As the streaming market in Europe and the US becomes saturated, global Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) providers are expanding to find new talent and subscribers. In addition to India, many companies are pursuing growth in Africa, targeting major economies like Nigeria and South Africa and commissioning original content that can also appeal to international audiences.
“Africa is largely an untapped market,” says Nigerian television pioneer Mosunmola ‘Mo’ Abudu, founder and CEO of EbonyLife Group.
Despite its untapped potential, Abudu, whose pioneering outfit has partnered with Netflix, Sony, AMC and BBC Studios in recent years, said the media world has “understood that the numbers add up” when considering there are 1 billion people living on the continent and millions more living outside who “want content that speaks to them.”
2022 Women in Series Award winner
Abudu was honoured at France’s Series Mania festival with its Women in Series Award this month. Awarded in collaboration with the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA Network) and advocacy group Pour Les Femmes Dans Les Médias (PFDM), the award honours a remarkable woman from the audiovisual industry for her leadership and vision.
Speaking on a Series Mania panel, Mo said: “This isn’t an NGO agenda, but our stories can be entertaining. We have pitched and pitched over the last few years, and studios are beginning to see the light. We’re getting the power, and that’s why we need to tell great stories.”
Netflix accounts for more than half of Africa’s streaming subscriptions, with 2.7 million subscribers from a total of 4.9 million, as of December 2021. It is ahead of local streamers Showmax, run by South African pay-TV operator MultiChoice, and StarTimes ON, operated by the Chinese pay-TV platform Star Times, as well as Amazon Prime Video. Disney+ is set to launch in South Africa later this year, and in Nigeria in 2023.
Abudu founded EbonyLife as a pan-African TV service in 2013 and went on to create content through EbonyLife Studios, EbonyLife Films, and EbonyLife Media.
One of its first successes was the TV series Castle & Castle, about two successful Nigerian lawyers, which Netflix picked up. In response, EbonyLife inked a multi-title deal with the streamer, the country’s first and largest of its kind, to create two original series and license films and series to the platform. Blood Sisters, a thriller set in Lagos about two best friends who commit an accidental murder that sets off a series of catastrophic events, starts streaming later this year.
In addition, EbonyLife has an agreement with Sony Pictures Television, with whom it is developing Dahomey Warriors, a series about a mysterious female battalion from a historical West African kingdom; working on several films and TV projects with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studio, and working with Will Packer Productions on a project based on a Bloomberg article called “The Fall of the Billionaire Gucci Master.” This is the story of an alleged con man from Nigeria who laundered millions while sharing his activities on Instagram.
Recently, EbonyLife and BBC Studios signed a deal to produce a six-part heist thriller titled Reclaim.
Additionally, an untitled drama starring Yetide Badaki about African warrior Queen Nzinga from the 17th century is in development for Starz and Lionsgate, as is a futuristic crime drama called Nigeria 2099 for AMC Networks.
“Gems can be found everywhere,” Abu said. “For too long, the only African story was the story of the slave trade, but there’s so much more, and we have vast stories of today and the future.”
“Black writers and showrunners have not had the opportunity to be in the room at the highest level, so the gatekeepers need to let the next generation in,” she explained. “Black actors have been frustrated because there’s not been enough work, so finding them is not a problem, but with writers, we’ll have to start with a new batch, and they are beginning to show promise.”
EbonyLife has launched a local free training initiative, which Abudu “tried to sell to every single governor of Lagos over the last eight years,” and kickstarted an incubator program in the UK for Black creatives.
One Lagos alumni has already landed a role in a Netflix show, added Abudu.