Nigeria’s film industry, dubbed Nollywood, has long kept viewers entertained with tales of romance and riches, and now foreign investors are increasingly looking for a part of the action.
US giant Netflix, France’s Canal+ and China’s StarTimes are among those making moves in the globe’s second most-prolific film industry, which churns out more than 2,500 films each year and is topped only by India’s Bollywood.
At an event in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos this week potential investors from France mingled with local directors and politicians as they heard about the possibilities on offer.
“The revenues from the box office rose by 36% between 2017 and 2018 from $17.3 million to $23.6 million,” Chijioke Uwaegbute, an expert on the industry at PwC Nigeria, told those gathered.
“Nowhere in the world will you see this kind of opportunities and growth.”
Traditionally, Nollywood films have been low-budget productions, often shot in just a couple of days at a cost of several thousand dollars and marred by poor sound and image quality.
Rampant piracy and the widespread circulation of unlicensed copies has eaten into profits and put off investors from increasing funding.
But higher quality Nigerian-made films have in recent years been having far more impact at the box office in a nation with a potential market of almost 200 million people.
The Wedding Party and its sequel Wedding Party 2 released by director Kemi Adetiba in 2016 and 2017 generated over $2 million, beating out US blockbusters for the first time.
Following up on that success the comedy Chief Daddy by Niyi Akinmolayan brought in some $600,000 last year.
The figures remain miniscule compared to the vast sums grossed by Hollywood hits, and the Oscars are a distant dream, but increasingly upper and middle class Nigerians who can afford the tickets seem willing to pay to go see local productions.
And it is these films with higher production value that are attracting the investors from overseas.
Canal Olympia, a subsidiary of French media giant Vivendi, runs cinemas and entertainment venues across the continent and includes at least one Nollywood film in its programming each week.
The group will next year open two cinemas in Nigeria, a country with only one screen per million people where power shortages and high land-costs have made such ventures complicated.
“It is very important for us to be close to Nollywood,” Simon Minkowski, development director at Canal Olympia, told AFP.
“But beyond just distribution, there is a real appetite to produce the content made by Africans in Africa.”
Laurent Sicouri, head of acquisitions at Canal+, said he was in Lagos to “evaluate the production” of Nigerian cinema.
The chain has already upped its interest in films from the country and offers Nollywood TV to its subscribers in Francophone Africa.
While there is interest from Europe, most of the attention for directors and producers in Nigeria is focused on trying to attract Netflix.
The online entertainment provider has already acquired the rights to a string of Nollywood productions and in January released the first Netflix Nigerian original film, Lionheart by actor-director Genevieve Nnaji.
Those involved in the industry are hoping that the influx of foreign interest will help push their output to a new level.
But Serge Noukoue, founder of the Paris-based Nollywood Week film festival, warned that the industry needs to wise up to take full advantage.
“Now that Nollywood is attracting investors the Nigerians have to learn to better protect their interests so that there is not just a pure exploitation of their content,” he said.
“At the moment, they sell to Netflix and that is the end of the story.”
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