The Future of Entertainment in 2021

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After a turbulent 2020, what trends will shape the entertainment industry in the New Year? These personalities share their predictions, writes Vanessa Obioha

Despite being hit badly by the pandemic last year, entertainment made 2020 survivable. TV shows, films, music albums, Tiktok and YouTube videos provided comfort for many as they grappled with the uncertainty of the strange coronavirus. These projects were made possible by talents who pushed the boundaries of their creativity in a difficult era to deliver the best. Yet, the anxiety of the new year still looms as the number of infections continues to rise. While it is difficult to be prescient at a time like this, the nagging question of how 2021 will unfold for the entertainment industry still begs to be answered. What were the lessons of 2020 and how will it shape the industry this year?

“Let’s start with the impact of Nollywood in the last decade,” said prolific filmmaker Femi Odugbemi. “What we saw was how Nollywood revolutionised African storytelling. We saw the appreciation of the representation of identity, culture in the African cinema. Now what COVID-19 has done for the film industry is to force it to take planning and efficiency seriously. We are going to have to become more structured as we deal with social distancing. Not everybody has to be on location and our storytelling doesn’t have to be in one place,” he argued.

For the filmmaker who is the brain behind the successful TV drama ‘Battleground’, technology is the biggest impact of the pandemic on the film industry.

“COVID-19 imposed, technology empowered,” he said, adding that the pandemic created an incredible demand for African storytelling and technology will aid the storytelling process.

How this will pan out in the new year is that there will be more film collaborations and a huge boom in animation.

“Technology will empower young filmmakers to experiment with genres. It will expand our storytelling and animation is one way to go,” he said, citing the ingenuity of Ridwan Moshood, the winner of the Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab initiative and producer of the animation ‘Garbage Boy and Trash Can’.

“With it, we can tell stories from our folklore such as D.O. Fagunwa’s ‘Forest of a Thousand Demons’. We can also foreshadow into the future we want, just like Wakanda in the Disney flick ‘Black Panther’. Through animation, we can tell stories about the Africa of our dreams, the Africa we want.”

He also noted that “storytelling is going to become an important tool in every profession and technology is going to be critical in driving that.”

The way Odugbemi sees it, technology makes filmmaking an even playing field where what will be most required of filmmakers is their talent and not who they know.

“The next generation of filmmakers do not need godfathers.”

For cinemas which revenue loss as of September 2020 was N8 billion, the biggest lesson of the pandemic year is “to prepare for the unexpected,” according to the Group Executive Director of Filmhouse Cinemas, Moses Babatope.

“Emergency plans should be in place, cash reserves should be increased, businesses should be lean, and we should make better use of our resources when times are good. Even as we plan to expand our businesses, we should also have measures to scale down quickly with minimum impact on operations. For cinema specifically, it is more important than ever to grow local content in quality and quantity, to reduce our dependence on Hollywood.”

For the post-pandemic recovery, Babatope projected that it will be gradual globally but see better marketed and quality local content leading a quicker recovery for the Nigerian market. He cited Funke Akindele’s ‘Omo Ghetto’ and Toyin Abraham’s ‘Fate of Alakada’ as two films that improved the fortunes of the Nigerian cinemas in the post-lockdown period.

An emerging trend that Babatope foresees in the new year is the diversity of locally produced content, “moving away from comedies and romcoms to crime drama, fantasy and sci-fi. Increasingly, Nollywood movies will be able to rely on both local and regional box-office revenue, as well revenue from global streaming platforms where, for the first time, Nigerian films are being viewed by millions of people worldwide.”

Undeniably, streaming gained new heights in 2020 as most cinemas were shut down. Nigerian films equally became available on Netflix and viewed worldwide. The new trend signalled a looming end to the cinematic experience, even as big international studios like Warner Bros release their content simultaneously on streaming platforms and theatres.

To Batatope, the move is only temporary and pandemic-driven.”There is abundant data that clearly shows the significant upside of maintaining an exclusive theatrical window for the right type of film,” he said.

According to him, the opportunity to structure the market with release windows is for the benefit of all stakeholders: cinema owners, filmmakers, distributors, regulators and others.

“We do not have enough infrastructure for both streaming and theatrical to co-exist profitably. There is also the dilutive and destructive impact of digital and physical piracy for a market like this, which is likely to be worsened by merging the windows. In mature markets the proliferation of digital platforms and cinema screens can arrest the piracy menace. Here, the lack of access will only devalue the content to the potential legitimate licensor or buyer, and even the potential end-user – the customer.”

Odugbemi, however, argued that the dominance of streaming will continue as there will be more channels of distribution.

“The cinematic experience will be there but people are used to streaming now more than before.”

He added that with streaming, the whole idea of big-budget films will not be a limiting factor for the filmmaker as there will be more opportunities. He stated that streaming will also make some distribution channels such as DVD go into extinction. With more people consuming content on their smartphones, Odugbemi pointed out that filmmakers will be tasked to create more forms of storytelling and reach new audiences. Again, this he said will be possible through technology. “It is the biggest impact in our industry and how fast we embrace it will determine how far we can go.”

On the music scene, streaming also reigns supreme. Music and tour promoter Alex Ozone puts it this way: “The area of streaming has come to play a major role in helping both the talents and their fans interact and make something good. Talents do not have to depend solely on events or endorsements; the key industry players now know they can make good money from the digital distribution of their intellectual contents. That would skyrocket this year.”

“Online monetization will trend considering the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic as it seems that the music industry is most affected,” added singer Gift Uwame, better known as, Muma Gee.

Music producer and artiste Asha Gangali expressed similar sentiments.

“This decade, the music industry will evolve completely from the record label/artiste model to a digital ecosystem, where artistes will be more independent in a Do it Yourself (DIY) environment.”

An earlier forecast of the Nigerian music industry posits that the total music revenue will rise at a 13.4% CAGR to US$73 million in 2021. President of the Performing Musicians Employers’ Association Of Nigeria (PMAN) Pretty Okafor expressed optimism that it is possible even as the pandemic continues.

“The music industry will generate more revenue for the Nigerian economy than any other sector,” he said. “Musicians will be empowered economically as major music institutions like PMAN, Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN), Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Creative Industry Group and other key organisations will align to ensure lost revenues are recalled and new streams of revenue are created for artistes to leverage on.”

For all of these to be achieved, Ozone stressed the need for the industry to be restructured.

“We would definitely see a lot of changes in the entertainment industry. Before now, we did many things wrongly and no thanks to the government that seems to be blinded from what the industry can contribute to Nigeria’s economy. But many thanks to the various sectors, those that have churned out worldly acclaimed talents who have gone on to prove their mettle amongst their peers globally.

We would experience ‘real good music’ especially; no more room for complacency or short corners as we have come to appreciate the various structures that make our industry tick.”

If there was one outstanding trend in 2020, it was the proliferation of Nigerian sounds across the globe. From Wizkid to Burna Boy, Nigerian sounds were embraced and celebrated. Gangali disclosed that the trend will continue in 2021.

“Nigerian music will crossover to North America and other parts of the world and the global recording industry will be forced to acknowledge Afrobeat is a major genre this new decade.”

“Africa is the rhythm champion. All rhythms come from Africa,” said fast-rising artiste Brettina. “When you mix jazzy melodies to these effective rhythms, you get the future and this future is what will trend in 2021.”