We are two students from Copenhagen Business School in Denmark and for our Master’s thesis we had the chance to travel to Ghana to research institutional entrepreneurship in the film industry and work with members of the ACIG team. Here is what we found.
Cinemas and the selling and buying of physical copies (e.g. CDs, VCDs, and DVDs) used to be the main means of film distribution in Ghana, yet technological disruption and the advent of streaming platforms have radically challenged previous forms of distribution. In addition, the global Covid-19 pandemic hit in the beginning of 2020 and closed cinemas, preventing filmmakers from using these. Some Ghanaian filmmakers turned to streaming as an alternative distribution method.
Ghanaian filmmakers experience difficulties with accessing foreign streaming platforms. Foreign streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, hold (too) high standards for what they accept on the platform leaving most Ghanaian filmmakers unable to reach them. Furthermore, they experience poor and non-transparent revenue structures leading to a sense of mistrust of these platforms. Some Ghanaian filmmakers have tried to circumvent this by creating their own streaming platform.
Ghanaian streaming platforms
As an answer to the inaccessibility of film distribution in Ghana, we studied how three filmmakers—who we are identifying by the pseudonyms Sophia, Isaac, and Spencer—attempted to implement divergent change and act as institutional entrepreneurs, in order to change the institutional arrangements related to film distribution in Ghana.
Following the enabling conditions, institutional entrepreneurs must develop a vision that
sufficiently breaks with existing institutional arrangements by forgoing their institutional embeddedness, while also gathering support from others. In aggregate, the vision of Sophia, Isaac, and Spencer entails transforming, or creating, new institutions by challenging the institutional arrangements within the Ghanaian film industry. Through the establishment of streaming platforms, they aim to improve the accessibility of film distribution, benefiting themselves as well as other filmmakers.
The reflective capacity of Sophia, Isaac, and Spencer allowed them to acknowledge the inaccessibility of film distribution in Ghana, and therefore made them capable of distancing themselves from dominant institutional arrangements. That being said, it is also evident that when creating these new distribution channels, the three individuals have found it difficult to transfer their accustomed legitimacy and resource capacity, hence they are facing challenges they are not used to. Prior to launching their streaming platforms, they have all, albeit to various degrees, been successful within other fields such as radio, advertising, and film. Yet, the advent of streaming proposes challenges of a rather different nature, hence they have to come up with new ways of overcoming these challenges, since distributing films through cinemas, physical copies or even television poses different institutional arrangements compared to streaming.
The institutional entrepreneurs we studied push to change institutional arrangements. They do this through their streaming platforms. Examples of institutional arrangements are formal education and government institutions whose mission is to protect the copyrights of the filmmakers and the lack of collaboration among the filmmakers. Formal education within the Ghanaian film industry leaves a divide between the filmmakers who have been to film school and the ones who are self-taught. The institutional entrepreneurs attempt to change this through the creation of standards for other filmmakers to adhere to, if they want their content to be uploaded on their streaming platform. As for the enforcement of copyright, the government agencies exist but fail to do their job, since they are not filmmakers and do not fully understand the extent of the field. In the absence of reliable copyright institutions, streaming platforms reflect institutional arrangements that impose restrictions on behavior by distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. These platforms represent protected systems that exaggerate the current institutions in terms of both rewarding of copyright enforcement and sanctioning of copyright infringement.
The institutional entrepreneurs are challenged in terms of being able to gather support for their streaming platforms and their visions behind them and the distrust of the Ghanaian film industry as exemplified by the many different institutions that exist.
Overall, we concluded that institutional entrepreneurs must overcome the challenge of extensive distrust among stakeholders within the Ghanaian film industry, if they are to succeed in attracting other filmmakers to their streaming platforms. Institutional entrepreneurs need to become more aware of how they and their streaming platforms are being received by other filmmakers within the Ghanaian film industry.
In order to mobilize allies, the institutional entrepreneurs must develop means for legitimizing their streaming platforms, since the empirical findings suggested that other filmmakers are hesitant to use their platforms due to an underlying culture of distrust. Hence, they must leverage their informal position in order to establish trust, and thereby aid future collaboration. Furthermore, we suggest that if they succeed in building trust, other filmmakers might become more understanding of their visions.
This also entails that institutional entrepreneurs manage to deepen their understanding of the needs of other filmmakers, since it must be a compromise from both the institutional entrepreneurs and other filmmakers. Working towards a common goal could help them accelerate the change they envision.
By Konrad Emil Brunak and Arendse Falck