Nigerians and Nollywood producers alike are outrageously underserved by the nation’s existing cinemas. A quick glance at the industry’s Indian cousin, Bollywood, proves my point. In Nigeria today, there are just over 50 screens for a population of some 150 million. That makes the ratio of screens per capita something like 1 screen per 3 million Nigerians. As Tunde Kelani discovered on his recent trip to Mumbai, Indian has nearly 13,000 theater screens serving its 1.2 billion citizens, or 1 screen per 100,000 viewers. When I spoke to Kelani upon his return, he was clearly struck by India’s love for cinema. He heard it rumored that 15 million people visit the cinema in India every day. To put that in perspective, that would be like every Lagosian from Ojo to Ikorodu to Ajah visiting the cinema every day.
Why is this important for Nollywood producers to know? The answer is simple. When Kelani and Kunle Afolayan met with India’s National Film Development Corporation, the director informed them that they no longer permit a film to stay in cinemas for 25 days as was once the custom. This is because a film in India can make its cost-of-production investment back in a single weekend. With nearly every major producer in the Nigerian industry struggling today to recuperate their cost of production and, having secured that, find financing for a follow project, Nollywood should be asking itself what it can learn from Bollywood.
A note of caution is in order, however. To premier one’s film at any of the six cinemas around Lagos does not ensure a film financial success. At best, a producer will supplement the bulk of their earnings, which still come from DVD/VCD sales within Nigeria. At worst, one’s investment in publicity and premier will exceed ticket sales.
A lesson Nollywood producers might learn from Bollywood: cinema is a numbers game. With the six cinemas in Lagos, and the six or seven cinemas across the South that premier or screen Nollywood films, a producer can never make significant box office revenue. Cinema remains an unreliable distribution platform that cannot yet supplant the marketplace-based distribution of home video. For Bollywood, however, the sheer number of screens and spectators has made cinemas the foundation grounding its industry.
Nigeria needs screens. Not every cinema needs to be a Silverbird or a Genesis cinemaplex. As I will post tomorrow, one screen per theater was the norm for the old cinema halls that have largely been converted to churches but still spot Lagos’s cityscape. Is it possible that Nigerian investors could explore the potential of innumerable, low-cost one- and two-screen theaters across Nigeria?