Netflix Africa Bosses Talk Originals, Co-Production Strategy and Expansion Plans: ‘We Can Only Go Forward and Spend More’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix’s top executive team in Africa plans to continue spending on scripted and unscripted content across genres until it unearths the big “Squid Game”-like show that captures global buzz.

During Tuesday’s “See What’s Next Africa” showcase in Johannesburg, South Africa, the streamer unveiled several African original renewals, some co-production developments, more details around existing projects, and another multi-project output deal with the South Africa filmmaker Mandlakayise Walter Dube for films and series.

Under the partnership, Dube — who directed Netflix’s first commissioned African film “Silverton Siege,” released earlier this year — will direct a variety of Netflix-owned projects. He joins Nigeria’s Junle Afolayan of Kunle Afolayan Productions and Mo Abudu of EbonyLife Studios who have similar output deals with the streamer already. Netflix said it plans to line up further output deals with more African filmmakers.

The strategy out of Africa, shared exclusively with Variety, was refreshing news as streamers begin to tighten their content spend as global subscriber growth slows. That belt-tightening won’t happen in Africa just yet, said Netflix Africa’s content execs, who are adamant to ramp up the output from the continent and won’t be doing any less.

“Our investment in Africa continues to grow and we just continue to do more and more shows,” said Dorothy Ghettuba, Netflix’s director of local language series for Africa. “We believe that Africa is one of the major creative centres for great storytelling that resonates around the world, so it only makes sense for us to increase our investment with our slate, with an even more exciting slate.”

Nkateko Mabaso, Netflix’s director of licensing and co-production for Africa, who recently joined from pan-African pay-TV operator MultiChoice, said the streamer is constantly expanding the partners it’s working with across the continent, and looking to elevate the creative product. “We can only go forward and spend more, really, and that’s what exciting,” said Mabaso.

On the Dube partnership, Tendeka Matatu, Netflix’s director of local language films for Africa, said “these kinds of deals with talent — with fantastic filmmakers — we will be doing more of these. This demonstrates our commitment to the local industry and building the industry for the future.”

“The Brave Ones” Netflix

For co-productions across Africa, however, Mabaso said that funding remains the greatest challenge.

“There’s a lot more support in the South African market but if you look at other markets, which are key for us, like Kenya and Nigeria, there are still opportunities for other funders to come in and play a part in the co-production space,” said Mabaso. “We are continuing to produce our Netflix-owned projects in those markets.”

While South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya remain the three key African content territories for Netflix originals, Ghettuba said the streamer is buying shows from various other countries on the continent, ranging from Ghana and Zimbabwe to Uganda, and will be expanding its original content umbrella. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, we will be getting there.”

While still anchored in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the same goes for Netflix’s eventual set-up of a physical head office somewhere in Africa.

“It’s a matter of time, of course,” said Ben Amadasun, Netflix’s director of content for the Middle East and Africa. “We don’t have a specific time period but we know we will be having a presence here sooner or later — it’s very much part of our plans, just no timing as yet.”

Ghettuba added that “what works well for Netflix is local specificity.”

“There’s a curiosity across the world about locally-specific shows from Africa — great creative, great stories,” said Ghettuba. “The world wants to know what’s happening in Africa”.

According to Matatu, the Netflix team continues to put in time meeting African filmmakers across the continent and building relationships, with Amadasun adding that Netflix — which is in discussions with African governments and countries’ film industries — “is constantly open and [looking at] how to continue our investments in the key markets. We’re always very flexible in how we see our relationships with industry and governments in these markets.”

Amadasun added: “We’re very ambitious. We have a passion for making sure local stories are told and ensuring there’s a representation of different points of views. We’re really excited about the work that’s coming. We move fast and we have a lot of great titles coming and we have a team that can deliver all of these great stories to our members in Africa and around the world.”

Ghetubba said her ambition is “to ensure that the next big ‘Squid Game’-like show comes from Africa.”

“That’s my ambition — a show from Africa that will have the momentous impact that ‘Squid Game’ had on the rest of the world,” said Ghetubba.

Matatu added: “My ambition is simply to make Netflix the home of African film; for audiences from the continent and globally to come to Netflix to watch those great African movies; and for all our fantastic filmmakers to come to Netflix to make their best work.”

Netflix Africa’s announcements and further content details on Tuesday include:

  • “Ludik” (South Africa, series): Its first Afrikaans title releasing Aug. 26 starring Arnold Vosloo.
  • “The Brave Ones” (South Africa, series): Created by filmmaker Akin Omotoso and produced by Ochre Media, this 6-episode supernatural series releasing Sept. 16 stars Sthandile Nkosi as Ntsiki, a mystical being reincarnated as human out to revenge her sister’s death.
  • “Kings of Queenstown” (South Africa, series): From director Jahmil XT Quebeka this series starring ZolisaXaluva and releasing Nov. 4, revolves around a young soccer prodigy who must deal with his washed-up pro-footballer father while navigating difficult choices.
  • “Blood and Water” (South Africa, series): The third season of this Cape Town set youth drama series will release in November.
  • “How to Ruin Christmas: The Baby Shower” (South Africa, series): The third season will release on Dec. 16.
  • “Young, Famous and Africa” (pan-Africa, series): The reality series has been renewed for a second season with production starting soon.
  • “iNumber Number: Fool’s Gold” (South Africa, film): A sequel film, directed by Donovan Marsh and released in 2023. Starring S’Dumo Mtshali and Presley Chweneyagae, they are reprising their roles as buddy cops and trying to solve the biggest gold heist in African history.
  • “Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman” (Nigeria, film): Based on the play by Wole Soyinka and produced by Mo Abudu and starring Odunlade Adekola and Shaffy Bello, the story explores the collision between Yoruba traditions and British colonialism through the experience of a king’s horseman on the most important day of his life. The film will make its world premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 10 and Netflix on Nov. 4.
  • “Anikulapo” (Nigeria, film): A mystical folklore drama, directed by Kunle Afolayan and starring Kunle Remi, it revolves around the life of Saro, a young zealous man seeking for greener pasture in the great Oyo Kingdom. However, unfolding events and his illicit affair with the king’s wife, Arolake lead to his untimely death and encounter with Akala, a mystical bird. Releases on Sept. 21.

Elsewhere, Netflix has also licensed 31 Nigerian films with a new one launching daily during August.

These include: “The Ghost and the Tout,” “Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons,” “Elevator Baby,” “The Set Up,” “Love Is War,” “Sugar Rush,” “Up North,” “Nimbe,” “Merry Men 2: Another Mission” and “Coming from Insanity,” among others.

(Pictured, clockwise: Dorothy Ghettuba, Ben Amadasun, Tendeka Matatu, Nkateko Mabaso)