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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 17:16 GMT
Boom time for Kenyan video parlours
By Ruth Nesoba
BBC, Nairobi

Illegal video outlets have mushroomed in Kenya around small markets, urban centres and in slum areas of the country's major towns.

Kenyans watch a film in an unlicensed video shop
About 20 to 30 people squeeze in to watch the films
Cramped into tiny tin shacks and sitting on makeshift benches, young men and boys watch their favourite movies.

Most of the video parlours, which charge from 25 US cents per show, cater to the entertainment needs of those who do not have access to or cannot afford the fees charged by cinemas.

The most popular shows are action feature films, which are readily available from copyright pirates.

Industry players have dubbed the new craze a "video boom".

Simeon Muindi, who regularly goes to his local video shop in Nairobi to some of the latest releases from Hollywood to Nollywood, says for 50 US cents he is able to see five movies.

"If I were to go to a cinema, I would need to pay for the fare to and from town in addition to paying for the movie," he says.

"So I enjoy watching films here - the only difference is that cinema goers may watch a hot release, but I'll still get to watch them, be it a few days late."

Hot business

The only problem, some viewers said, was when policemen came to break up the showing - usually confiscating the profits.

Business has been picking up because I've been distributing fliers all over
Video kiosk owner Jane Awiti

But for video kiosk owners like Jane Awiti, it is a booming business.

She has only been in this business for six months and is just starting to savour the fruits of her labour, oblivious of the risks of running an unlicensed outfit.

"Business has been picking up because I've been distributing fliers all over," she says.

"At most I do 10 showings in a day and sometimes it's as few as one or two.

"Pirated movies are much cheaper than original ones as you can buy them for about 100 or 150 Kenyan shillings (about $2) each."

Fighting piracy

But many film lovers do not realise the movies they are watching are pirated copies and of very poor quality.

Everyone has to abide by the same rules and regulations that I am abiding to
Andries Basson
Nu-metro cinemas

Andries Basson of Nu-metro cinemas in the city centre says the boom has dealt a major blow to the cinema industry in the country.

It has also given rise to a culture of piracy, a trend he says must be stopped.

"It's definitely having an impact on a formal retailer and it definitely has a big effect on sales," he says, adding that the video boom has taken about 35% of his company's market share in the distribution of legal DVDs and videos.

"I think the playing field must be squared out. Everyone has to abide by the same rules and regulations that I am abiding to.

"We are all entrepreneurs and I believe that it's important that that entrepreneurial flair still stays in the informal community, however, it needs to be done in a legal way and a proper way."

Local dramas

The makeshift video houses of Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya are also emerging as a serious challenge to local television stations.

A blackboard shows the times for screenings
Some outlets have up to 10 screenings a day

Kibwana Ongusu, programmes controller at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, says Nigerian films are especially popular at the video parlours.

"They address issues that are very, very close to the hearts of Africans - we haven't and it is affecting us," he says.

Mr Ongusu believes that there is a need for good local dramas.

"If we had a commission to develop local talent we would come up with very good stories and very good productions that would cater for the needs of the country and for export."

But for the moment people will continue to flock to these makeshift video screening shops, which have become a reliable source of income to their owners and entertainment for the masses.




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