African filmmakers brace for a tough 2024 despite streaming wins

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NAIROBI — African film and TV producers are bracing themselves for tough times and leaner production budgets in 2024, despite the industry’s continued growth.

Success in 2023 was driven by several major releases of African titles as streaming companies including Netflix and Showmax bet on their African slates to drive growth on the continent. Shows like South Africa’s Unseen and Shanty Town were some of the most viewed and attracted global attention, as did the Nigerian action thriller The Black Book which spent three weeks among Netflix’s top 10 English-language titles in the world.

But multiple producers and executives in countries including Nigeria and Kenya, who spoke to Semafor Africa, said African producers in 2023 had to adapt to tighter production budgets driven by harsh macroeconomic conditions, and they expect more of the same in 2024.

“People were faced with difficulty but they pushed past it,” said Enyi Omeruah, co-founder of Lagos-based production and talent management firm Chudor MMC. “It’s what we have done since before the world was paying attention.” Omeruah said the weight of economic pressures including a weakening naira and rising fuel prices heavily constrained production budgets in Nigeria.

Dylan Awendo, a Nairobi-based producer and founder of HT Studios, observed that with fuel prices in Kenya hitting record highs in 2023, many projects went over budget as they faced higher transportation costs, and equipment and shooting locations became more expensive. “We saw producers cutting costs,” Awendo said. “More producers are building their own sets, working with smaller casts and finding cheaper ways to distribute their content.”

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To grow their market share in Africa, streaming services including Netflix and MultiChoice-owned Showmax have, in recent years, invested heavily in producing or acquiring local content in key markets including Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Netflix says it invested $175 million in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya between 2016 and 2022.

South Africa accounted for eight out of the top 10 most watched African titles on Netflix in the first half of 2023, according to Netflix’s first-ever engagement report, with the other two from Nigeria. The data, however, doesn’t account for African titles released after June 2023 including films such as The Black Book, which was released in September.

The data seems to align with research which shows that South Africa accounts for 73.3% of Netflix subscriptions in Africa, followed by Nigeria with 10.5% and Kenya with 3.9%.

Martin’s view

Africa’s entertainment industries — including music, film and TV — are among the fastest growing globally and will play increasingly prominent roles in African economies. Nigeria’s entertainment and media sector is projected to experience the strongest growth rate in the world between 2023 and 2027, with revenues to double from $6 billion in 2022 to $12.9 billion in 2027 according to PwC’s entertainment outlook report. South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are all projected to outpace the global average sector growth rates.

Financial constraints on producers pose possibly the biggest threat to the continent’s ability to meet the growing global demand for African content. But with some economists predicting the easing of inflation in Africa and improved risk appetite towards emerging markets next year, the film and TV sector may yet find some breathing room. However, stakeholders and policymakers will still need to find ways to cushion producers from economic shocks.

And as the world consumes more African content, negotiating bigger production and licensing deals for African titles is also important, so as to create value for producers and talent among other stakeholders.

The View From Cairo

Africa Import Export Bank (Afrexim) in November announced a new $1 billion Africa film fund intended to support producers across the continent. The fund will finance African filmmakers and producers and directors of film projects across the continent, and co-finance with large studios. The Bank has several films in the pipeline from Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya for launch on streaming platforms in 2024, according to an Afreximbank executive speaking at the 2023 CANEX Summit in Cairo.