In a Shocking U-Turn, Amazon Halts Original Content Production in Africa.
This Thursday, January 18th, Deadline reported that Amazon would cease content production in Africa. The Middle East & North African (MENA) market was also affected by this restructuring from Amazon, which included the doubling of the European market, now split into two (The Established and Emerging European Markets). This decision followed a company-wide "rebalancing" of resources that resulted in layoffs at Amazon subsidiaries such as Twitch, and the consolidation of MGM+, MGM Scripted, and Unscripted Television. Southeast Asia was similarly affected, with the team there downsized to just 25 staff members.
The most significant impact was felt in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa. In these markets, we will no longer see new original content produced by Amazon, as it no longer aligns with the company's business strategy.
Amazon Prime was launched in Africa in 2016, and since then, it has licensed over 145 movies from the continent. It premiered its first original, Gangs of Lagos by Jade Osiberu, in Nigeria last year in 2023. Before this week's announcement, Amazon seemed to have future content plans in Africa, having announced movie and comedy show deals with Nigerian and South African producers. With a growing subscriber base of over 600,000 subscribers, this decision feels like a setback, as Africans will have to settle for the already contracted originals, with no new original content expected from Africa by Amazon.
The reason for this decision could extend beyond Africa and reflect a broader corporate tone shift in US tech companies, which was initiated by the Twitter layoffs in October 2022. Companies are currently undergoing restructuring processes to allocate resources more effectively. The restructuring or “rebalancing” of resources as Amazon VP & General Manager, Prime Video EMEA, Barry Furlong called it means that costs that have a negative ROI will either be removed or put to other uses.
Even though movies will continue to be licensed in Africa, it’s not a good sign when new film investors leave the market. It shows bad signs of a struggling market and could affect other investments from different investors. Hopefully, this doesn’t start a domino effect for other streaming giants to reduce or remove their production investments in Africa. Amazon was a great competitor with other streaming services, and its entry into the African market meant that producers would get fair deals.
Disney+ released its first original series in Africa in 2023, an animated series made in South Africa titled Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, and has another animation series, Iwaju, lined up for release in 2024. With Amazon in the picture, the competition would have meant that more originals could have come from Africa for Disney+ as it tries to fight for the market.
This also comes at a time when the second-biggest streaming platform in Africa, after Netflix, Showmax, is relaunching on the continent. It aims to rebrand itself into a more affordable, easily accessible alternative to the streaming giants that have been posing a threat to its success. The platform has introduced an application option that consumes less data, included football content in the app, and has restructured to reduce subscription fees for the newly rebranded application.
Netflix on the other hand seems to be increasing its investment in Africa. With over 1.6 million subscribers in Africa, Netflix is the largest streaming platform on the continent and has already invested over 175 million USD as of 2022, with plans to significantly increase this investment in the coming years. So, Amazon’s departure leaves the battle for the original content market mostly between Netflix and Showmax.
What Does It Mean for Uganda?
In the grand scheme of things, it might not have a significant impact, but as the African film market suffers, the Ugandan film industry is also affected. There was only one Ugandan-made movie on Amazon Prime, The Imperial Blue, featuring Esteri Tebandeke, and one movie made by a Ugandan, Brotherhood by Loukman Ali, along with a few movies and documentaries about Uganda.
Uganda has not benefited much from the entry of streaming giants into the African market, except for Showmax. Now, there is a need to compete with some of the most established markets in Africa, such as South Africa and Nigeria, for licensing deals from Amazon as the available opportunities reduce.
What can be done by African creators and stakeholders to minimize future de-investments?
To mitigate the potential domino effect resulting from such de-investments, African creators and stakeholders can focus on growing the local market of movie consumers. For instance, Nigeria has only over 200 cinema halls with a population of over 213 million, and 23% of those in the middle class. Uganda has only around five cinema halls across the country. A thin local market for films makes it challenging for foreign investment to show interest, and this could be a contributing factor to Amazon's reduction in spending on Africa.
By expanding and strengthening the local audience for African films, creators and stakeholders can make the industry more appealing to investors. This can be achieved through initiatives such as promoting local cinemas and creating platforms that showcase and celebrate African content. Building a robust and thriving local market not only enhances the industry's sustainability but also makes it more attractive for both local and international investment.