London — Broadcasters and streamers – particularly international streamers – are now looking at the thriller genre in Africa for new acquisitions and licensing deals. Russell Southwood spoke to Benjamin Cowley, CEO, Gravel Road about an unusual Ghanaian film from the genre called Gold Coast Lounge.
Gold Coast Lounge is being represented by Gravel Road Distribution Group globally and is the sixth feature film for its director Pascal Aka. The director also acts in the film. Set in the nightlife of post-independent Ghana, a crime family must unite and clean up their act before the government shuts down their lucrative lounge. After their leader is mysteriously poisoned, it is up to Daniel (Alphonse Menyo) – the eldest – to take power. While struggling to implement his own ideas about how things should be run, Daniel has to overcome power struggles, love-triangles, tribalism and a murder investigation.
Like many films, Gold Coast Lounge was hit by the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2019: “We tried to release it just as the pandemic hit but it has only had a limited theatrical release in Ghana.” Gravel Road has sold the North American rights to streamer Topic, has sold it to 15 airlines where it was well received and self-distributed it on Amazon.
Topic is available to US and Canadian audiences on topic.com, AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV. It has done 12 deals with Gravel Road as it wants to become more genre based with thrillers and crime drama. Other films it bought included Call Me Thief (Noem My Skollie) which was an Oscar submission in 2016.
As an homage to the noir genre, Gold Coast Lounge was made in black and white: “It’s not been easy to sell to the commercial streamers. For example, Netflix don’t think black and white films work well. We’re already talking about character spin-offs for future productions and those will definitely be made in color. We’re talking to Amazon and we’d like to do a licensing deal with them.”
Gravel Road has held off signing Free-To-Air broadcast deals, wanting to maximize Pay TV incomes before it gets wider circulation: “There are only a handful of the main Pay TV companies in Africa and those willing to pay offers that reflect the budget of the film will be accepted. Or we’ll wait for a bigger streamer or AVOD.” The budget for the film was US$150,000 and was raised from private equity from ‘lifestyle investors’.
“Three years ago if you African presented thrillers and crime dramas to broadcasters, they didn’t want to touch them. They only tried safe genres.” But the international streamers like Netflix and Fremantle Media’s Walter Presents hae changed things: “The thriller trend started about three years ago but there has been a 3 year lag as films went from development to production.”
Africa’s growing creative digital economy – new deals and investment happening
On 12th January 2022, Warner Music Group (WMG) announced their majority acquisition of Africori – the first major acquisition of the year in the entertainment industry, writes Eric Osiakwan, Chanzo Capital. Momentum has been building toward this as WMG first invested in Africori in April 2020 at the height of the pandemic , followed in December 2020, with Africori signing a global sub-publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music France .
In 2019, WMG signed a partnership deal with leading Nigerian record label, Chocolate city and a licensing deal with Boomplay which raised $20 million . That same year, French media giant, Canal+ acquired Nigerian production studio, ROK film studios from Video on Demand (VOD) company IROKO TV . In September 2018, Netflix acquired the global rights to Genevieve Nnaji’s comedy, Lionheart . That same year, Black Panther became a global success as the first African themed and predominantly black cast movie, grossing about US$13.5 billion at the global box office . On January 19th, 2022, Carry1st, a South African publisher of social games and interactive content across Africa raised a $20 million Series A extension led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) . These brought significant attention to Africa’s creative digital economy – the subject of this article.
Africa’s creative digital economy, which includes music, film, art, fashion, cultural artifacts, apps and games is not only creating wealth for the creators but also contributes to the gross domestic product, exports and boosting development outcomes according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). “The creative economy is recognized now as a tool of sustainable development,” says Marisa Henderson, Chief of the Creative Economy Program at UNCTAD. UNCTAD defines this “creative economy” aka “orange economy” as the sum of all the parts of the creative industries, including trade, labor, and production. They have tracked trade in creative goods and services for close to twenty years and consistently found that the growth rate of creative economy exports outpaces that of other industries . Africa’s cultural goods sector is estimated to employ about half a million people and generate US$4.2 billion in revenue .
