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Government loses billions of naira to film industry neglect

Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, PHOTO: GABRIEL IKHAHON

• Experts task parastatals on censorship of pay TV providers
Until recently, Nigerians were largely able to access only the local government-owned and privately owned radio and television channels for most of the day. It is clear that the advent of satellite digital broadcasting from foreign nations changed this over the years.

Access to foreign signals was first recorded in Kano and Lagos in the late 80s, when elites in the areas began to downlink satellite television signals; they were able to view regular programming from Cable News Network (CNN), Music Television (MTV) and Euronews among others. This activity was illegal because the receivers did not subscribe to the service.

Several regulated providers of foreign channels such as Multichoice emerged. These providers mixed foreign channels that they offered with Africa Independent Television (AIT), Africa Magic channels and so on for local flavour.

Recently, Nigerians were offered more options in the Pay TV industry when TSTV and Kwese TV were launched. This was seen as an answer to a long awaited prayer; finally, indigenous companies coming onboard to break the monopoly market of long existing one.

But since the launch of these pay TV providers, many Nigerians have continued to express mixed reactions, as their expected presence is yet to be felt. Are these perhaps potential HiTV that crashed like a bird from the 50th floor of a building?

Recall that HiTV was like the Messiah that came to rescue Nigerians, with eye-watering offers of maximum channels for very low costs as opposed to what is obtainable now.

Last year, the founder of the dysfunctional HiTV, Oluwatoyin Subair was quoted as saying, “HiTV collapsed essentially, because of a clause in our original Shareholders Agreement, which allowed a group of founding shareholders to block the company raising money or selling off a subsidiary. This right was exercised to block our capital raise because it was believed to be a possible ploy by another group to take control of the company. We the management were caught in the middle and it took us another 8 months to pursue the alternative that was acceptable to the shareholders, but by that time the equity market had gone bust, leaving us groveling all over for debt.”

With these offers coming onboard, what is the place of the country’s film industry? And how can both industries perhaps work hand in hand for a common goal of contributing to the economy?

For example, in a developed film industry like China, in 2007, its film production went up to 500 films yearly, with 378 million TV households and 152 million cable TV households. Its digital cable TV, according to the data by CMR-Union in December 2008, China has 47.65 million digital cable TV, with subscribers up to 97.39 per cent yearly.

The contemporary Nigerian film industry at inception seemed to have been an all-comers affair, as there were no set standards to check those venturing into the industry. The stereotype has not changed in spite of attempts by stakeholders to sanitise the industry. It was also argued that the government has only been playing the spectator role, only observing the situation and development in the industry. The government is losing billions of naira for neglecting the sector. For example, in 2004, star artistes earned as much as N2m as fee per role in film productions, and such incomes were not taxed, which is not the case in developed film industries.

Recall that in 2002, Nollywood was ranked the third largest film industry in the world, and at that time, many thought with adequate government support, the industry was capable of becoming the largest in the world. In fact, in 2004, it was speculated that the industry had generated N300 billion into the country’s economy; creating over 300, 000 jobs for young people, (Aderinokun’s Nollywood)

Eddie Ugbomah

The veteran filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, lamented that the industry had been bastardised and government seems not to care. According to him, “I don’t care if they set up new 300 Pay TV channels. It is only in this country that I have found out that people set up Pay TV stations to kill an industry and the government is watching and the professionals are watching.”

He revealed that when DSTV came in 1995, in a grand style, then, he was the Chairman at Film Corporation, and he remembered the undercurrent that went on because of his position.

“Today, every filmmaker is a pauper, nobody is watching the films anymore, because, they only need to pay N2000 a month to have access. Now, if these pay TV stations would give just five per cent of the money to the industry, we would still survive but no, the industry has to wait to get their collateral from Bank of Industry.”

He pointed that he foresaw how the emergence of Pay TV would be a big threat to the industry years ago, when one of them was launched in Nigeria, but no one listened to him.

Ugbomah stated, “How many films are being shot in Nigeria? I am not talking about home videos. Cinemas owners now want to become movie producers and directors.”

He further lamented failure of government to tap into the potential of the industry, which he said, “is bigger than oil; it can create jobs, entertain and make people. The government said it wants to give tax rebate to the industry and users, so that when you go to the Cinema, you get a certain percentage, and even the Cinemas what do they put there? Foreign films. Now, because the economy is bad, some cinemas are beginning to show Nigerian films.”

On how these new channels can operate differently and gain support, Ugbomah said, “If they can sponsor Nigerian content, I support them, just like Dangote, using money that he has to help Nigerians. Look at Iroko TV; they only commission things that are breaking the law. Multichoice would also commission films that are not in our interest and say it is cable, and no one is there to censor or sanction them. No copyright, no censor board and that is why most people get away with almost everything.”

Speaking further, he said even the local channels are incapable of airing independently without hooking to these platforms, “they cannot go from Charity Bus stop to Mile 2,” he joked.

He advised that the industry could not go anywhere “unless the government comes in and kick them out for us to survive. They have created maximum damage; do you know what it means to have a market of 180 million people? They make this money and cry there is no money.

“I am having sleepless night when I see the industry I suffer to create; I drove away the Indians, Lebanese and Americans when they tried to enter our market, through the support of Obasanjo and today, where am I? Nowhere. What is African about Multichoice Movies, what are they teaching?

He tasked the government to set proper business conditions that would aid the industry when such proposals come. He, however, stated, “the government created Film Corporation and censor’s board, but what are they doing for the industry? The government has created six parastatals for art and culture, but what are they doing; they only collect subventions, share the money and that is all. What is their dynamism?”

For movie producer, Don Pedro Obaseki, Content would be a major challenge for them in terms of football, production and entertainment. “It is difficult for any unserious player to come onboard.

According to him, “Brand competition is good, and I wish for them to survive. They should do a survey; a direct consumer survey.”

Another expert, Festus Igeniwari argued that the Pay TV industry in Nigeria was a level-playing field for everyone serious and capable enough to offer Nigerians the best value for money in world-class content.

According to him, “Nigerians need to realise that, as a rule, you don’t start off a marathon by sprinting; and when a claim sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
While I wouldn’t bug anyone with pay-tv lingo, it is now pertinent for Nigerians to grasp the rudiments of how the industry works; and the indices represented in the chain, right up to their television sets”.

Igeniwari commended DStv for continuing to live up to its claim of offering the best TV entertainment in Africa viz aligning with the entertainment needs of its subscribers. Adding, “When DStv lost the rights of the Premier League to HItv, it stepped up its game by reinforcing its local content offering on Africa Magic. Thus, in its trying time, it saw an opportunity to beef of its armor as the king of content in its market, using the threat to focus on developing local content further, which then proved, once again, to be a compelling need among Nigerians.”

In this article:
Eddie UgbomahLai Mohammed


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