The Show Must Go On

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Vanessa Obioha captures the different ways the entertainment industry was affected by the capricious COVID-19

In a pre-pandemic era, the festive season would be bubbling with activities — music concerts and shows. The streets would have been flooded with billboards and posters promoting Christmas offers, movies and concerts. But this is 2020, a year that totally changed everything. From consumption habits to business strategies, entertainers found themselves grappling with the uncertainties the pandemic presented.

Any form of hope that was offered in the past few months has been quashed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) new shattering records of coronavirus infections. It is almost impossible to ignite a Christmas spirit with the spectre of a lockdown looming ahead. Livespot360 which planned a two-day Christmas concert headlined by Wizkid and Burna Boy had to postpone due to the spike in coronavirus infections. Wizkid also postponed a planned concert in Abuja.

Indeed, what a year it’s been for the entertainment industry. An industry that was poised to record more advancement found itself struggling for survival in a pandemic-driven year. Almost every aspect of the industry was affected. Cinemas shut down, venues for concerts and shots closed, leaving many confused on how to navigate the challenging period. We look back at the core aspects of the industry and how they survived the pandemic.

Music: With most countries banning travels, artistes found themselves cancelling tours during the lockdown period. Music stars like Davido had to cancel A Good Time Tour in North America. Burna Boy, too called off the Twice As Tall tour planned ahead of the release of the album.

While artistes were locked down in their homes, some of them utilized the time to work on their albums. The year saw quite a host of artistes releasing albums. Notably are Wizkid (Made in Lagos), Burna Boy (Twice As Tall), Davido (A Better Time), Flavour (Flavour of Africa), Yemi Alade (Empress), Tekno (Old Romance), DJ Cuppy (Original Copy) and Tiwa Savage (Celia).

The pandemic also brought fame to some rare gems in the music industry. For instance, Omah Lay, the young recording producer and singer gained prominence with his songs such as ‘Bad Influence’ that was ranked number one on Apple Music top 100 songs in Nigeria. Although the artiste had an ugly experience in Uganda recently when he was arrested by the Ugandan Police for performing in an unauthorized concert.

Rapper Ladipoe who’s been on the music scene for a while had the spotlight on him with his duet with female songstress Simi ‘Know You’. The song became a sort of lovers anthem during the lockdown period.

For Olakira, a young Afro-pop artiste, ‘In my Maserati’ was the winning formula for him. The song received raves and was ranked number four on Shazam’s Nigeria Top Ten Songs of the Year. Recently, the singer clinched a publishing deal with Sony ATV through his label, U&I Music.

Quite a few artistes maintained relevance by organising digital concerts that were streamed on social media platforms. Naira Marley, who was scheduled to perform at Gidi Fest before the pandemic struck, organised 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.

Yemi Alade entertained fans with a live session of ‘Poverty’ during the lockdown period. Her performance fetched her a nomination in the Alone Together: Best Lockdown Performance category of the 2021 MTV Africa Music Awards

Movies: No other aspect of the entertainment industry suffered the impact of the pandemic like the movies. With cinemas shut down and productions halted, stakeholders in the industry were trapped in limbo during the peak period of the pandemic. By September, the estimated total cinema revenue loss during the shutdown period of cinemas was N8 billion, according to the co-founder of FilmOne Entertainment, Moses Babatope.

The estimated loss accrued from box-office, concession, advertising revenues, and miscellaneous sources of revenue. Before the nationwide lockdown, Babatope estimated box-office loss to grow approximately to N1.5 billion if cinemas remained shut in April. A breakdown of the revenue loss showed that box-office recorded a total of N4 billion revenue loss from April to August, followed by concession (Cinemas food and drink) which accounted for N2.5 billion.

Advertising, which is a source of revenue to cinema operators equally diminished during the shutdown, resulting in N500 million revenue loss. Brand activations and other partnerships dipped revenues to the tune of N500 million.

On the other hand, Netflix, the streaming giant became a home for Nollywood movies with a few even occupying the number one spot on the platform’s Top Ten in Nigeria (encompassing films and TV Series) such as Toyin Abraham’s ‘Alakada Reloaded’ and Ramsey Nouah’s ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’.

