Hope Entertainment, Lomi, Minewshewa and DireTube currently dominate the online streaming music video market in Ethiopia. They cater the works of local artists and some even help produce the videos. There is of course nobody that purchases the output once a video other than these online hosting companies with TV stations playing music for free. Nevertheless, this emerging market leaves a lot to be desired in terms of rewarding the creative mind, writes Hiwot Abebe.
Kako Getachew, best known for his Wolayita song Aroge Arada 2, has 6 music videos so far. His 2017 video Man Ale has 1.2 million YouTube views and his steady rise to popularity has given him a larger audience. Despite his easygoing spirit the process has not been easy for him and he is not the only one. There are dozens of new and emerging singers all over the country and quickly gaining mainstream attention. After a song or album has been made and an artist wants to make a video it can be time and cost intensive. The production process can be long and tedious. Kako says many production companies ask for large sums of money to produce music videos. His current video has been 7 months in the making and involves 60 actors, which will largely increase production costs. The overall cost of the clip largely depends on the concept or story of the song.
Ewnet Assasshign, owner and manager of Truth Productions has been involved in the production of 120 music videos in different capacities. He explains that artists usually want videos to promote their albums nationwide. They usually select a producer whose work they already like and ask for a video clip for a specific song. The producer then develops a concept and budget. The idea is to visually represent the essence of the song. If the artist approves the budget, which usually ranges from 30,000 to 350,000 Birr, the production company moves on to the pre-production phase. This includes location scouting, finding the right dancers or actors, making costumes and deciding on the right equipment to use. The actual shoot only takes 2 or 3 days and is followed by post-production editing. 80% of Ethiopian music videos online are of good quality and the standards are improving exponentially, says Ewnet. Rental equipment, especially when aiming for international markets, means more expensive cranes, dolly, camera lenses and even drones.
Even though these music videos are edited quite well and are visually pleasing, there is very little diversity or out of the box creativity among them. They are almost formulaic. Cultural videos seem to romanticize rural life or whitewash painful realities. They do however show beautiful landscapes and reflect the diverse cultural heritages of different regions. Ewnet says their purpose is “to preserve the various elements of Ethiopian culture and pass it on to the next generation.” 60% of the videos Truth produces are cultural.
Hope Entertainment, Lomi, Minewshewa and DireTube currently dominate the YouTube music video market. They cater the works of local artists and some even help produce the videos. According to industry insiders, there is nobody that purchases the output once a video is made other than these online hosting companies. TV stations play music for free and never financially recompense the artist.
One of the first YouTube channels One Love Entertainment (known as Ethio One Love on YouTube) had gained over 200 million views until more channels joined the market. The use of a digital market to promote artists and increase album sales boomed in 2015. The advent of new TV stations eager for fresh content drove the production of music videos through the roof. There is a growing demand for entertainment and many artists and studios emerged to fulfill the need. Previously, music videos were shot by ETV and usually aired to cover extra time between TV shows. Most of the videos were taped in the studio with 3 steady cams and the few times they were shot outdoors they featured famous artists and popular songs. Little known artist had to beg for their videos to be aired. Easier access to Internet meant more online viewers. Music videos by virtually unknown artists accrue tens of thousands of views in less than a month. The most viewed video at this time, Abby Lakew’s Yene Habesha, has over 25 million views since its release in 2016.
DireTube is one of the largest YouTube portals for Ethiopian news and entertainment today. It only hosts music videos and is not involved in the production process even though it sometimes gives funds to artists for video production. Revenues are shared 50/50 or 40/60 with the artist taking the lion’s share of the profits. According to Biniam Legessu, founder of DireTube, their focus is on equitable revenue sharing.
With over 1100 videos uploaded on YouTube Hope Entertainment was established in 2013 in Finland. Hope Entertainment purchases videos from artists or gives artists down payment to produce videos. Hope Entertainment makes two thirds of the videos currently on their channels Hope Music Tube and Hope Music Ethiopia. Revenues from videos are shared with artists in an arrangement similar to DireTube, depending on the fame of the artist and the popularity of the song. Artists are then paid twice a year as long as the video continues to accrue online views. Singers that were given initial down payment to produce their video can pay back Hope Entertainment once the revenues come in 6 months time. Biruk Tekeste, CEO of Hope Entertainment in Addis says this arrangement can be high risk since some videos simply do not earn enough money and are just considered a loss for the company.
Many in the industry do not think the profit from YouTube viewership is significant. Artists that decide to spend money on a video do not plan on earning any money, only hoping to breakeven. Ewnet says his company accounts for the artist’s budget because he knows don’t earn much. The process, he says, isn’t right. The purchase of the videos is based on speculation and YouTube hosting companies buy in cash if the artists or the songs are popular but will stall on payments for emerging artists for up to 6 months and may shortchange them from possible profits, adds Samson Kebede founder of Albabe Pictures. An artist may profit 3,000 or 4,000 Birr, a disproportionate amount compared to the video’s expense.
Ewnet states disputes in the music industry are usually about money. DireTube estimates 10 million views can mean revenue of 300,000 to 500,000 Birr. But artists like Kako regularly fail to see profits. “Artists are not happy,” Samson argues. “There is a lack of transparency among these companies and singers are frequently exploited”. He adds that these hosting websites are simply buying a product and are not working to elevate the art form, especially in consideration of their resources. “The process is simply not fair.”
According to a recent Forbes article YouTube pays as little as $0.0006 for each view and 1,000 views on the video site will earn a channel somewhere between 25 cents and $4. Both Biruk and Biniam agree that it isn’t necessarily viewership that earns money from YouTube and are reticent about their companies’ yearly income. Revenue depends on advertisement before or during the video and the rate of payment fluctuates. Another factor is that many international companies that would typically use YouTube to advertise their products do not target African audiences. Most of the ads feature Coca Cola or the handful local companies that focus on digital marketing. When considering the compilation videos tht commonly get nearly half a million views, it is clear that artists may not be earning their work’s worth.
Hope Entertainment plans to broaden the company into a recording label in the near future, representing artists in the industry. “Artists should just focus on music. These things can be a waste of time,” says Biruk. It is common practice for artists to represent themselves in this tedious process, getting their albums and videos produced out of pocket then personally going to TV stations and online streaming companies to promote their work.
As entertainment consumption becomes increasingly visual, artists are struggling to keep up with the audience demand. The audience is leading the market. According to Samson, artists must wake up and manage their own YouTube channels. Many in the industry agree with that. Direct viewer engagement and control over online revenues, says Biniam, are great opportunities for local artists. One of the first artists to be paid through YouTube like Jacky (for Yeneakal) and Temesgen (for Korahubish) and artists that have a strong online presence like Teddy Afro and Abby Lakew are great examples for emerging singers.
Fair pay for all parities involved in the process is essential. Media Administration Association has been established to overlook the industry and manage discrepancies involving issues such as copyright, contract and financial disputes. Biniam looks forward to the work this agency will do to legitimize the music industry. He hopes artists will have full control of their revenue and subscriptions on their YouTube channels. “The future is bright. It’s big. But artists can still get abused.”