Vanessa Obioha writes about the peculiar ways 2020 changed norms and taxed the ingenuity of entertainers.
Before the unwanted arrival of the capricious coronavirus in the country, the entertainment industry was gearing up for a tremendous outing. Gidi Fest was almost rounding off plans for the annual music and culture festival, Davido was about to embark on his ‘Good Time’ tour across North America, Burna Boy also planned a world tour for his fifth studio album ‘Twice As Tall’, Kenny Blaq was in the middle of his ‘State of the Mind’ tour, iREP Documentary Film Festival was about to mark a decade anniversary, Netflix was making plans to start production of first Nigerian originals on its platform, MultiChoice Nigeria’s first dating reality show in Nigeria ‘Ultimate Love’ was ongoing, and the list continues.
Then the pandemic happened, bringing with it a cloud of uncertainty. At first, it seemed surmountable but as the country began to record more cases in March, a lockdown was inevitable.
Gradually, theatres, cinemas, event venues, nightclubs, religious places, and every other space that allows social gatherings began to shut down like a row of falling dominoes, affecting every sector of the economy. But the entertainment industry was badly hit. Shows were postponed and in some cases cancelled, productions halted.
By April, the nimbus in the country reeked of dread, doubt, and uncertainty. Entertainers like other professionals grappled with the uncertain realities the pandemic presented. The situation was severe for cinema exhibitors and event venue owners whose businesses depended on social gatherings.
According to Moses Babatope, co-founder of FilmOne Entertainment, the estimated total cinema revenue loss during the shutdown period was N8 billion.
No doubt, the pandemic taxed the ingenuity of entertainers. How would they survive? How would they stay connected with their fans beyond the caparison of social media — a reserved space used to vaunt their egos? Interestingly, the social interaction platforms provided the needed solution. Digital became the watchword for industries pushing for innovative ideas and creativity for survival.
Physical meetings moved to the virtual space, live music concerts turned into a virtual affair experienced from a couch or bed, TV and online streaming platforms competed for eyeballs, and cinema drive-ins nearly evolved into a trend. Welcome to the new normal: a world driven by digital technology.
Any doubt cast on the potency of social media and other digital technologies was instantly defeated as more people depended on the platforms to stay connected and informed.
As alluring and relieving as the offerings of the digital world, it wasn’t void of challenges. Chief among them was the financial capacity. As argued by Chin Okeke, the co-founder and Executive Director of Eclipse Live in an interview with OkayAfrica, “virtual can only be an alternative during the pandemic. As a revenue source, I don’t believe there are more than a handful of artists or events that would generate comparable revenue to the physical event.”
Data consumption was another obstacle for consumers as the cost of data in the country is still relatively high.
Yet, the health crisis offered new opportunities, challenging the industry to push the boundaries of innovation and creativity. Below are some of the outstanding events and projects that defied the peak period of the pandemic.
To a large extent, the pandemic worked in favour of the streaming platform. Their subscription numbers skyrocketed during the pandemic as people looked for alternatives to stay entertained while locked down at home. In its first-quarter earnings report for 2020, the streamer announced that it added nearly 16 million subscribers and made a revenue of $5.77 billion. Not a few Nigerian movies found a spot in the rich vault of the streamer, even enjoying number one spot for weeks on the platform’s top 10 in Nigeria, notably Ramsey Nouah’s ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’.
The abundance of Nigerian films on the streamer indicated the growing interest in Nollywood. Netflix announced its grand entry in Nollywood last February with fanfare, announcing new projects that would later be halted as the pandemic raged on.
To reaffirm its commitment to the film industry, Netflix recently premiered two Nollywood movies: the EbonyLife Films production ‘Òlòtré’ and Kunle Afolayan’s ‘Citation’. The sequel to Kemi Adetiba’s ‘King of Boys’ is expected to arrive on the platform next year.
Big Brother Naija
After a riveting and jaw-dropping ‘Pepper Dem’ season last year, MultiChoice Nigeria’s popular reality TV show Big Brother Naija returned for a fifth season amid the pandemic. Quite a few expected the organisers to either postpone or cancel the show. But braving all odds, the show kicked off with few changes in July, as the lockdown was partially eased.