The streamer announced last February that it would be producing Nigerian originals. The news was greeted with so much fanfare such that a Netflix Naija Twitter account was created and subscription payment was changed from USD to Naira.

As cinemas remained shut, some filmmakers released their films directly on the platform such as ‘Citation’ by Kunle Afolayan and ‘Òlòtūré’, an EbonyLife Film production. Both films were acquired by Netflix.

However, with cinemas opened, a new slate of Nollywood films are recording box office successes such as ‘Fate of Alakada’ which grossed over N28 million in four days. TMPL Motion Pictures debut film ‘Introducing the Kujus’ equally had a good run at the cinemas, grossing over N10 million in its opening week. Charles Okpaleke and his nostalgia remakes ‘Nneka the Pretty Serpent’ and ‘Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story’ were among the latest cinematic releases.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic in the film industry, Nigeria was able to successfully submit its first Nollywood film for the Oscars this year. Desmond Ovbiagele’s film ‘The Milkmaid’ was the official selection to represent Nigeria in the International Feature Film category of the international film awards platform, The Academy Awards.

The year also saw a boom in animation. For the first time, a Nigerian feature-length animated film ‘LadyBuckit and the Motley Mopsters’ had a cinematic release. The film was entirely created in Nigeria and produced by Blessing Amidu. During the lockdown season, Kanso Ogbolu, an artist and animator kept audiences entertained with his FreaktheFxxkout’ animation, a horrifying mix of stories that ranged from myths to everyday events but with a dose of gruesomeness.

Studios became a thing for a few stakeholders in Nollywood. Filmmaker Ike Nnaebue opened the doors to his serene and lush creative facility named The Love Portion this year. The facility is tucked in the tranquil part of the Sangotedo area of Lagos state. Although he is yet to formally launch his production, Idris Olorunnimbe, Founder of Temple Management has a beautiful production outfit, Ogidi Studios in Lekki area which offers services ranging from music to film production to dance that celebrate African excellence.

Television: Perhaps, the biggest hit on television was the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) sixth amendment of the Broadcast Code which made exclusivity illegal, compelled sublicensing of content and regulated price. The reversed version however was greeted with criticisms as stakeholders in the broadcast space criticised the new codes, calling it ambiguous and unrealistic.

However, TV watching boomed during the lockdown period as people sought ways to kill the ennui. Tapping on the generated interest, MultiChoice Nigeria ensured that viewers stayed entertained by producing two lifestyle and music shows, ‘Turn Up Friday’ and ‘Owambe Saturday’. The two shows were tailored to meet the needs of club-going individuals and party lovers. They enjoyed massive viewing such that the shows which aired for only 10 weeks during lockdown are now airing on DStv and GOtv.

Despite fears of postponement, the company still held the fifth season of its popular reality TV show Big Brother Naija. Titled ‘Lockdown’ season, the show saw 20 contestants compete for the grand prize of N85 million with Laycon emerging the eventual winner of the season.

Earlier in the year, MTN Nigeria announced its new singing competition Y’ello Star which didn’t kick off because of the pandemic. However, the event would finally hold in November with Dotti, emerging the first winner of the show.

The year saw the announcements of two popular singing competitions, The Voice Nigeria and Nigerian Idol. Both shows are expected to commence next year.

Awards and Film Festivals: Of all the big annual awards and festivals, only Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA)had the luck to hold its event shortly before the federal government imposed a lockdown on Lagos state. The award took place March 14 despite the scare of COVID-19 which was already present in the country.

Africa Movie Awards Academy (AMAA) however held its 2020 event virtually on December 20, while Best of Nollywood (BON)awards took place in Ekiti state on December 5.

Organisers of iRepresent International Documentary Film Festival (iREP) were already planning the 10th anniversary of the festival before the coronavirus pandemic but were forced to put plans on hold. After so much speculation on whether the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) will hold this year, the organisers finally announced the cancellation of the festival on its official Instagram account on November 9. In a statement that was signed by the Founder Chioma Ude, the festival said it was cancelling this year’s event due to the End SARS protest that erupted into violence and left many injured and properties destroyed.

On the music scene, MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) announced a comeback which will see the award held in Uganda next year. The awards which recently released its nomination list will be a virtual event. Headies on the other hand unveiled the nominees of its 14th edition which include Wizkid, Teni, Fireboy DML among others.