Why Netflix and Disney+ Streamers Are Investing in Africa – The Hollywood Reporter

The year 2022 could be when the global media industry finally starts to take Africa seriously.

A series of recent deals between African film and TV producers and global studios and broadcasters mark a dramatic shift from decades in which African talent and the African market were overlooked, ignored or dismissed.

“I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, and only now are we seeing this real explosion, a real tipping point, for African content,” says Nigerian TV pioneer Mo Abudu. “The reality of the market has changed.”

Abudu’s company, EbonyLife Media, was one of the main beneficiaries of this change. In 2020, EbonyLife shut down its pan-African TV channel, which was available across the continent, to focus on the more lucrative and growing production business, particularly with international streamers. It was the first African company to sign a multi-title deal with Netflix for feature films – human trafficking drama Olotura, domestic violence drama blood sisters and the epic period Death and the King’s Rider, based on the 1975 play by Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka – as well as series including a Nigerian legal drama Castle & Castle, about a husband and wife who run a law firm. Other EbonyLife projects in the works include a dystopian sci-fi series, Nigeria 2099, edited in co-production with AMC; To recover, a six-part thriller that will kick off a co-production deal between EbonyLife and BBC Studios and follows a team of art thieves seeking to salvage Nigerian works debauched by the British Empire 125 years ago. year ; and an action series, developed with Sony Pictures Television, about West Africa’s historic all-female army, the Dahomey Warriors – an inspiration for Marvel’s Dora Milaje fiction. Black Panther.

In 2021, EbonyLife signed a multi-project development deal with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios for a slate of Africa-based series and feature films and successfully launched Will Packer Productions and Universal Studios on a thriller based on the life of the Nigerian Instagram celebrity and suspected fraudster. Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, better known as Hushpuppi.

“We now have a satellite office in the UK and an office in the US where we can showcase global stories about Africans,” says Abudu.

In the past month, Amazon signed two major licensing deals with Nigerian studios Inkblot and Anthill Studios, its first deals with African production companies. Disney+, which plans to launch on the continent this year, starting with South Africa, has given the go-ahead Kizazi Moto: Fire Generation, a 10-part animated anthology series, with Cape Town-based animation house Triggerfish, which will feature short films from directors from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Egypt.

At the 2021 Annecy Animation Festival, Disney unveiled the first images of Iwaju, a sci-fi series rooted in Nigeria’s Yoruba culture and produced with pan-African studio Kugali Media. On the live-action side, Disney supports greek monster, a feature film by Nigerian director Akin Omotoso about NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo, born in Athens to Nigerian parents.

Netflix, whose service accounts for more than half of the continent’s streaming subscriptions, launched its first African Originals in 2020, starting with the South African spy thriller Queen Sono and Cape Town teen drama Blood & Water. Netflix’s first Nigerian commission, which was established in August, was King of Boys: Return of the King, a seven-part sequel to Kemi Adetiba’s hit 2018 gangster drama king of boys and starring Nollywood star Sola Sobowale as a ruthless mafia-style businesswoman. In 2020, Netflix signed a development deal with John Boyega’s UpperRoom Productions to produce non-English films set in West and East Africa. The streamer’s current African slate ranges from sci-fi anime series Team 4 and historical drama Amine – which premiered on November 4 and became the first Nigerian title to make it into Netflix’s global top 10 – at A Naija Christmas, billed as the first African Christmas film.

“There has been a huge change. Just three or four years ago, you would have struggled to sell an African film to a major international platform, and financing was always difficult,” says Kunle Afolayan, director and producer of A Naija Christmas, including recent dramas Quote and Swallow also went to Netflix. “Usually, I made a film in two years. Last year, I made two films in one year.

Netflix and the studios are presenting their African investment as a belated fix to how Hollywood has long portrayed the continent and its people.

“In the past, African stories have been told by outsiders,” said Ben Amadasun, director of Africa content for Netflix, speaking via Zoom from Nigeria. “We want to help local talent tell their stories to the world.”

There are also practical business reasons for the international push into Africa. Netflix subscription numbers in North America are stagnating and growth in many territories, including Western Europe, is slowing. But Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is “an untapped market”, according to Tony Maroulis, principal analyst for London-based Ampere Analysis. “The reason for this focus on Africa is simply because [streaming] the penetration there is very, very low,” he says. “In North America, about 50% of households have a Netflix subscription, a fairly stable number. In Western Europe, penetration is just under a third. In South America, just over a quarter. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is less than 1%. So there is plenty of room for growth.

Maroulis estimates that there are now some 1.4 million subscription video-on-demand users in sub-Saharan Africa, a figure “which we expect to reach 2.4 million by 2026”. (Countries in North Africa, including Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, are usually grouped together with markets in Europe and the Middle East.)

Digital TV Research, another London-based data cruncher, is more optimistic, estimating that there are already 5.1 million SVOD subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa and the number will almost triple to just over 15 million. , by 2027.

Even the most optimistic figures represent only a fraction of the streaming audience elsewhere. Netflix alone has 73 million users in North America and about 38 million in Latin America, a region that has about half the population of sub-Saharan Africa.

The global investment in African content is part of a broader strategy by studios and broadcasters to copy Netflix’s successful model by producing local content for local audiences. Disney+ has greenlighted a slate of new European and Asian originals in local languages, including new series from France, Germany, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia. Amazon is already a major fiction producer in India and Japan and recently increased its commitment to Southeast Asia, opening an office in Singapore to coordinate licensing and production activities for the region. And WarnerMedia’s HBO Max is doubling down on local-language productions from its hubs in Europe, Asia and South America.

Africa is only part of this global expansion. And, currently, a relatively small part.

“The SVOD market in Sub-Saharan Africa, in terms of revenue, was around $107 million in 2021, which is not that much. [given] a North American market worth $40 billion,” says Maroulis, “and Netflix’s investment, for example, in African content is still relatively small in the grand scheme of things. What they are doing is trying to establish a presence in Africa so that when the market takes off, they will be the default service.

For now, the bulk of international investment in African content goes to three countries: Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, all of which have established film and television industries and large English-speaking populations.

“We haven’t seen a lot of investment yet here in Senegal, or in West Africa,” says Pamela Diop, producer of Jean Luc Herbulot’s crime horror mash-up Salum, a Midnight Madness favorite at the 2021 Toronto Film Festival and the debut project from Diop and Herbulot’s Lacme studios in Dakar. “But as markets develop, maybe that will come.”

Abudu thinks so.

“There’s been a shift in audience appetite and a shift, a recognition, by studios and writers, that not everyone is your typical blonde-haired white viewer,” she says. “If streamers want those global subscribers, if they want our money, they have to deliver the content that this changing world wants.”

Source: Digital TV Research

This story first appeared in the January 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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