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With many people stuck at home, Vanessa Obioha looks at the viewing experience on television and streaming platforms

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria continue to spike, Nigerians are gradually embracing the gospel of social distancing. This means bad business for the entertainment industry which thrives on social gatherings. Shows are cancelled, festivals postponed and leisure venues closed. With many stuck at home, TV and streaming platforms are becoming the escape routes for self-isolation. Viewers are increasing their screen time, scouring for programmes that will uplift their mood in the devastating era.

Global viewing figures from Nielsen, the American market research company showed that TV viewing increased in South Korea, Italy and America since the coronavirus outbreak.

The expanded viewing trend is good news for content providers on the sound and sight medium in Nigeria. As filmmaker Femi Odugbemi observed, there are many films by young filmmakers available on cable TV and other platforms that are yet to be watched. He sees the self-isolation directive by the government as an opportunity for viewers to discover new films and appreciate the young storytellers in the country. He is particularly intrigued by local language films.

“As the head judge of the seventh edition of Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA), I watched tons of films from across the continent and I was impressed by our local languages films; that is Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa. Truly, the production qualities have improved significantly. The sound quality is better, the pictures are stunning, the performers are fantastic because people are more comfortable speaking their own language. But it is the authenticity of the content that is the mind-blowing. The storytelling is amazing. There is great improvement. If we are going to the kind of work that the world will pay attention to quickly, we have an advantage with our local language films.”

The former president of Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN) added that “Staying at home will give the audience an opportunity to connect with the variety of programmes on TV and familiarise themselves with the young talents both behind and in front of the camera. Television and content are an incredible way to sustain one in this critical moment. They convey messages of hope.”

Another filmmaker, Ike Nnaebue foresees a rise in streaming platforms.
“This is the time for content producers to explore online distribution. There will be a lot of content consumption this period.”
Streaming platforms such as Netflix reportedly experienced an all time high viewing traffic last weekend according to a report in Forbes. The Group Executive Director of FilmOne Entertainment and Filmhouse Cinemas, Moses Babatope disclosed that the demand for Nollywood movies has grown exponentially on streaming services such as Netflix and Prime Video.

“We have supplied almost 50 movies.” Babatope revealed that the company was forced to close down theatres at the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The expanded viewing gain however may be short-lived as the outbreak poses a threat to live content production. For instance, MultiChoice Nigeria recently cut short the duration of its reality TV show, Ultimate Love. The show’s finale, earlier scheduled for April 5, will now hold today, March 29. The company also stopped the love guests from receiving external visitors as well as leaving the Love Pad. In adhering to the order of social distancing, the past Sunday live show had no studio audience.
The leading entertainment company announced other changes in a statement. It disclosed that it is expanding its content offering for news, movies and kid shows.

“In light of the disruptions to the school year in some markets, we are also working to provide access to the best available educational content, to help keep young minds stimulated and engaged,” says its Chief Executive Officer, John Ugbe.
MultiChoice Nigeria brings the best of live sports events to Nigeria fans but with the postponement and cancellation of most sport events, the company is offering viewers a robust array of award-winning sport documentaries from around the globe and “produced thematic channels for viewers to relive the greatest sporting moments of all time.”

The company said it has opened some of its sport channels such as SS1 and SS7 to other bouquets.
On the other hand, global streamer Netflix suspended production on all scripted series and films in the United States and Canada for at least two weeks, but the suspension will not affect the inevitable surge in viewing traffic.

Babatope however foresees a crowded film release schedule when normalcy returns as delayed films are slotted in with movies that were already planned for the same period.

“Also, it will take some time for movies in production to resume filming, and that may have implications for the schedule as far as 2021 and 2022,” he said.

The TV industry is likely to experience a loss in advertising revenue as the pandemic continues to upend economies. For streaming platforms such as Netflix and Iroko, their dominance will be determined by the size of their content vault and subscription price.

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