Ben Amadasun: On Netflix’s Upcoming African Titles And The African Film Market
Netflix arrived in Nigeria in 2019 and has shaken up the Nigerian entertainment and streaming industry since then. The streaming giant is fostering dynamic partnerships with Nollywood moguls like Kunle Aoloyan and Mo Abudu, while bringing to Nigerian households diverse stories like Kemi Adetiba soon to be released ‘King of Boys 2’.
Netflix is also harnessing Nigerian creative talent through creative workshops like the Realness Institute Episodic Lab and in this insightful discussion, the Netflix Director of Content for Africa, Ben Amadasun spoke to us, The Guardian Life about the organization’s commitment to authentic ‘best-in-class’ titles, while sharing possible next steps and speaking on how the organization is balancing certain dynamics of present-day realities and staying competitive.
Why is the African Market important to Netflix and what challenges has Netflix faced since entering the continent?
Africa has a rich storytelling heritage with a dynamic young population that is stepping forward and proudly making an impact on the global stage, and we’re investing in that energy. People want to see themselves and their stories on screen, including Africans at home and in the diaspora and that is why we want authentic African stories that all our members can enjoy.
In terms of challenges, we are aware that the cost of data is a challenge, so we have made the service as data-effective as possible. We have four data usage settings to choose from. In addition to this, for mobile, there’s a tool that allows subscribers better control over data consumption when streaming on cellular networks. There is also a download option via the mobile app allowing a subscriber to download while there is a wifi connection and then watch the content offline later. We also recently launched a feature for our android users that allows them to play films while they are still downloading.
Earlier this year, Netflix invested in a fund for female creatives globally, what specific investments are in the works for Nigerian creatives?
Netflix is very focused on the Nigerian market, we are prepared to bet big on Nigerian creatives because we recognize that people from a culturally diverse country, with a melting pot of realities, would tell entertaining stories that would be positively received across the world. The success of Nigerian titles, thus far, has shown that great stories can travel everywhere and be enjoyed just as much as local content. The Episodic Lab partnership with Realness Institute kicked off in June 2021 after a very thorough selection process. The Episodic Lab is engaging 12 creatives from Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe for a 3-month exercise that will enable these creatives to finetune their storytelling techniques.
Additionally, Netflix is sponsoring a Pan-African story artist lab which Nigerian artists can apply for and eventually, and if selected, learn from the best of the best in that industry. Aside from this, we’ve partnered with Golden Effects and Kunle Afolayan to produce three amazing titles. The first will be an adaptation of Nigerian-American novelist Sefi Atta’s third novel, Swallow, about a naïve secretary who, after a series of career woes, considers her roommate’s offer to work as a drug mule in mid-1980s Lagos. We also initiated a creative hardship fund for creatives in the film industry which aimed at supporting workers in the film industry in Africa affected by COVID-19.
What is Netflix’s approach to collaborating with local content distributors and producers to ensure that real African stories are brought to life:
Netflix has made strong partnerships with Nigerian content creators and distributors to ensure that we have more diverse stories that bring joy to our members. We believe that everyone around the world should have access to great stories, regardless of origin. As the world evolves into a wireless community, the entertainment industry should not be left behind, everyone should have a chance to see their reality represented on screens internationally.
At Netflix, we want our members to access remarkable stories tailored to the different languages, different tastes, and different moods of our members. This can be achieved either by producing our own Original titles like Blood & Water or co-producing titles or acquiring the license to titles or films through partnerships with content distributors like Golden Effects, Blue Pictures, Film One, Trace Global, Okada Media and others in West Africa and Indigenous Films, AAA entertainment, Gravel road and others in South Africa. This wide variety of content distributors allows us to have more stories Made in Africa, to be watched by the world. We understand that this takes continuous effort and we believe that the more mutually beneficial relationships with partners that share our vision of from Africa to the world.
Netflix continuously advocates for content that reflects their members lives on screen, what does this mean and why is it important to Netflix?
The audience around the world today is more diverse than ever and they demand that the shows they watch reflect the world they live in. Whether in their neighborhoods, social groups, or social media, people relate to real-life issues that are important to them, they want to associate with content that is relevant to them; content that understands their diversity of thought, race/ethnicity – relatable human experience and that teach and inspire them. Take for example King of boys, so diverse in its genre, yet so relatable on socio-political and gender constructs that it appeals to a wide array of audience and with the popularity and anticipation of King of Boyz II it just goes to show that great stories can come from anywhere and be any enjoyed globally.
Netflix launched the Mobile plan late this June, what spurred this new plan?
At Netflix, we’re constantly working to improve our members’ experience and to make our service more accessible. This is always first on our mind when it comes to our innovations. Last year, we tried two mobile plan options to see if our members would embrace them. Following a positive outcome of the tests, we decided to launch the Mobile Plan across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia
The New mobile plan seems to be roughly the same price as your competitors, but theirs are not device-restricted. What is your take on that?
We believe that all our plans are great value for money – depending on the number of screens, types of devices and quality members want. We want to give members in Africa/ SA/ Nigeria the ability to choose what plan will best serve their requirements. The mobile plan might best fit members who want to watch Netflix only on smartphones, since we see that a lot of people already use the phone as the main way to access the internet and entertainment.
How concerned is Netflix with ensuring the streaming platform is easy for members to navigate:
At Netflix, we prioritize making our platform as easy to use as possible. We use different lists to suggest types of content members would enjoy, based on the genres of their most-watched titles. We also recently launched a Partial Download feature that allows members to save time and cost as they no longer have to wait longer than 10 minutes for complete downloads before watching their favorite titles. This too is only presently available on Android devices, but there are plans to begin testing on iOS soon.
What are your predictions on the future of content from the continent, from the lens of an industry expert:
As Netflix continues to grow our collection of regional/local content, we aim to continue enabling innovative and passionate talented African who are storytellers and creators across genres. We are actively seeking ways to collaborate with local creative communities to bring more Nollywood stories to the international market. However, some things I believe we will start seeing more and more of are; Changes in production tactics as COVID-19 restrictions change; more studio-based filming in the short to medium term;. Smaller sets; less intimacy between characters and a reduction in international locations. I also believe consumers will want more content than ever and the need to meet this demand will spur more interesting and compelling content. Producers will be more daring and that would give room for the growth of the entertainment industry.
Finally, what can the African but more importantly Nigerian audience, look forward to in the second half of 2021?
Well, let’s just say the second half of the year is going to be jam-packed with Naija stories! Aside from the already announced productions like the much-anticipated returns of King of Boys II which will be coming sooner than you think, there are several others in various stages of development that will launch in 2021. We also recently announced the continent’s first reality show, Young, Famous, and African which will feature 2Baba and Annie Idibia as well as ‘celebrity stylist’ Swanky Jerry.
Other exciting shows we have in store in terms of Nigerian original titles on Netflix include the earlier announced multi-title partnership with Kunle Afolayan to commission three new films from the filmmaker: a historical drama, a folklore fantasy, and a character drama. Then we have The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, a Nigerian script to screen original production from acclaimed Nigerian producer, Mo Abudu, which will be a series based on contemporary author, Lola Shoneyin’s best-selling debut novel. Death And The King’s Horseman, a film adaptation from Nigerian producer, Mo Abudu, based on a play by 1986 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, author, poet & playwright, Wole Soyinka. All of these are currently at different stages of production. There are a couple more that have been green-lit but cannot be shared yet.