Nigeria's film scene is blowing up

And the world is finally tuning in

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When you go after bad guys who have nothing to lose, only two things can happen:

You win, or you pay.

Paul Edima paid… and then he won.

When corrupt policemen kill his only son, Paul is left with no choice but to return to his old ways.

What happens next builds into one heck of a revenge thriller.

Except Paul Edima isn’t real.

He’s the main character in The Black Book.

Last year, The Black Book clocked over 20 million views three weeks after it was released, and it was No. 3 on Netflix’s most-watched movies.

The Black Book is a creation of the Nigerian film industry, also known as Nollywood.

The world’s second-biggest movie industry

Every year, the Nollywood movie mill churns out about 2,500 movies.

In terms of output, it’s bigger than Hollywood, and second only to Bollywood in India.

The industry rakes in $600 million annually and ranks as Nigeria's second-largest employer, with over one million people on its payroll.

But even while pumping out tons of movies, Nollywood has always lagged behind its peers in sales.


Distribution, the maker or destroyer of all profits

While Nollywood kicked off in the 70s, it hit its stride in the 90s.

Ticket sales at cinemas helped films get in front of new audiences.

Then home DVDs took over, and filmmakers would package their movies like this:

But there was one big problem — the movies were ripe for piracy.

According to the UN, for every legitimate copy of a Nigerian film sold, nine others are pirated.

These pirated DVDs, sold by illegal distributors and street vendors, left filmmakers with little revenue.

With lousy returns for all the hard work, very few investors stepped in to finance movies.

And this meant that filmmakers had to make do with shoestring budgets.

Something had to give. Most of the time, it was production standards.

In what we now call "Old Nollywood", these movies were based on plots that felt like everyday life for Africans.

That relatability, and easy-to-copy VHS tapes and DVDs, helped Nollywood break out of Nigeria.

But it also meant that it stayed small.

Until streaming came along

In 2011, businessman Jason Njoku had a simple idea:

He wanted an easier way for his mum to watch her favourite Nollywood movies, which were hard to get in the UK.

So, he started acquiring rights to movies and uploading them on YouTube.

This quickly took off and he built it into Africa’s Netflix, calling it iROKOtv.

Then Netflix decided it wanted a piece of the action.

It officially launched in Africa in 2016 and took the game to a new level.

Netflix acquired rights to movies like Kunle Afolayan’s October 1st and saw moderate success.

But the real kicker came in 2018, when Netflix bought its first Nollywood original, Lionheart, for $3.8 million.

Finally, big money was streaming into Nollywood.

In 2019, French TV giant Canal+ acquired a Nollywood production company called ROK.

And five years later, The Black Book smashed Netflix records, taking Nollywood to new global heights.

Not only in viewership, but how much it costs, and how movies in Africa are made.

The Black Book’s director, Editi Effiong, says the film’s budget was no less than $1 million.

The movie’s investors featured familiar names in the Nigerian tech industry:

  • Nadayar Enegesi (CEO of Eden Life)

  • Odunayo Eweniyi (Co-Founder of Piggyvest)

  • Olugbenga Agboola (CEO of Flutterwave)

  • Ezra Olubi (Co-Founder and CTO of Paystack)

They’ve tasted success in African tech and now see an opportunity in Nollywood.

So, what’s attracting investors and streaming giants to Nollywood?

1. Streaming could solve Nollywood's distribution issues.

Before streaming platforms, filmmakers needed help convincing investors that Nollywood movies deserved their money.

Cinemas only reached urban areas.

Tape duplication costs ate into profits.

And why invest if your pirated movie will end up on the streets for peanuts?

Streaming allows filmmakers to connect directly with their audiences, bypassing physical barriers and middlemen.

Nollywood can easily go global because streaming platforms have hacked distribution.

Movies like Gangs of Lagos and Far From Home were shot locally but ranked high on streaming platforms globally.

2. Exits

When a movie gets picked up by streaming giants like Netflix or Showmax, it's an investor’s dream.

On average, Netflix pays Nigerian filmmakers between $10,000 and $90,000 for streaming rights per film.

But for original content, Netflix offers as much as ₦1.4 billion ($3.8 million), like they did for Lionheart.

Now filmmakers can pitch to investors, just like startup founders do.

Nollywood is filming for the world

And it’s out of necessity.

While a lot has changed about the entertainment industry, very little has changed about Africans’ ability to pay for things.

So, filmmakers have turned to the global market to survive.

And streaming is the avenue for them to go global from day one.

In the words of Editi Effiong, “From day one I always said that The Black Book is a Nigerian film meant for the entire world … I’m not just making a film for Africa. I’m making a film because I want to make a film for the world. I want to make a film that the world needs to see.”

The Black Book creator, Editi Effiong.

And the world did see it.

While The Black Book’s success is proof that Nollywood finally has a distribution solution, its real winners will need to be globally successful to see substantial profits.

This means the days of melodramatic, predictable storylines and poor production are behind us.

As Jason Njoku says, "Africa is the narrative, but the diaspora is the market.” And this holds true for Nollywood.

What do you think the future of Nollywood looks like? Hit reply and let us know.

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