Digital technology is transforming African film and music industry

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Digital technology is transforming African film and music industry
The Nigerian band Tola Sholana and Osumare Beats playing at Kulturbühne Hinterhalt Image: Ralf Steinberger

In the last four years the world’s top three major record companies with the largest global market share have all entered the African music industry.

The Warner Music Group is the latest to create a venture in Africa, after Sony Music and Universal Music Group had expanded into the African market. The demand for African music around the world is enhancing the collaboration between African artists and international music producers and artists.

The growing popularity of African music genres, such as Afrobeat and African hip hop has heavily influenced the global outreach of African music. For instance in 2016, Wizkid, the Nigerian Afrobeat singer collaborated with Canadian rapper Drake and British singer Kyla, to produce a song titled ‘‘One Dance’’. The song became the first to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify, becoming the most streamed song on the platform, a position it held for almost a year and occupied the number one position on Apple’s chart for Top 25 Songs.

Other African artists such as Davido, Nasty C, Sarkodie, Mr Eazi and Burna Boy are also performing exceptionally well on the international scene. Quite recently, during the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Burna Boy’s album, ‘‘African Giant’’, was nominated for Best World Music Album. Clearly depicting the top-notch nature and buzz African music is generating around the world.

Similarly, in the African film industry, Netflix, one of the largest entertainment companies is currently available in all 54 African countries. In 2018, the streaming service provider acquired rights to the Nigerian film, Lionheart, the company’s first original film from Nollywood, the world’s second largest film industry.

Nigeria’s film industry accounts for 1.42% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), representing 7.2 billion U.S dollars. Projections made by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests that export revenue for Nigeria’s film industry will reach 1 billion US dollars in 2020, with the widespread usage of digital technologies cited as the major driver of growth in the film industry.

Netflix has continued to grow in Africa, premiering its first original African series, Queen Sono, in February, 2020. The six-episode film was written and directed by Kagiso Lediga, a South African stand-up comedian.

In the last two decades, revenue generated by Africa’s Entertainment and Media sector, specifically the music and film industries have been monumental. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa’s Entertainment and Media sector will grow faster than the world’s average.

The report further reveals that in these three African countries the music industry accounts for the fastest growth and also the largest driver of growth in the Entertainment and Media sector. The current exponential growth in revenue in Africa’s film and music industry is driven largely by growth in youthful population and rapid internet penetration.

Internet connection

A report published by GSMA Intelligence indicates that the total number of smartphone connections in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) for 2018 was 302 million with the number of smartphone connections projected to reach 66% by 2025, thus, about 700 million smartphone connections will be recorded in the region. At the same time, there were 456 million unique mobile subscribers in 2018, representing an increase of 20 million mobile subscribers over 2017.

With close to 23% of the region’s population, thus approximately 239 million people as regular users of the internet, SSA will remain the fastest growing region for mobile connections as a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.6% and an additional 167 million subscribers will be recorded by 2025.

Also, according to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company, the internet’s contribution to Africa’s overall GDP will grow by at least 6% by 2025, contributing 300 billion US dollars, thus 10% of the region’s entire GDP.

Internet penetration across various sectors of the African economy, particularly the music and film industry is heavily influenced by a growing youth population. With a staggering 70% of Africa’s entire population below 30 years, the region has the youngest population in the world. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has projected that 29% of the world’s total youth population will reside in Africa by 2050.

Industries such as the film and music have benefited immensely from Africa’s growth in youth population and internet penetration. This growth in revenue for the film and music industry has been possible partly as a result of massive investments that were made to develop Africa’s telecommunication infrastructure.

Chinese market share and investment

Although successive governments and development partners have played significant roles in achieving the current growth patterns in the music and film industry, China has been instrumental in investing adequately to the development of Africa’s telecommunication infrastructure.

Data from Tracking Chinese Development Finance Project (AidData) shows that from 2000 to 2013 China invested a total of 1.7 billion US dollars in 38 African countries. Part of this amount was invested in communication infrastructure in these countries.

In recent times, China’s outward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa has skewed towards sectors such as banking, finance and telecommunication, drifting away from heavy industries to the services sector. To complement the indispensable input of China in the development of Africa’s telecommunication infrastructure, Chinese telecommunication companies operate in rural and remote areas on the continent and are willing to invest in African countries regardless of their international standings.

Unlike their Western competitors, Chinese telecommunication companies are notable for extending telecommunication networks to less developed areas in Africa, where road networks are predominantly poor or non-existent. This investment made by Chinese telecommunication companies has allowed the rural poor in Africa to access telecommunication networks.

In addition, the role of Chinese telecommunication companies has been pivotal in smartphone penetration in Africa. These companies are providing comparatively durable, less costly smartphones with long-lasting battery and access to the internet that meet the demand of the African market.

It is not a fluke that collectively, Huawei, ZTE, Tecno and other Chinese telecom companies constitute a smartphone market share of 53% in Africa. The low-pricing policy of Chinese telecom companies has been extremely essential in Africa, where poverty levels are high across countries in the region. Features of Chinese smartphones such as long-lasting batteries and durable smartphones have also made Chinese smartphones the ideal choice in Africa where power outages are common and electricity access is comparatively poor.

Again, Chinese telecom companies are contributing to the development of talent in the film and music industry in Africa. For instance, whiles Tecno has partnered with the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) to award talented participants in the film industry and improve the quality of newly produced films using digital technologies such as a mobile phone, the Chinese telecom company has also unveiled Wizkid, the Nigerian singer and songwriter as its brand ambassador. To adequately serve the growing demand for African music and support African artists, Tecno launched Boomplay in 2015, an African music app that has grown to become the biggest African music app with over 60 million subscribers in Africa.

China’s investment in the development of telecommunication infrastructure is paying off in Africa’s music and film industries. However the film and music industry in Africa is plagued with piracy issues, less developed distribution networks and ineffective property laws. For several decades, these factors have reduced returns on investments and minimized income levels of artists, music producers, actors, film producers and many other participants in the film and music industry.

These challenges have rendered the film and music industry unattractive for potential participants and investors. The challenges associated with these industries could be addressed by seeking the collective input of policy makers, development partners and all relevant stakeholders in the film and music industry in a problem-solving process in a manner that the contribution of the parties involved will be reflected in the final decision. Such consultations should be carried out frequently to ensure that pertinent policies are implemented in a constantly changing film and music industry.

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