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Issues around online streaming of movies




Recently, there was a report, which allegedly claimed that some producers are bitter over their exploitation by an online movies’ streamer, IROKO. The alleged exploitation might not be the streamer’s fault, but an issue of serial illegality.

By the provisions of the extant New Distribution and Exhibition Framework, NDEF of the national regulator, National Film & Video Censors Board, NFVCB, a producer of a movie cannot directly offer the work to any platform of public distribution, but must go through a licensed national or regional distributor. Except IROKO holds a distribution licence by either the NFVCB or Lagos State Film & Video Censors Board where it is domiciled, all the movies so far acquired have not been legitimately acquired and for that reason, the distribution contract, if any, between the company and the producers, could be said to be invalid. However, the final pronouncement would be by either the court or through the intervention of either the NFVCB or LSFVCB.

Secondly, NDEF also stipulates that a valid distribution contract must specify a lifespan; the minimum of which is six months to a maximum of five years. The background story to this is to resolve the issue of a new movie, especially, by an unknown producer, who has no previous track record that the distributor may refer to for confidence, and or to give the Producer a deserving value for the movie.

Since the reluctant distributor might not give the Producer the appropriate price, the solution is in the contract lifespan provision.

If after the movie comes into the public space, it enjoys a spectacular success like Sholay, a 1976 Indian blockbuster that contrary to initial expectations of the producer, who in a moment of anxiety, was on the way to locations for additional scenes but was stopped on the way by the adulating moviegoers singing the praises of the movie to high heaven.

The movie was to later set an unprecedented record of more than a year – diamond jubilee – that is an unbroken 60 weeks exhibition in the cinemas around India. Or Titanic that surprised both the producer and the distributor from its box office earnings leading to a review of the distribution contract.

These examples influenced the NDEF on the lifespan of a distribution contract so that if after the initial doubts at the inception of the contract and later in public domains, the movie defies expectations, either way, the producer or the Distributor can weave their way out of an unfavourable distribution contract. Now, even if IROKO is a licensed distributor and the movies legitimately acquired, the complaining Producers can invoke or seek recourse in the distribution contract lifespan to ask for a more favourable review that will address their complaints.

Having miraculously escaped the last hurricane that swept all of 26 heads of federal government’s agencies off their offices, I expect both the leaderships of Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC and NFVCB to maximize the present to quickly attend to the myriad of challenges facing the entertainment industry that they and their staff are in the offices to protect, promote and advance its growth.

There is a lot of suffering out here which either or both the agencies could do so much to alleviate or completely eliminate. Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC is a developmental agency. With some creative initiatives, the leadership could use its mandate as a sort of carte blanche to assume the oversight role of all other agencies; personal, groups or governmental in its bid to make the operating condition of the industry saner and healthier.

It was at the Abuja International Airport on my way back to Lagos last Saturday that I read the story. Two days earlier on my way to Abuja, I had taken from my library for my in-flight reading, Professor Ebun Clark’s book on the late undisputed founder of modern Theatre from which the movie industry, old and new evolved.

I am speaking of late Hubert Ogunde whose work formed the kernel of the Professor’s study now published in a book form; hubert ogunde: the making of Nigerian theatre. An amazing discovery in the book is the verified assertion of the late doyen that rather than exploit the teeming youths that wanted to follow in his footsteps, he made it a policy not to treat them as apprentices but to employ them and put them on salaries.

This is contrary to the report of some of our star actors taking advantage of their status to put some starry-eyed and star-struck youths under their so-called apprenticeship through which they not only collect periodical fee from the unsuspecting youths but also use them in their production without any financial gains whatsoever! I am not against apprenticeship or training but I am of the view that anything involving members of the public should be formal and structured such that it is open to public audit to guard against possible abuse. A good role model in this instance is Olu and Joke Jacobs’ Academy. There is also the issue of brands’ ambassadorship which in reality is simply a celebrity’s endorsement of the brand as a marketing strategy to boost and sustain patronage. Outwardly it looks good for the few lucky star ambassadors but for those that knew the scores, it is not as good as it looks. NFC could look into these issues for a proper restructuring that will change it into a win-win situation for all those involved.

With the NFVCB, one has written enough reams to last a lifetime but it is once again worth repeating that the movie industry is at its most vulnerable and only the Censors Board with its enabling law to restructure the distribution system holds the magic wand to breathe a new lease of life into the prostate industry. Publishing the list of movies censored and classified falls several steps below the expectations of the stakeholders and of what use is the publication when we all know that 8 out of every 10 movies in a community retailer’s shop are pirated copies? God helps the present leadership of NFVCB to hearken to the cry of anguish of the same industry it collects billions of Naira every year as a subvention to protect.

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