Pirated Hollywood movies is the biggest threat to the growth of Film Industry in Kenya

“Why is the Film Industry in Kenya stagnant?” a friend asked me a few days after I finalized producing my very first drama movie – Death Night. I told him it is not. He then asked me to name a few titles that have been popularized by our own media houses or through social media. I mentioned Jongo Love. But don’t get me wrong, I didn’t learn of Jongo Love because of some mainstream media mention, neither did I learn of it from a Twitter hashtag that trended, but rather I stumbled on it via someone’s Twitter bio and when I checked it out, I was surprised to learn that within three weeks of posting, the movie had garnered 75K YouTube views. By the time of penning this article, the movie had well over 104K views.

If you think that 104K views is a small number, be informed that the most popular show in Kenya today is Churchill Show – and – even after being on YouTube for over six months, Churchill Show Season 5 Episode 13 still has 124K views. On average, Churchill Shows or individual popular segments e.g. those featuring Prof Hammo hardly attain 45K views after a month of publication.

That’s how I lost in the debate when I tried to convince my friend that the Film Industry in Kenya is growing. Of course I wasn’t basing my argument out of the blues but, as I wrote here a while back, the entire Entertainment Industry in Kenya was reported to be growing rapidly and was expected to surpass shs 260 billion in value by 2018. I have also seen an increased number of local productions across board, with a few titles getting popularity regionally even after the infamous Nairobi Half Life lived its life. But the few success cases aren’t the norm but the exceptions. In most parts, Film Producers are not making a kill as they ought to, and the reason for this is how to make money from a movie.

For a Film Producer like me to get ROI within three months of a movie production, he or she must get the distribution channel right. Today, there are about four distribution channels that a Film Producer can consider and these are:

  1. The Media Houses
  2. Distribution of DVDs
  3. Online Distribution and
  4. Theatres.

The Media Houses have zero support for local movies. NTV for instance airs movies every night as from around 11PM but hundred percent of the time they are Hollywood movies that were released about five to ten years ago. Citizen, K24 and KTN also have movie times but they are mostly of Nigerian Nollywood origin. I heard that K24 has started airing some local content, but even so, how much are they willing to pay for such a movie? As a conclusion on Media Houses, count them out as a formidable distribution channel that give a Film Producer even a 10 percent of his investment back.

Online Distribution is the option Jongo Love chose by posting their entire movie on YouTube. Since I did not pay them to watch the movie, I believe their strategy is to get a share of Google ads via their YouTube channel. This model will not even give them 5% of their investment in Jongo Love given the number of views they have managed to get after three months. The other option would have been to upload the movie in some online platform from where viewers can download for a fee, but …

The primary target audience for most locally produced movies are Kenyans, Kenyans who, at the rate of over 99 percent, use mobile Internet thus data bundles as their primary gateway to access online content. Jongo Love which is a 99 minutes movie, would be over 20 GB in size if uploaded in best HD quality. A compressed version would still be around 5 GB so let’s work with 5 GB. Today, Safaricom sells 3 GB of data for shs 1000 and 7.5 GB at shs 2000. So to download Jongo Love, a customer will be asked to first spend over shs 1500 on download before paying for the movie, which I believe would be priced at around shs 50 per download. Concluding on this section, the way Kenyans access Internet and the price they have to pay for that still locks out Internet as a suitable distribution channel for movies – and this explains why I have decided not to avail Death Night online.

Then we have the Theatres option. I do not have the statistics but I believe very few Kenyans visit Theatres – and this is explained by the fact that Theatres are only found in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. A few years ago 20th Century closed a number of her Theatres citing poor business, and today in Nairobi only iMax seems to be doing fine. The few Kenyans who show up in Theatres also do not show up to watch local content, they show up to be entertained by high quality high level production from Hollywood. This leaves a local Film Producer with only one viable distribution channel, the DVDs.

But DVDs as a Distribution channel is not working either. To make a zero budget movie where the Film Producer does not pay for location, doesn’t pay the actors, has his or her own production equipment,  and is his own editor, the Film Producer is still required to pay over shs 12,000 for the shooting license to Kenya Film Classification Board, another shs 50 per minute (discounted at 50 percent) for classification to the same board, and if one wants to be his own distributor then another shs 3000 for the distribution licence to the same KFCB. Other fees to be paid go to County Governments at different rates that will not be less than shs 20,000 on the minimum. On the very minimum therefore, producing a substandard movie will cost the Film Producer not less than shs 50,000. Then there is the cost of producing a DVD copy of the movie that, with proper packaging and good graphics, will not cost the producer less than shs 55 a DVD since KFCB requires that you put a ten shillings sticker on each DVD meant for the end consumer.

But the end consumer wants to pay shs 50 for one DVD. The reason he or she is not willing to part with shs 200 or 250 or even the suitable shs 300 for high quality production is because high quality high level produced Hollywood movies are being sold for shs 50 only a DVD. Why, as a consumer, should I pay shs 200 for a substandard content when I can get high quality produced movies for shs 50 and at times shs 30 from licensed pirates?


I hope we are in agreement that the only viable distribution channel for local content is through DVD sales. Thus, for a Film Producer to get his money back and make some profits, he should be able to sell his DVDs to as many households as possible, households that must be willing to part with the required amount of money to buy the movie. The households on the other hand will not be willing to part with the recommended minimum of shs 200 as long as KECOBO (Kenya Copyright Board) allows pirates to continue operating legally in Kenya.

The reasoning that these pirates are selling foreign content thus not hurting local content is misguided. KECOBO should realize that local Film Producers are in Direct competition with foreign contents, and when the foreign contents which are better in production quality and storylines get availed at prices close to free, then there is no way the local producer can ever sell his products – and if he cannot sell the first time, he will not be able to raise money to invest in product improvement with a goal to match the high quality production that come from Hollywood.

If you were wondering why the music industry has managed to grow both in audio, lyrics, and video quality yet the Film Industry in Kenya seems to stagnate in the 70s, it is because the Film Producers haven’t been able to make money from the industry – and by and large KECOBO is to blame.



Since I have mentioned Death Night in the article (it played a great roll in informing the content of this article), let me leave you with its trailer to watch. It is Executively Produced by Omondi Ating’a and Created by Odipo Riaga, both of C-LinQ Productions.


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