Exploring Film Distribution in Africa with Wilfred Kiumi

Events  /  20th July 2024

Film distribution is a huge topic in our African industry. As much as the industry is growing there is still limited access to distribution channels leaving everyone to try figure it out for themselves.

That’s why we chose to focus on this very crucial topic this month and bring in Wilfred Kinyanjui who has been in the film industry for over 20 years and is doing his part in closing the distribution gap in Africa through VumiCentral.

1. Please tell us about VumiCentral and its work. What motivated you to start an online distribution platform?

Vumi Central is a multimedia content distribution platform that aims to connect content creators with their audiences through a single app. The platform offers various services for Video on Demand (Vumi TV) Live Streaming (Vumi Stream) and an Audio marketplace (Vumi Listen).

Our motivation for starting an online distribution platform stemmed from the lack of distribution infrastructure in the African film industry. We understand the challenges that African filmmakers face when it comes to the distribution and marketing of their films. Our platform offers a range of distribution deals that filmmakers can choose from depending on their needs. We offer exclusive and non-exclusive deals that allow filmmakers to retain ownership of their films and earn revenue from their work.

Vumi TV operates on a rental window model, allowing producers and studios to rent out their new films to audiences for 48 hours. The films are fully protected with a Digital Rights Management Key (DRM) to prevent piracy. In addition, we showcase selected short films free of charge and offer premium live streams on a pay-per-view basis.

After working in the film industry for over two decades, it became clear that our industry has never managed to take off due to a lack of distribution infrastructure. The African film industry is growing, but there are still limited distribution channels for filmmakers. Many filmmakers struggle to get their films distributed and earn revenue from their work. I saw an opportunity to create a platform that would help filmmakers reach a wider audience and earn revenue from their work. Our goal is to bridge the gap between filmmakers and audiences and create a sustainable film industry in Africa. We are passionate about supporting African filmmakers and helping them to succeed.

Typically, the rental window is basically home box office, you buy a ticket and you have 48hrs window to watch the film before the window expires. Our deal is 60/40 in favor of the studio or producer. We require the film to be not older than 1 year for rentals.

2. What preparations should a filmmaker put in place before they talk to a distributor?

Filmmakers can approach a distributor at any stage of their film, from development to post-production. I would recommend starting the conversation as early as the development stage. This will allow you to consult on how to best position the film and also understand the market/target audience.

It is also important for filmmakers to have a clear understanding of their target audience and to also communicate their vision to the distributor that way the distributor can use their knowledge and insights to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for the release.

Producers should consider creating marketing materials to promote their film. This process can start early in development by documenting the journey of the film with images, video diaries, and so on. Producers should hire a professional photographer to capture images during the production process and film a mini-feature showing the making of the film.

In post-production, generate teasers, trailers, and posters to build hype for the film. Establish an online presence on various social media platforms, especially those frequented by your target audience. Consistently keep your top fans informed of your progress as they will be the first to book a ticket to your film.

At Vumi Central, we work closely with filmmakers to provide guidance on marketing and promotional strategies to help them build a strong online presence. 

3. What is the current state of distribution in the continent? How best can filmmakers adapt to it?

The distribution landscape in Africa is still evolving, and there are limited distribution channels for African films. However, with the growth of digital platforms, there are opportunities for filmmakers to reach a wider audience. Filmmakers need to adapt to this changing landscape by creating content that resonates with audiences and leveraging digital platforms to distribute their work.

Understanding how rights work and windowing is also important. Producers can take advantage of “Day and Date” model which allows distributors to offer the film on rent on digital platforms at the same time it is being released in cinemas or at least a day after the premiere. This ensures that you are taking advantage of the hype built by the cinema release as it's still fresh on the audience's minds.

4. How has your experience been with VumiCentral so far? Are there any positive changes you’ve seen within the film industry & distribution in recent years?

At Vumi Central, we have seen positive changes within the film industry in recent years. More filmmakers are producing high-quality content, and there is an increased interest in African cinema from both audiences in the continent but also international audiences. We have also seen an increase in the number of digital platforms that are interested in acquiring African films.

Africa is still a large market, so understanding the audience's preferences is crucial. Taking advantage of localization can also enable you to reach audiences who would otherwise not be able to watch the film in its original language. In Africa, there are five major languages you should consider: Amharic, Kiswahili, African French, Arabic, and Portuguese.

In terms of customer acquisition, subscriptions are still growing very slowly, as the majority of Africans do not have access to credit or debit cards. This leaves the industry to only take advantage of the rental window, but also with challenges of various multicurrency’s available in Africa.

To address this, we work with a payment gateway that allows us to collect payments in local currencies from over 25 countries in Africa, with most customers paying via mobile money.

Some producers have chosen to distribute their films via YouTube, but the viewing experience is not optimal. Too many ads pop up, even in the middle of a scene, disrupting the emotional connection. We are currently developing a smoother linear experience that would allow us to offer older catalogs for free, with ads, but with a much smoother viewing experience for the audience. Producers and studios will need to re-edit or format their content to this new form of distribution, which requires ad markers to be inserted within the content to trigger ads.

5. How do you see the future of film distribution in Africa?

The future of film distribution in Africa is promising. With the growth of digital platforms, there are more opportunities for filmmakers to reach a wider audience and earn revenue from their work. However, filmmakers need to continue creating high-quality content that resonates with audiences. As more African films are distributed globally, we will see an increase in the visibility and recognition of the African film industry. At VumiCentral, we are committed to supporting African filmmakers and helping them to succeed in the global film market.

The majority of the audience will likely access movies on mobile devices, where the viewing experience may be disrupted by other apps or calls. Therefore, it's important for distributors to make their platforms available on devices that allow for a more engaged viewing experience, such as native apps on TV. Additionally, hosting pop-up screenings in social spaces that can accommodate 100-300 seated viewers can be beneficial.

In conclusion, African film distribution is a promising yet evolving industry. VumiCentral is committed to providing a platform that supports filmmakers and helps them reach a wider audience. Filmmakers should continue to create high-quality content and adapt to the changing distribution landscape. Together, we can create a sustainable film industry in Africa.

This op-ed was written by wilfred Kinyanjui - CEO and founder

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