A secret agent from South Africa is searching for the truth about her mother's murder while also protecting her country from dark forces. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of “Queen Sono,” Netflix's first original African series is scheduled for release on February 28.
And if the US streaming service is to be believed “Queen Sono” is just the beginning.
“This is exactly what we're going for,” Netflix told DW in a written statement. “African thrillers, entertaining and smart political dramas.”
Netflix says it wants to tell local stories with a global appeal.
Read more: Making movies in Africa, breaking conventions
Will Netflix breathe new life into African films?
Melissa Adeyemo, a Nigerian-American producer who founded Ominira Studios in New York, has been in Africa's film market for years. Her latest movie just wrapped production in Lagos.
The fact that Netflix has come to discover the potential of the African continent makes sense to her. She says there's a huge appetite and a huge demand for stories, especially in Nigeria. Point in case: the emergence of the “Nollywood” film industry in Nigeria.
Adeyemo thinks the new series from South Africa will help generate more interest for African stories and could really open the door to the international market for African actors, screen writers and directors.
Read more: Who should bring the internet to Africa's remote region?
Nigerian filmmaker Chuku Esiri agrees. Esiri, alongside his twin brother Arie, recently directed the film “Eyimofe” which premiered at the Berlinale in Germany.
“Obviously it's always great when massive institutions like Netflix are interested in working in Africa and try to get those stories and empower creative individuals,” Esiri told DW.
“I think it's a great start and I hope it spreads from South Africa to the other countries on the continent.”
Lagos is the heart of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry
Netflix has fewer subscribers in Africa
Netflix does in fact have a few more African productions slated for release. In April it will premiere “Mama K's Team 4,” an animated film about the lives of four girls from Zambia set in the future. The film marks Netflix's first ever animated film from Africa.
And while it continues production on a teen drama dubbed “Blood & Water,” Netflix is also working on getting the rights on top notch Nollywood films like “Lionheart” and “Chief Daddy.”
But there's a catch. According to Netflix's figures, the streaming provider has over 167 million subscribers worldwide, and while it hasn't released its figures on the number of African subscribers, analysts from Digital TV Research in London estimate that there are fewer than 1.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of them are South African.
To put this into context, Netflix wants 5 million subscribers on the African continent by 2025.
Analysts predict that the market for streaming in sub-Saharan Africa will surpass $1 billion by 2024. By way of comparison, that same market – including internet TV and on-demand viewing – was worth some $223 million in 2018.
Streaming challenges in Africa
The main problem streaming providers face on the African continent is rudimentary networks for cable internet and the high cost of mobile data.
German film critic Dorothee Wenner, who has been working in Africa for several decades looking for new talent and stories, says only a small demographic can afford video streaming services.
“Aside from the fact that the connection isn't strong enough for streaming, streaming itself is unaffordable for most people in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she told DW.
Only in some countries, like Rwanda, is digitalization more advanced. But there are alternatives, like the introduction of special mobile subscriptions, which could mean using less data. In India, for example, these types of subscriptions already exist in areas where practically the only infrastructure available for online content is cellular technology.
Using video streaming services in sub-Saharan Africa often means using expensive mobile data
Netflix faces local competition in Africa
While Netflix's chances of success in Africa are promising given its role as the world's leading streaming service, regional providers are making gains with clever offers.
South African provider Showmax, for example, offers its users simple digital payments through local partners and flat rates via satellite. The Nigerian company IrokoTV even has its own kiosks where customers can download movies onto their phones for later viewing. That saves them data and brings in money for local businesses who are offering their customers full customer service.
When it comes to its US competitors, Netflix has a head start in Africa. Netflix has been available since 2016 in all 54 countries, whereas Amazon Prime and Disney+ remain unavailable there and Apple TV+ is only accessible in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Be that as it may, the race for Africa's film market has officially begun.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi “Film Africa: Distribution” DW Akademie together with its partners One Fine Day Films, Ginger Ink Films and the Nairobi Film Festival recently held a pitching workshop in Nairobi for young Kenyan filmmakers. It was followed by an international network meeting focusing on how to market films and TV productions in Africa.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi International trainers The young filmmakers were coached by renowned Swedish pitching trainer, Helene Granqvist.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Location: Nairobi Film Festival Sheba Hirst is the director of the Nairobi Film Festival that hosted the pitching workshop as well as the two-day network meeting on marketing and distribution.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi How do you successfully market a film? An expert panel discussed film distribution and marketing in Africa and around the world. Panel members (from left to right): Trushna Buddhev Patel, Crimson Multimedia, Kenya; Sarah Summers, Coloured Mentality web series, South Africa; Edima Otuokon, Organized M.E.S.S. and Ladima Foundation, Nigeria; Monika Waceke, Kwese Free TV, Kenya; host Don Edkins, STEPS, South Africa.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Questions from the audience Workshop participants responded to audience questions.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Sharing ideas with participants Jana Wolff from the Berlinale film festival's European Film Market ran a workshop on the “Berlinale Africa Hub”.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Film festivals as platforms for marketing and networking Wolff's workshop focused on developing successful strategies for film festivals.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi The partners Ginger Wilson co-heads Ginger Ink TV which has produced six successful Kenyan feature films together with Tom Tykwers' One Fine Day Films and DW Akademie.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi The Partners Sarika Hemi Lakhani is a producer with One Fine Day Films and held the workshop “Distribution Contracts – Do's and Don'ts”.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Presenting projects to a large audience After attending Granqvist's pitching workshop participants such as Mahad Ahmed presented their projects to the audience.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Missing Child Alert Owino Sang'iewa was also on stage to pitch her project.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Queries and comments The audience asked questions after each pitch and gave feedback on the presentations.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi Part of the audience Tina Kabuthu, production assistant at Ginger Ink Films, and Ginger Wilson, co-head of Ginger Ink TV, sat with the audience to watch the pitches and obviously enjoyed themselves.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi And the winner is… The winner of the pitching workshop was selected by an expert jury: Denise Mwende (Showmax, Kenya), Linda Githige (Kwese iflix, Kenya), Wanuri Kahlu (filmmaker, Kenya) Cindy Mbae (Rushlake Media, Kenya) and Jana Wolff (European Film Market Berlinale). The award went to Densu Moseti.
The art of marketing films: Workshop for filmmakers in Nairobi All winners The participants were in fact winners, having made new contacts and having gained numerous professional tips