The world was startled by the news of the COVID-19 outbreak, late 2019 in Wuhan, China. At first, everyone thought it was something that would go away with time with no one paying so much attention to it. Well, not until 2020 when the virus left China and began to spread across the world at an alarming rate. This prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to confirm the outbreak as a global pandemic.
Since the outbreak, a lot of things have been affected. From businesses to health care, to the economy, to education, to religious gatherings, and not surprisingly, Nigerian movie theaters as well. In 2020, we began to hear previously strange terminologies, like sit at home, lockdown, and social distancing.
Businesses that were hit the most were businesses that required an in-person visit. Since people could no longer walk around freely and gather in enclosed spaces, these businesses suffered and lost a lot of revenue. Stadiums were left empty, churches and mosques were as silent as graveyards and schools moved to have classes online.
One other business that was affected badly by the breakout of the virus was the movie theatre business. If people could no longer go to the movies, theaters would no longer rake in cash. It was not just theaters that were closed, film festivals were also canceled, movies due for release were canceled or postponed. Some TV shows had to stop airing or quickly round up because further filming was no longer possible, and no one knew when respite would come.
How the pandemic affected the Nigerian movie theaters
As the pandemic raged on, different countries lost a lot to the pandemic, media-wise. In the US, the movie industry suffered, grossing only at 55 million dollars, the lowest since the unfortunate bombing of the Twin Trade Towers in New York on September 11th,2001. In China, for January and February, their box office raked in over 2 billion US dollars but earned a meager 3.9 million dollars in the following months.
Africa isn’t left out as it also has a booming movie/theatre industry with Nigeria as its largest exporter, second only to India in the volume of movies churned out for consumption. Nollywood is a billion-dollar film industry that has the employs over a million people. Due to the pandemic, many people went out of jobs as movie sets could not hold as one was permitted to film.
Half of the revenue made by the Nigerian movie industry is gotten from ticket sales from cinemas and film houses. With Cinemas being closed down, revenue from the movie industry hit an all-time low during the pandemic.
Film One Managing Director Babatope Moses disclosed that Nollywood lost over 8 million dollars from February to May 2020. Mr. Moses also disclosed that since he gets 60 percent of his revenue from cinemas, he had to lay off two-thirds of his staff because the money to keep them on the payroll was no longer coming in.
Nigerians have always been a people that love socializing and social gatherings, and this is often depicted in movies. But since there was a strict order on social distancing and lockdown, these scenes could not be filmed and subsequently included in movies being produced. The Head of the Directors’ Guild of Nigeria, Mr. Amata Fred even opined that filming with social distancing rules was almost impossible.
Oftentimes, the unavailability of a certain product leads to high demand for a substitute. This was the case between movie theaters and streaming platforms, during the pandemic and lockdown season. While the movie theatres across the nation, continent, and the world were closed down leading to a substantial loss of revenue, movie streaming platforms were smiling to the bank. People who did not have the chance to see movies before now had all the time in the world to watch a lot of movies. Online streaming platforms began to enjoy unprecedented patronage, one that they had never experienced before.
Generally, due to the lockdown, self-isolations, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine instructions, consumption of media increased drastically. Many people, since they could not have access to theatres began to see online entertainment services. This saw a surge in subscriptions to online content.
Northflix, a popular movie streaming platform that shows mainly Kannywood movies became the top destination for Hausa speakers in west Africa. Reports have it that the company saw a surge in the number of subscribers. They got double the number of subscribers during the pandemic. Previously having 40,000 subscribers, they now had 80,000, and the CEO, Abdussalam Jamil opined that the revenue from the platform had tripled.
Abdulkarim Mohammed, a filmmaker who is based in Kano hailed Northflix for being available to share their films after the lockdown. He termed it as a “lifesaver.”
Northflix is still enjoying patronage even after the lockdown has an era. People have already gotten accustomed to using it and now prefer to sit and watch in the comfort of their spaces.
Iroko TV, a Nigerian-based platform that renders paid-for Nigerian films on-demand, also benefited from the pandemic with cinemas closed and everyone staying indoors. Although local subscriptions did not improve for the online streaming service, international subscriptions for the media firm grew exponentially by 200 percent. Many of the subscribers outside the country were from the UK and the US. The media firm, therefore, focused marketing campaigns on the west and subsequently hiked their subscription from 25 to 60 dollars and this saw the revenue of the company improve significantly. Due to the significant increase in their revenue, the company plans to list on the London Stock Exchange Alternative Investment Market.
With the unprecedented setbacks caused by the lockdown on movie theaters and the movie industry in general due, online media and steaming platforms became the go-to places for entertainment. This earned them a lot of patronage and money. Entertainment-wise, you can say the online media and streaming platforms were one of the biggest winners during the lockdown era.