How Nollywood is undermining the cinema market

How many people saw these films and what were they watching?

Nollywood has an audience and all year long, it moves in circles around that audience. The filmmakers set their targets on dragging that audience with each other, painting the picture that only that number of people visit the cinemas.

This audience is on the average 20, 000 people who watch Nollywood weekly during the stable peak periods. In the really bad periods, the number drops to 4, 000 people weekly. These figures are the analysis of box office data provided by the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN).

At least 70, 000 people visit the cinemas on a stable week and Nollywood cannot favourably compete for audience in its own land. This is because 70 percent of this number will settle for a foreign film — Hollywood, Spanish or Bollywood.

Interestingly, these films do not have to be from big studios or heavily marketed, the audience will pick them first. Sometimes, it gets more interesting as Nollywood could have seven movies in the cinemas and just one big Hollywood film takes almost all the cash.

For instance, everything Nollywood made in the second week of December was 57.8 million naira. ‘Jumanji’ alone pulled in 55.9 million naira. On the average, a Nollywood film makes two million naira weekly while the average Hollywood film makes 20 million naira weekly in the same time frame.

It is funny how the industry is constantly beaten in its own market. The question is why? First, out of the seven to ten Nollywood films available in the cinema, only one or two gets the audience seal of approval. The others are largely unknown or have poor marketing, badly written stories and lack of spotlight.

It is not as though the top one or two are the best, they just seem to have more marketing at the time. It is clear that the industry choses one flagship movie per time and goes all out to promote that movie. Still, it does not guarantee that the film will draw more than 10, 000 people weekly with the remaining 10, 000 shared among the six not-so-popular films.

Second, some movie buffs revealed that they studied allocated cash for one Nollywood film per time but are open to more foreign choices especially Hollywood.

Top of the reasons given were similarity in genre by Nollywood films. Some respondents said that the films in the dominant genre, comedy, were too cliché and not far in between. So, if one saw a comedy film from Nollywood the week before, the quota has been filled till the next set of films come out.

Another reason given was the lack of trust in Nollywood quality. This is beyond camera quality but rather the quality of the story. They argued that while they laughed hard in some movies, it was clear that the stories did not add up and not much thought had gone into plot development. One respondent said, “You watch Nollywood for the relaxation and humour and not because you can actually debate or think about the story later.”

However, few films were exempted from this loop but they fell short in other production areas. The third reason that is often overlooked is that the audience understand what a good film is. Before the rush of Nollywood in cinemas, Hollywood and others have always served premium content.

The survey revealed that the audience finds a way to reduce expectations when watching Nollywood films and have developed a new metric for measuring them. “It was really good for a Nollywood film” according to respondents mean — it was okay but not great but when compared to other Nollywood film, it had a pass mark.

This thought process will continuously keep the industry on its 4, 000 to 20, 000 audience loop if it does not do better. To better understand the beauty of Nollywood taking the lion share of the box office earnings, take a look at performances in December.

In the last week of December, a record high of 165, 307 people watched Nollywood films that week while 79, 314 people saw foreign films. Nollywood won that week and the week before where 118, 808 went in to see ‘Sugar Rush’ ‘Your Excellency’ and ‘Merry Men 2’.

Still, this is worrisome as it took three large budget movies, heavy marketing and clearing out the playground for the industry to win their biggest moment of the year. That is, for Nollywood movies to shine, the audience must be left technically without choice.

All the good foreign films are ebbing out and no more is taken in, then the Nollywood films are given the best time slots and there is almost no competition. This way, most people who come to the cinema must see the Nollywood films.

It is a strong formula and it seems to be the industry’s only working formula. The downside is that it works only at the end of the year. How can better formulas be created to work all year round? Again, emphasis on good stories and better productions and marketing have been made by the audience.

Once these are settled, the industry needs to craft better ways to sell itself to the audience. It must be a collective effort to push Nollywood to the top of the minds of the audience. There is a market waiting for the industry to get its acts right and once this is done, more windows of opportunity will open. Of course, more money will be made.