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Digital Entertainment

The Entertainment Industry – Not Just Fun and Games

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I could write about how Africa's tech industry is thriving, but that’s old news. Most of us know about the success of Kenya's 'Silicon Savannah', about the dominance of M-PESA, and about the tech incubators sprouting across the continent.

However, when people discuss Africa's tech industry, they don't often talk about entertainment.

Video games, music, films, TV programmes are all popular products that require serious technological innovation to produce. African entrepreneurs are stepping up to the task, yet the continent's entertainment industry is severely underrated. When Nigeria's GDP was rebased in 2014, many were surprised to find Nollywood and other entertainment industries accounted for 1.2% of GDP, up from 0%. "I think the real number is a lot higher than that," Sony Music West Africa GM Michael Ugwu told me in an interview. "I think the number still relies on the formal economy."

Led largely by Nigeria, the African music industry is huge. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that consumer spending on recorded music revenues would hit $43 million and $19 million for Nigeria and Kenya respectively in 2015. The sector is also heavily digitalised. For instance, as smartphone ownership becomes more common, an increasing number of Africans are streaming and downloading music on their phones. Record labels partner with leading telecommunication companies such as MTN and Safaricom to distribute music. Industry professionals produce music and videos with high-grade equipment.

Ugwu also spoke about how the tech-entertainment marriage creates jobs. The industry employs "hundreds of ancillary workers, from video directors to producers, in a very informal way," he explained. So, jobs in the entertainment industry do exist. They just can’t be pinned by official statistics. Pierre Van Hoven, CEO of Tuluntulu (an afrocentric, mobile TV app) attests this. "We don't employ a lot of people because we partner with a lot of people…in our industry it's the way we want to work," he told me. "I think that opens up the scope for creativity and expression."

Creativity, or more specifically originality, is key to Africa's entertainment industry. Several companies source local talent, with impressive results. As Head of Sony Music West Africa, Ugwu has chosen to centre popular local musicians such as Wizkid and Davido, rather than push Sony's existing premium content (e.g. Chris Brown, Usher). A wise choice: in collaboration with American superstar, Wizkid has produced the longest running UK number one single in the last 22 years.

Regarding Africa's technology climate, Jason Njoku, CEO of iROKO said, "The sector has also been awash with copycat companies who have tried to simply replicate Western businesses in Africa. Most that have attempted this have failed." A natural capacity for originality firmly roots the entertainment industry in Africa's tech landscape.

I spent a lot of time researching and interviewing pioneering entertainment companies for this month's issue of African Business Review. The biggest lesson I learnt? The entertainment industry is the pride of Africa’s technology industry. From importing foreign investment (Njoku’s ‘African Netflix’ has received $40 million) to exporting African culture (Cameroonian games studio Kiro'o Games follows an African prince), these companies insist on an equal exchange between Africa and the outside world. By nature, tech is meant to be progressive, and the entertainment industry is truly pushing Africa forward.

By Wedaeli Chibelushi, Editor of African Business Review

Digital Entertainment at AfricaCom 2016:

This year's AfricaCom, taking place between the 14 – 18 November 2016 at the Cape Town ICC, will be showcasing all the latest trends in African digital entertainment. The Digital Entertainment stream on the 15th November will comprise of Keynote Panels and discussions around the explosion in digital entertainment services, looking at the sectors of gaming, music and video streaming.

Some of the key speakers include MTN's Vikash Brath, PWC's Vicki Myburgh, Deezer's Gillian Ezra, Tuluntulu's Pierre van der Hoven and Nichestreem's Catherine Luckhoff.

To find out more about Africa's largest tech and telco event click here. There's still time to register for your free visitor pass to the exhibition and free sessions here. You can also choose from a number of paid for delegate passes, gaining you access to exclusive content, keynotes and more, here.

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