“Digitization is bridging the gap between the creative economies of developing countries and world markets,” says Makhtar Diop, Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC). “This is important because the transmission of cultural wealth can mobilize social change and provide jobs for young people”. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), digital platforms are fueling the growth of performers, artists, musicians, and others by allowing them to reach global audiences . The Creative Africa Nexus Summit (CANEX) in November 2021 in South Africa, focused on Africa’s creative and cultural industries bringing together creativity and technology . Revenue from digital music streaming in Africa is expected to reach US$500 million by 2025, up from only $100 million in 2017, according to the World Bank . Music streaming now accounts for more than half the revenue of the global music industry. Worldwide, online video subscriptions hit 1.1 billion in 2020, a 26% rise from the previous year .
MUSIC: Africori is the largest digital music distribution and rights management company in Sub-Saharan Africa, servicing a wide range of African artists (about 7,000) and serving 850 clients from operations in Lagos, London and Johannesburg where it’s leading artist Master KG launched Jerusalema (feat. Nomcebo) which became a global smash during the pandemic. According to Yoel Kenan, founder and CEO of Africori “African music is inspiring creatives from around the world”. Alfonso Perez Soto, EVP, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Warner Music, said “I’m delighted that we’ll be working together with Africori – and Yoel Kenan in particular – as they’ve been pioneers, fighting for the interests of artists and the music industry in Africa. We can harness the power of our global network to take their great African music to a truly global audience.” Phiona Okumu, Spotify’s Head of Music for sub-Saharan Africa, believes that the African music industry is at a tipping point. “We have artists already signing with the biggest labels in substantial deals, because everyone can see quite clearly that demand is high, and the world is ready for African pop music”. Sauti Sol, the pop band from Kenya, has gained international attention.
FILM: Africa’s creative digital economy is gaining global attention also in the film/streaming sector. At the height of the pandemic, Netflix released its first two original African TV-series, ‘Queen Soto’ and ‘Blood and Water’ . Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and movie studios, including Disney and the Cape Town Film Studios are investing heavily in African productions . Disney Animations has partnered with Ugandan based Kugali to bring an Africa-themed animated sci-fi series, Iwaju, to the Disney Plus service in 2023 . Iroko TV announced last year that it was going to list on the London Stock Exchange to raise capital to compete with these global players entering the African market . Africa’s Streaming Video-On-Demand (SVOD) users is estimated to reach 13 million by 2025 according to projections by Digital TV Research .
According to PWC, Nigeria’s film industry known as Nollywood is one of the fastest growing creative industries in the world. Nollywood has the potential to become Nigeria’s greatest export with a compound annual growth rate of 19.3% from 2018 to 2023 . SouthBox Entertainment based in Atlanta, USA whose founder Jon Gosier lived in Uganda at some point – was inspired to invest in Defiant Entertainment’s “Rise” a film on terror group, Boko Haram . Southbox has financed one feature film with a theatrical-release and three feature films with streaming-releases to date. SouthBox Entertainment is working with some local partners to launch an initiative called the Africa Media Trust Fund to direct investment towards more African film and television productions. South African entertainment company MultiChoice has been launching new TV channels in Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique in the last 18 months as part of its hyperlocal African strategy which it says combines local content acquisition, production, and the development of local content through international production partnerships . In Senegal, the Kourtrajme collective has opened a film school to train talented African script writers .
OTHERS: In May 2019, the Central Bank of Nigeria, in partnership with the Banker’s Committee, announced a N22 billion fund for entrepreneurs and investors in the creative and IT sectors . This was followed in January 2020 by Afreximbank – the African Export-Import Bank’s announcement of a $500 million credit facility to support African cultural and creative products . Towards the end of 2021, Annan Capital Partners, a Luxembourg-based impact fund manager announced their €100 million Impact Fund for African Creatives (IFFAC) at the Paris Fashion week . Meanwhile, Kenya based HEVA Fund dedicated to creatives has been investing about a million dollars since 2015 in 40 businesses and directly supported over 8,000 creative practitioners . It’s founder George Gachara said that African governments must nurture the creative sector . The Black Star International Film Festival by Juliet Asante and the Chale Wote arts festival by Mantse Aryeequaye exhibit the Ghanaian creative sector annually in August .
