Netflix is finally putting its $8 billion original production budget to work in Nigeria’s Nollywood movie industry.
The global streaming giant purchased worldwide rights to Lionheart, it’s first original film from Nigeria. The comedy, stars Nollywood bigwigs including Genevieve Nnaji, Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie, and Onyeka Onwenu. Nnaji who has had some success starring in Hollywood productions, doubles as director on Lionheart.
Netflix has previously licensed Nollywood flicks including romantic comedy The Wedding Party as well as crime thriller October 1 but only after both had been screened in local cinemas.
Netflix’s first original film from Nollywood is an added bow as the industry evolves. Initially known for its model of low-budget high-volume productions, Nollywood became the world’s second biggest movie industry by volume. But in recent years, Nollywood has began placing more emphasis on quality over quantity. Those efforts have been rewarded with local and international box office success. But as it continues to grapple with the lack of a vast enough distribution network locally—there aren’t enough cinemas and piracy remains a problem—global streaming revenues are a boon for Nollywood. This is in addition to significant investment from the South Africa-owned Africa Magic television channel which has backed Nollywood productions with millions of dollars.
Netflix can also take a cue from, iROKOtv, also dubbed “the Netflix of Africa.” The success of iROKOtv, the first major streaming service to offer Nollywood content, offers a measure of the market and appeal that Nollywood movies hold. Iroko has also had success translating its long-term Nollywood relationship into international broadcasting channels on South Africa’s DStv, UK’s Sky and investment from France’s Canal Plus.
The first hint Netflix would have more active interest in original African content came in May when it advertised for a director of content acquisition for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. Back in October 2016—nine months after launching in Africa—it also deployed a dedicated server in Nigeria to ease the difficulties of content delivery for its local users.
But as it steps up in Africa, Netflix is facing increased competition. Multichoice, Africa’s largest pay TV player, in response to its dipping subscription numbers, is already pushing to have Netflix regulated.