Before the era of streaming services, cinemas were the go-to for movie releases and a popular source of entertainment for many Nigerians. If you grew up in Nigeria in the early 2000s, you’d understand that going to the cinema was a huge highlight, guaranteed to be an exciting experience with the huge screens, aroma of popcorn, excitement and anticipation during an opening weekend. The cinema halls were often filled with laughter and commentary as everyone tried to pay rapt attention, the dimmed lights, and the crisp sound, took you into an immersive journey into the stories.
Going to the cinemas wasn’t just entertainment, it was a lifestyle.
However, the emergence of digitalization and streaming has redefined entertainment consumption, impacting the age-long culture of visiting cinemas in Nigeria and threatening its continuity. Over the years, there’s been a decline in the number of cinemagoers, especially since the emergence of streaming services since the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The once-crowded cinema halls now lie half-empty, devoid of the mind-blowing watch experience people used to have, raising the question: Are streaming services truly retiring cinema culture in Nigeria?
With Netflix’s entrance into the Nigerian market, they prioritized the creation of organic and appealing content for the Nigerian audience, sponsoring several studio originals—films and series—creating roles, and contributing to the growth of Nollywood. In the same vein, Amazon Prime’s recent collaborations with ace Nigerian filmmakers to get exclusive rights to stream movies are evidence that these online content streaming platforms are taking the bull by the horn, leaving no prisoners when it comes to capturing the Nigerian market.
Olanrewaju Aileru, the Head of Marketing at FilmOne Entertainment, the parent company of FilmHouse Cinemas—one of the most successful film exhibition companies in Nigeria, with an established presence in about six states— shares his insights about the experience of cinema culture in Nigeria noting that “so many factors determine the turnout for a movie in Nigeria. Is it a Nollywood or Hollywood movie? Who are the cast members of the film? What was the marketing like? Who directed it? What is the general perception and theme of the film? All of these affect the turnout for a movie.”
Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have distinct advantages over conventional cinema culture, including cost, convenience, and exclusivity. Cost-effectiveness is evident in subscription plans, with many streaming services in Nigeria creating different plans like mobile, pro, and family to reach a wider audience. For as little as 1200 naira, one can access series and movies on ShowMax on a single device, with the average price for streaming services in Nigeria being 1500 naira. A family plan can take a group of 4-5 people who can split costs, offering a cost-effective alternative to a singular cinema trip that can cost anywhere from 3500-6000 naira for tickets. Perhaps this is why their services appeal more to the Nigerian audience, in view of the current economic conditions in the country.
Convenience is another factor, tapping into the need to relax and have access to a plethora of movies and series from the comfort of homes or offices. Streaming services offer privacy and the choice to select from an array of movies at any time and day, creating a flexible experience without the need to move around or commute to a physical cinema.
Exclusivity is the third factor that is an edge and a threat to the existence of cinemas. As streaming platforms continue to fund movie productions and own exclusive rights to their screening, more people are compelled to subscribe, thereby gradually eliminating the demand for cinemas. Unlike cinemas that mostly just show the movies, these platforms are invested in the conception and production of movies, empowering seasoned creatives and producers to explore innovative storytelling, backed by their funding . This creates an ideal situation for the growth of the creative landscape as well as the increasing streaming numbers of these services.
In defense of cinemas in Nigeria, the odds were truly stacked against them during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in box office numbers isn’t peculiar to Nigeria, but a global phenomenon. According to ELWAHAT Journal For Research And Studies,the global box office peaked in 2018, at $41.1 billion. Post pandemic, it is estimated that the global film industry has suffered a loss of at least $7 billion due to the shutdown of cinemas, as at the first half of 2020.
The Lockdown ushered in a new era, forcing industries to adapt to a new norm and find ways to survive in the ever-dynamic world we live in. Streaming services took advantage of the pandemic, and capitalized on the fact that many people were stuck and bored at home to penetrate markets and establish their presence. Sadly, the cinema industry—being heavily dependent on physical presence—couldn’t compete, and this took a huge toll on their performance. “After the lockdown, the turnout at the cinemas was really low. It has picked up, but we’re yet to meet the type of numbers we used to have before the pandemic. The current economic realities are a huge factor affecting this too, ” Aileru explains.
Post-pandemic, it’s been harder for people to hit the cinemas en masse again, especially with the idea that comfort exists at home, right from their devices. In 2021, the global box office revenue amounted to approximately $21.3 billion, struggling to reach half of the income, before the pandemic. Hence, there’s a need for the cinema/film industry to explore solutions that are sustainable, to fully transition and evolve with the times.
The current economic situation has also reduced the amount of disposable income available to many Nigerians; people working with tight budgets simply cannot afford to splurge on a spontaneous visit to the cinema. Consumer behavior has also shifted along with preferences. Thus, to remain relevant, there’s a need for cinemas to create new, unique experiences that go beyond just showing movies. Aileru argues that the solution is for cinemas to create more value and new experiences by “developing new experiences, something people can look forward to outside of the movies. The ambience, the food, and other things that improve the quality of the cinema-going experience—4DX screens, 3D experiences—people need something they can’t get at home; that’s what will propel them to come out.”
Although the rise of online streaming services poses a challenge to traditional cinema culture in Nigeria, it’s difficult to say that it’ll retire cinema-going in Nigeria. Nostalgia remains a strong element in favor of the cinema culture, but the impact of streaming platforms cannot be overlooked, especially as these services continue to actively evolve over time. The growing preference for ‘Netflix and chill’ and other at-home viewing experiences, rising ticket prices, and economic inequality further aggravate the problem, increasing the appeal of streaming services, especially to young people.
Regardless of the benefits of these streaming services, the possible decline of cinema culture in Nigeria will be consequential for the entire entertainment industry. By retiring cinema culture, there’d be loss of opportunities, stifled growth of local filmmakers, and a regression in overall development and potential for growth in the industry. There’s a need for cinemas to step up their game, create new experiences, and evolve to satisfy the needs of their audience.