The film and audiovisual industry in Africa has the potential to create over 20 million jobs and generate US$20bn in revenues per year, a new report claims.
The report, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), was conducted between November 2020 and May 2021. It forms part of UNESCO’s commitment to the diversity of cultural expression and to help develop dynamic cultural and creative industries (CCIs) on the continent.
Titled The African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth, the report maps the film and audiovisual industry in the 54 states of the African continent, analyses their strengths and weaknesses and offers recommendations for action at the continental, regional and national levels.
The report states: “The economic potential of the film and audiovisual sectors remains largely untapped and is historically and structurally underfunded, underdeveloped and undervalued, generating only US$5bn in annual revenue out of a potential US$20bn, according to the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers.”
Even though cinemas closed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, from an infrastructure perspective, the distribution sector underwent profound changes.
“Before the pandemic, new French investments in francophone West Africa, Morocco and Tunisia were expected to triple the number of screens in the region by 2024. Most impressively, Nigeria emerged as a true success story, showing a 200% increase in cinema locations between 2015 and 2020, with the total number of Digital Cinema Initiative-compliant screens reaching 237 in 2020. Home-grown Nollywood films now rival Hollywood blockbusters at the box office.”
Thanks to digital technologies, production has been growing rapidly in Africa in recent years. The broadcast industry is now almost fully liberalised, with over 1,000 private television channels operating across the continent.
This follows the opening up of some of the last markets, such as Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire, and the gradual transitioning process from analogue broadcasting to digital terrestrial television.
There is now growth in pay TV, dominated by South Africa’s MultiChoice (with 20.1 million subscribers), China’s StarTimes (7.8 million) and France’s Canal+ (six million).
Technology has given rise to affordable digital film equipment and the ability to distribute and monetise content directly to consumers via online platforms, ranging from YouTube, other social media and Netflix to local mobile video services. This has led to a new economy for African content creators which bypasses traditional gatekeepers.
The report states there are positive signs that countries across the continent are waking up to the potential of their creative industries, and more specifically of film and television.
Moreover, in this tumultuous period, it is becoming increasingly urgent for African governments to establish strong national, regional and continental strategies to take control of their fast-growing creative sectors.
The report highlights four potential blueprints for growth, namely the Nollywood model, the Auteur model, the Service model and the Festival model.
“Particular attention must be paid to addressing current industry trends and challenges in an informed and collective manner. Only in this way can states ensure that their past, present and future creative products are protected, preserved and developed, and that their cultural and commercial value benefits Africa and contributes to its global outreach,” it adds.
The African VoD sector is also growing rapidly, with subscriptions poised to balloon from 3.9 million in 2020 to 13 million in 2025, according to UK-based analyst Digital TV Research.
“Netflix now has about two million subscribers across the continent, while the South African Showmax has some 688,000 direct subscribers. In North Africa (and the Middle East), StarzPlay is another strong contender, with 1.8 million subscribers across the Arab region,” says the UNESCO report.
“In Côte d’Ivoire, VoD services have developed spectacularly recently thanks to the deployment of more than 5,000 kilometers of optical fibre in the territory. Most local operators, such as RTI and mobile operators Orange, MTN and Moov Africa, have also launched their own VoD services.”
It adds that the Nigerian film industry employs over a million people directly or indirectly, having produced some 2,599 films in 2020, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, making it the world’s second largest film industry in terms of output after Bollywood and ahead of Hollywood.