is believed that over half of all the sales made from CD sales go to these pirates. What gives the pirates an upper hand is the ease with which the films can be copied. Even a small laptop can burn over N10,000 worth of CDs in just one day. At numerous busts, police had discovered machines that can burn hundreds of CDs in just a few seconds.

Piracy is also not limited to CDs. Somehow, pirates have been able to hijack movies while they are still at the cinemas and yet to be released on CDs. Just two years ago, b oth Kunle Afolayan and AY complained that their movies, 30 days in Atlanta and October 1 were already being sold on the streets while they were still at the cinemas.

The latest source of piracy these days is done by the viewers themselves. It is called ‘movie download’. Nowadays there are free sites where viewers can download movies for free. All it takes is enough data to do so.

Speaking with Chairman of Copyrights Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji, he says that if something is not done quickly, intellectual properties will no longer be profitable.

“Alaba is not the problem anymore. The problem is on the internet. There are people who upload movies and songs online and they allow people to download them for free. We need strict laws to stop these. In America it is a big offence to share files online. We need similar laws.”


Highest grossing Nigerian films and how much they made

1            30 Days in Atlanta (2014)            137, 200, 000

2            Fifty (2015)                                    100, 000, 000

3            Half of a Yellow Sun (2013)            60, 000, 000

4            October 1 (2014)                                60, 000, 000

5            Ijé (2010)                                                59, 800, 000

6            Last Flight to Abuja (2012)            57, 050, 000

7            The Return of Jenifa (2012)            35, 000, 000

8            Road to Yesterday (2015)            30,000,700

9            The Figurine (2009)                        30, 000, 000

10            Flower Girl (2013)                        29,763,800

11            Weekend Getaway (2012)            22,895,200

12            Taxi Driver (2015)                        22,630,000

13            Phone Swap (2012)                        20,713,500

14            The First Lady            (2015)           19,000,000

15            Anchor Baby (2010)                        18, 000, 000

16            The Mirror Boy (2011)                   18, 000, 000

17            House of Gold            (2013)                   15,454,400

18            Tempting Fate            (2015)                   15,000,000

19            The Visit (2015)                        14,000,000

20            Dazzling Mirage (2015)            13,000,000

Source: Wikipedia