The housemates stayed for a shorter period (71 days) and had no contact with outsiders. This season’s prize was, however, bigger than the previous season with the winner Lekan ‘Laycon’ Agbeleshe smiling home with N85 million grand prize. The season turned out to be successful with 900 million votes recorded, shattering last year’s record of 240 million votes.
Marlians Day Concert
Naira Marley’s fans were anticipating his performance at Gidi Fest in April but the pandemic ruined their expectations. On May 30, the musician held the first online concert in Lagos, attracting 200,000 viewers globally. The show took place at the National Theatre and was streamed live on his YouTube channel. By June, however, Naira Marley drew the ire of the public when he violated the interstate lockdown and flight restrictions to perform at Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja.
SwiftThink Drive-through Experience
Shortly before the nationwide lockdown, an innovative idea development and management company SwiftThink hosted a novelty drive-through pop-up experience for movie lovers. At the time, cinemas were already closed in adherence to Lagos State government restrictions on social gatherings.
The company transformed the open-air grounds of Car Park B, Redemption Camp, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway into a drive-through pop-up cinema arena accessed only by cars. Over 71 vehicles were recorded at the drive-through.
THISDAY/Arise Global Virtual Commemoration of Nigeria’s Independence Anniversary
In a pre-COVID era, the 60th Independence anniversary of Nigeria would be a colourful fanfare. However, the THISDAY and Arise Group uplifted spirits with a special virtual commemoration. The celebration featured music performances, fashion shows, and goodwill messages from influential politicians and business leaders, including a special broadcast by the President, Muhammadu Buhari.
TurnUp Friday and Owambe Saturday
MultiChoice Nigeria upped its game during the lockdown period by providing subscribers on DStv and GOtv platforms with entertaining shows. Two of the most innovative shows from the media and entertainment company during that period were Turn Up Friday and Owambe Saturday. As their name implied, each show was meticulously tailored to meet the entertainment demands of lovers of both live and club music.
While Turn Up Friday featured DJ performances and club mixes, Owambe Saturday brought the best of live music to the living rooms of viewers with performances from Sir Shina Peters and Flavour N’Abania. The two shows aired for 10 weeks and will be returning this weekend for another bout of exhilarating and pleasurable entertainment.
One Africa/MultiChoice Concert
During the peak of the pandemic, MultiChoice Nigeria teamed up with One Africa Global Foundation to host a special concert, ‘Hope for Africa’ as part of its effort to support the fight against Covid-19. The three-hour televised concert featured top African entertainers like Nigerian music acts 2baba and Ladipoe, Ethiopian Betty G, Ghanaian Efya, and Congolese artiste BM. The fund-raising concert also featured appearances from some of the health frontliners and media personalities.
Tim Godfrey’s Fearless Concert
The gospel artiste already planned to hold his signature theatrical concert ‘Fearless’ last June at Eko Hotels and Suites. He had barely returned from a trip when the pandemic struck. Yet, he defied the constraints of the health crisis and staged an online concert in August that equally matched previous editions, if not better.
Streamed on YouTube and televised on HipTV, the concert themed ‘Prisoners’ fetched positive reviews.
Freakthefxxkout Animation Series
If there was one evolution in the entertainment industry, it was the growing interest in animation. Nigerian animator Kanso Ogbolu who’s been promoting the art found the spotlight on him when South African comedian and host of the American TV show ‘The Daily Show’ Trevor Noah retweeted one of his animated horror clips.
The series ‘FreaktheFxxkout’ is a horrifying mix of stories that ranged from myths to everyday events but with a dose of gruesomeness. In an interview with THISDAY, the creative designer confirmed that Noah’s tweet increased the number of his social media followers from 5,600 to over 50,000.
Queen Moremi The Musical
For the first time, the critically acclaimed production of Bolanle Austen-Peters, ‘Queen Moremi the Musical’ was streamed on YouTube. Although there was a tussle over the intellectual property rights between the art director and the House of Oduduwa, a partner of the production.
Notwithstanding, the online screening was deemed successful as it attracted almost 40,000 people from across the globe.