It earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the man behind the highest grossing Nollywood movie ever, but Ayo Makun is quick to point out the box office results could’ve been so much more.
The Nigerian comedian, producer and filmmaker spoke with CNN’s Marketplace Africa recently on the success of his most recent films, including 2014’s 30 Days in Atlanta that landed him the coveted spot in the record books.
“Yes, people are now beginning to know that you can make money from our movies,” the filmmaker, better known as AY, told CNN. And although 30 Days in Atlanta grossed an astonishing ₦137,200,000 (approximately $38 million in today’s money) at the Nigerian box office, AY is convinced it would’ve been more. If only pirates hadn’t found it first.
“I have lost so much (money) from piracy,” the 46-year-old laments, adding that the widespread illegal distribution of movies in Nigeria has far-reaching consequences within the industry. “It has affected the quality of the films,” he explains. “Some producers believe that if they spend so much (money) and the pirates come, they are going to have a huge loss.”
That is why many local filmmakers opt to produce films of a lower quality because they try to keep their overheads as low as possible. And as AY explains, investors are unwilling to provide more capital out of fear that they won’t be able to recoup their investments. “If they spend less and they make a little money before the thieves come, it will be fine. This is affecting the quality (of the films being made).”
Other big players within the industry agree. “Piracy is a big thing in Nigeria,” says Kene Mkparu, CEO of Nigeria’s largest chain of theatres. During a recent conversation with CNN, the businessman explained that Nigerians are drawn to piracy because there are not enough legitimate ways for them to consume content. “There’s only about 35 cinemas in Nigeria in 10 (major) cities. That’s not enough. Nigeria has over 60 cities!
“People yearn and demand film entertainment in cinemas,” he adds. “And piracy fills that gap. So as the government enforces anti-piracy laws, we also need to develop better infrastructure.”
Luckily, the industry has already started to respond to this. For example, Nigerian entertainment mogul Jason Njoku started iROKOtv, the world’s largest online distributor of Nigerian films and TV series. iROKOtv is a platform similar to Netflix but provides only Nigerian content to a wide audience both locally and abroad. “Is Nigerian films and television shows widely popular? Absolutely,” says Jason. “Is it under-monetized? Absolutely. That is where I at iROKOtv can support that.”
Kene agrees with Jason’s assessment that the local industry should monetize its distribution better. However, he feels the solution lies in expanding the number of cinemas available so that people have easier access to movies. Especially people from lower income groups. “How do we stop piracy? By building them low-end cinemas. Once we have those in place — at least 500 of those — I tell you, piracy will reduce significantly.”
Nigeria’s massive piracy problem is also exacerbated by the fact that there’s a serious lack of accountability within the industry. It often happens that distributors themselves leak high-value content because these individuals are being paid by the pirate kingpins who knows they can charge top dollar for it. Producers, directors and investors then have no idea who within their distribution network was responsible, leading to no arrests or any form of punishment.
As such the cycle of piracy just continues, costing the industry millions of dollars a year. Besides solutions like iROKOtv that provides a paid-for platform for content owners, the industry also needs to look for other types of technological advances to help them fight piracy effectively.
Secure distribution platforms like Screener Copy offer such a solution. Once a video file is securely uploaded, the owner sends it to a pre-determined list of recipients. Each recipient receives a unique copy of the file, embedded with an unnoticeable watermark forever linking their copy to them. And if the film is leaked, the owner is immediately notified and the identity of the infringer is revealed.
“New forms of distribution couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Jason. “It’s time for the Nigerian film industry to showcase what we’ve got.”
To celebrate the launch of their new anti-piracy platform, Custos is giving away ten free tickets worth $40 to all independent filmmakers, producers, distributors and videographers to explore Screener Copy and all its features.
To sign up visit screenercopy.com.