RIVERWOOD BUSINESS MODEL TRANSACTS KSH 300 MILLION WEEKLY
Despite the scarcity of high-end production equipment and structures to support the Kenyan film industry, Riverwood, Kenya’s film industry hub spanning the streets of Tom Mboya, Luthuli, Accra and River Road, has grown into a multi-million shilling sector, with in excess of Sh300 million transacted weekly in the production and distribution of local audio-visual content. This has seen Riverwood create gainful employment for thousands including producers, actors and middlemen through various interrelated businesses, making it the largest single source of employment in Kenya’s film industry.
With over 16 million active media consumers in Kenya, and an increase in the consumption of local content through introduction of legislation for local media houses –the Communications Authority requires all broadcasters to air 40 per cent local content by 2014- there is bound to be an upsurge in local production especially from Riverwood as Kenya seeks to compete with foreign content and meet demand for quality content.
Tracing its emergence to the late 90’s -when the distribution of music on audio cassettes was big business- Riverwood has been vital in triggering production of original Kenyan audio-visual content. By 2000, experimental films were being distributed on video home systems (VHS) cassettes riding on the already established market for music and video cassettes by popular musicians such as Kamaru, Sam Muraya and Queen Jane.
“Riverwood has brought with it a revolution in film-making and marketing in Kenya’s film industry, in that one can produce and distribute audio-visual material for public consumption without the risk of return on investment. If you can make a one hour movie of professionally acceptable quality with a production and distribution cost of less than Sh80,000, what is there to stop the film industry from blossoming,” said Mr. Kang’ethe Mungai, Chairman of Riverwood Ensemble.
Based on the successful model of growing interrelated businesses, ranging from the retail of filming equipment including handy cams, DVDs and CDs, filming, editing, packaging and mass distribution services, Riverwood has grown as an audio-visual content generator with a mix of industry players, some trained on the job while others with impressive academic and professional credential, all of whom employ the business of model of mass marketing for maximum returns.
The distribution model has been instrumental in the development of quality content and exposure for local talent. There are executive producers who put in money to cover the production and distribution costs and own the final output. There are also producers who sell to distributors with rights that revert to the producer following a pre-defined period of time, as is the case for direct-to-video distribution, leaving television, theatre and stalls rights to the producer.
Another distribution model gradually gaining ground is the licensing of free-to-air rights of content on local free-to-air channels, where broadcasters commit no less than Sh88,000 to acquire the rights to broadcast Riverwood content for a duration not exceeding 12 months.
This has given Riverwood the visibility needed to penetrate the global film sphere, drawing the interest of distributors to acquire Kenyan content and providing exposure to local stars.
As Riverwood continues to nurture local talent and churn out local content, many of the producers involved are joining technical colleges and universities for formal training in business management and production, shedding the informal image that has long been associated with it. This, by effect has played a crucial role in the improvement of both quality in content and business acumen.
“We can see an increase in professionalism in business in Riverwood, with the various players seeking to augment their skill levels and better manage their operations for longevity, a major boost to an industry that aims at competing effectively with foreign productions,” said Mr. Kangethe Mungai.
Left to right: Kangethe Mungai, Hassan Wario and Mwaniki Mageria
One of the major impediments to Riverwood’s competitiveness has been that traders are only interested in making enough money for their livelihoods, with international growth for the industry not a priority. Besides the current effort by industry beneficiaries to foster professionalism through training, government support will be essential in Riverwood’s growth, especially in fighting piracy which has seen local productions flourish in Tanzania as well as Nigeria, home of Nollywood, a strong competitor to Kenya’s film industry.
There has however been some notable support from the department of film services which has supported the Riverwood model of doing business by giving a micro-finance permit that may result in a gratis license if one pays Sh15, 000 per year. Probably the most welcome move by government has been legislation pushing for more local content which should set the ball rolling for a culture of local screen culture in homes.
Currently, Riverwood has over 10,000 hours of brand new television content in various genres ready for distribution. Good movies of high quality are able to sustain sales of up to 600 copies a day for 3 months, which is impressive given the high level of piracy in Kenya. Most of the locally produced television content can be traced back to producers affiliated to Riverwood Ensemble a sign of a brighter future ahead for the film hub.
“Riverwood is a major brand at the forefront of Kenya’s rapid growth in film to attain internationally acceptable standards. Our actors are capable of being the stars that can walk into any airport around the world and receiving media attention while enjoying red carpet treatment and our business model will be to thank for that,” said Mwaniki Mageria, Executive Director of Balozi Productions, Secretary General Riverwood Ensemble.
BY RITA NJOROGE
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