The Mastercard Foundation has partnered with Kisua, a leading African fashion brand to create Ananse an e-commerce platform that connects African designers with local and international consumers by simplifying inventory, payments and logistics using technology . Casting Africa, a platform launched by Ghanaian entrepreneur and industry professional, Kwasi Bosiako Antwi is helping identify talent from around the continent through initiatives like their monologue challenge . AMP Global Technologies’ interactive content and fans engagement technology allows content creators to engage with their audience. For example, their Take Back The Mic series makes for discovery of new creatives through the eyes of the audience that like and share their musical, film or graphics content . According to Bill Sonneborn, Senior Director, Disruptive Technology and Funds at IFC, “Creator tech can help solve issues of access and inclusion. When artists can develop local and global audience with corresponding monetization, they become part of a sector that offers direct and indirect employment opportunities and is worthy of investment”. According to him, new technologies like Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) can help enforce copyright and thwart piracy, helping artists get paid for their work , while Mobile Money (MoMo) platforms make it easier for consumers anywhere in Africa to pay for film, music, and art.
Kenya: StarTimes Media has pledged an additional US$1.7 million to support local content production in Kenya. According to the corporation, the above mentioned is due to the success of their local content channel, Rembo TV. With the expected increase, the company’s progressive twist on local content will be worth more than US$3.5 million. The above mentioned is due to an initial investment of a similar amount when the channel was set up.
South Africa: In the groundbreaking 18SNLV documentary series Sex in Afrikaans (being shown on Showmax), four Afrikaans couples and two singles, with the help of clinical psychologist Bradley R Daniels, will speak openly for the first time about their sex lives and in the process discover there is much more fun to be had! “I didn’t think anything could still shock or surprise me,” says narrator Rian van Heerden, who is also producing through Provoco. “But I can tell you, while we were filming this series, we could hardly believe what we were hearing! I honestly didn’t think I was conservative and then I realised that I was actually still a little conservative…”
Uganda: The Maisha Magic Movies Channel will debut fifteen new commissioned Ugandan films on February 14th, as the channel moves to carry more content locally produced across East Africa.
South Africa: South Africa’s Communications Minister, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, switched off the last SABC analogue transmitter in Limpopo on February 8, paving the way for the transition to digital television to continue.
Nigeria: AREWA24, the leading Hausa language family entertainment and lifestyle television channel and production studio in Nigeria and West Africa announce the launch of its new Original Drama and Film Division. The new company production division will develop, script and produce a slate of new original drama series and feature films, telling authentic African stories from Northern Nigeria and West Africa in both the Hausa language and in core English.
Kenya: Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) Television viewership has been rated to have improved to eight percent from last year’s two percent rating it among top 10 most watched stations.
Nigeria: The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has suspended a popular current affairs programme of Vision FM, Idon Mikiya, for six months.
Kenya: Showmax and Safaricom (NSE: SCOM) have partnered to offer customers two months of streaming for the price of one, while making it easier for Kenyans to pay for and watch their favourite shows on their mobile devices. Showmax bundles the best of African and international entertainment with live sport from SuperSport. In this partnership, customers will be offered data deals bundled with a 60-day Showmax subscription, instead of the usual 30-day subscription. Customers will choose from two mobile bundles: Showmax Mobile (60 days) + 1GB Safaricom data for KES 389; Showmax Pro Mobile (60 days) + 3GB Safaricom data for KES 1299. This deal is valid from 1 February to 31 March 2022 and is exclusive to Safaricom customers.
East Africa: MediaCom, a division of WPP-Scangroup, has introduced SpotLift, a tool that assesses the impact of television advertising. According to the company, the launch of the new offering is in response to growing demand from clients for higher-quality data and insights on TV media buying.
Netflix and UNESCO announced that 21 shortlisted candidates would go forward in the exciting short film competition ‘African Folktales, Reimagined’.