After weeks of hype on social media, Netflix released the Nigerian movie Chief Daddy 2 on New Year’s Day 2022. A sequel to the hit 2018 comedy Chief Daddy, the movie tells the story of a family’s scramble for an inheritance left after the death of its wealthy patriarch. The release follows a template that the U.S. streaming giant has relied on, as it builds out its slate of original movies worldwide: an all-star cast in a recognizable creative property, backed by a big marketing push to build up interest.

But this time, it didn’t go entirely to plan. Critics slammed a poorly patched-together storyline, and social media users expressed their disappointment en masse. The film’s approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation site, is just 17% at the time of publication. Two weeks after the movie was released, Mo Abudu, CEO of production company EbonyLife, posted a video on Instagram, acknowledging the “disappointments” with the sequel. 

Chief Daddy 2 is Netflix’s highest-profile critical flop in the Nigerian market since it launched in the country in February 2020. It comes at a moment when demand for African content is growing steeply, as streaming companies, including Amazon Prime Video, French streaming service Canal+, and South Africa’s Showmax expand into the continent. As their core markets in other parts of the world become saturated, streaming companies are finding it harder and harder to add subscribers — last year, Netflix posted its slowest growth since 2015, even as the pandemic forced users to stay home — making large African economies like Nigeria a hotly contested frontier for global players. 

The response to Chief Daddy 2 shows both the pitfalls and the potential in these markets, where pleasing audiences will mean more than just throwing money into big names but where there is clearly an unmet need for content — even though it was widely panned, Chief Daddy 2 was still one of the most streamed movies in Nigeria in January, according to the company’s ranking charts.

There have been attempts to build streaming platforms in Africa for more than a decade. One of the earliest, IrokoTV, launched in 2011, hosting and, ultimately, producing movies from Nigeria’s “Nollywood.” Today it has around 300,000 paying monthly subscribers, many from the Nigerian diaspora. 

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Canal+ all entered Africa in 2016. Initially, they acquired the rights to some local shows, while promoting their global catalogs. But over the last three years, they’ve increasingly turned their attention to producing local content, which analysts say is vital to attracting new subscribers. Digital TV Research, which tracks the streaming industry, forecasts that Netflix will nearly double its African subscriber base from 2.6 million to 5.8 million by 2026 and that the overall streaming market on the continent will more than triple in size to 15 million over the same period.

“Streaming is a good outlet for films that would normally not get attention from mainstream Nigerian media and movie distribution companies.”

Although there is clearly potential in African content markets, the environment can be challenging for Western companies. The continent’s various movie industries are often unstructured, with few prominent production companies and a small number of distributors who act as gatekeepers. 

The economics are also hard to square for users. The cost of 1GB of data, enough for one hour of video streaming, is between $1.50 and $30 across the continent, according to advocacy group the Alliance for Affordable Internet, putting it out of reach of many people. Fast internet isn’t universally available, making the video streaming experience frustrating for many users and pushing them toward downloading pirated movies for offline viewing. Netflix and Showmax are trying to get around this problem by lowering subscription prices in certain markets or removing them altogether. Showmax has been testing an advertising-supported subscription model in South Africa since 2020, while Netflix has introduced a free tier in Kenya. 

The competition between streaming companies is driving a mini-boom in content. Since its launch in Nigeria, Netflix has done a slew of deals with local producers and directors, including a three-movie deal with Kunle Afolayan, a prominent director behind 2020’s Citation and other popular films. Canal+ acquired IrokoTV’s production studio and content library in 2019. Over the last two months, Amazon Prime Video has signed exclusive global licensing deals with two Nigerian film companies, including Inkblot Productions, which has produced two of the country’s biggest box office releases over the last decade.

Although filmmakers complain that streaming deals in Sub-Saharan Africa are typically small compared to Europe, North America, and Asia, the platforms generally offer producers better terms than they get through home video or theater distribution, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, an independent Nigerian film industry analyst, told Rest of World. Production companies get around 35% of box office sales for theatrical releases, but when films are licensed to Netflix, they typically earn 80% from the fees, with film aggregators taking the rest.

Filmmakers told Rest of World that they hope that more platforms and more money will create more opportunities for different kinds of movies and elevate the quality. “Streaming is a good outlet for films that would normally not get attention from mainstream Nigerian media and movie distribution companies,” said Imoh Umoren, a Nigerian indie filmmaker. “Now people have access to a variety of local films.”

However, Umoren also warned that the pattern so far suggests the opposite, as platforms look for big-budget, middle-of-the-road movies. Local-language films, including movies in Yoruba and Hausa — two of Nigeria’s widely spoken languages — command a significant audience across Africa and the diaspora, but the international platforms are mostly looking for content in English. “It’s hard for these [local language] movies to get to everybody because big distribution companies are not going to pick them up,” Umoren said.