Steppes in Figures #7: What Eastern European media people get to learn at major content market for Africa

Sourced from Disbook Africa #2 and 3, by Basic Lead, organizers of Discop Africa and Discop West Asia media markets


A few lessons from an African media veteran, Mike Dearham, Senior Vice President at Côte Ouest, major pan-African distribution company. Dearham began his career working in radio communications and political science before joining South African subscription-funded TV channel M-Net, rising to become head of sales and library acquisitions. Mr Dearham has led a string of pan-African media initiatives, receiving, in 2005, the Prince Claus Award for outstanding contributions to the growth and development of the African film industry.

According to Mike Dearham:

It is increasingly the case that the success of Nollywood is largely based on transnational production activity, with many films shot in Benin, Togo, Niger,
Cameroon, Sudan and the Ivory Coast..

For these reasons, Africa, in common with many other developing areas of the world, has seen the emergence of “sub-cinema” and a straight-to-video
industry. Sub-cinema, in which films are shown in a variety of impromptu locations, is characterized by handshake deals, slim profit margins and piracy.
It is also, by its very nature, hard to control, bypassing DVD regional coding and other forms of regulation.

Reliable information on the straight-to-video business is hard to obtain, but it is estimated that, in Africa, straight-to-video accounts for around two-thirds of all the titles in the market place.

Windowing has served as a durable template for the global film and TV industry since the invention of broadcasting. The nature of the system is that it can incorporate existing – theatrical, DVD, various forms of TV – and new technologies, such as the Internet and mobile, in the release pattern based on price differentiation.

To do well on DVD, you must do well in theatrical release; doing well theatrically guarantees a higher TV-rights fee. The subversion of the window system in Africa is mainly due to the absence of viable theatrical platforms and a declining DVD market hindered by the recalcitrant force of piracy. Consequently, the value of a film or TV series, in terms of TV licensing fees, is not subject to pricing differentiation as determined by normal release patterns. Instead, it’s calibrated by festival nominations and awards, or the star quality of actors.

Today, African content production ranges from 3 -4,000 hours per annum. During the 1990s, this figure was lower than 100.

[In Africa there are] 535 local TV channels, each responsible for the transmission of up to 1,000 hours of fresh programs annually.


In words of Bernard Azria, Côte Ouest CEO, annually, ”close to 400 [Nigerian] producers [are] churning out between 600-1,000 TV movies.”

Ivory Coast is the only African nation where the state-owned TV station still enjoys a full monopoly.

Some African TV stations exercise local content quotas as high as 60-70 %.

In Africa hotels and airlines are overlooked by content providers.

The first African TV broadcast took place in Western Nigeria in October 1959. By the mid 1990’s, African-made movies accounted for less than 0.1 % of all films screened in Africa. 35 mm film production has been all but defunct since the 1970’s and 16 mm features number only a handful every year.

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