21 Oct 2013

iROKOtv: “We’re known as the ‘Netflix of Nollywood’”

Jason Njoku

Jason Njoku, CEO of iROKOtv, is something of an OTT visionary, having grasped early the massive potential in a continent experiencing both an explosion of original content and an insatiable demand for it. Known as the ‘Netflix of Nollywood,’ iROKOtv is perfectly placed to grow exponentially in the coming years, as Jason explains in the following insightful and enjoyable chat with IP&TV. Next month Jason will be part of a formidable AfricaCast line-up. For booking and more info go here.

IP&TV: Hi Jason. Please give our readers some idea of the origin of iROKOtv – and  of its current scale!

Jason Njoku: We started off as a YouTube channel called NollywoodLove back in 2010. Thanks to some VC-backing from US-based hedge fund Tiger Global a few months after launch, we were able to kick-off a content purchasing spree to ensure we amassed the biggest Nollywood catalogue on the planet. We also chose to invest in building our own platform – www.irokotv.com – and give Nollywood the online home it deserved and opened up offices in London, New York and JoBurg, to give us a truly global presence.
We’re affectionately known by many as the ‘Netflix of Nollywood’. Sadly, we’re not as big as Netflix, but we are the world’s largest online distributor of Nigerian movies and we have roughly 1Mn uniques visiting the site every month. We have people watching our content from 178 countries around the world.

What about the content it offers?

We have a library of 5,000+ movies, the vast majority are free to watch. In July 2012, we introduced a paywall for the brand new content through our subscription service iROKOtv PLUS and our subscribers, for their $5 a month, get three brand new movies a week. This year, we also introduced TV series onto the site, as well as an extras section that shows celebrity interviews, red carpet events and behind-the-scenes shoots for movies and music. So it’s an ever-evolving home of Nigerian entertainment as far as content is concerned.

Nollywood is little else than an explosion of original African content, but access still lags some way behind demand. What are the main reasons for this?

Demand is super-high and access to this incredible catalogue of content has historically been hindered by archaic and disorganised means of distribution – that’s why iROKO was able to grow at such a pace, we gave Nollywood fans around the world exactly what they wanted.

Piracy has had a massively detrimental effect on Nollywood, both in terms of VCD distribution and Internet piracy as well – at present, we are trying to crack the latter, by investing significant funds into fighting the pirates. It’s neither easy, nor simple – but in order to safeguard the industry, it’s a necessary investment.

We bridged the gap between supply and demand by bringing a formal and efficient structure to Nollywood distribution and wrapping it up in a user-friendly, super sexy Internet platform. It’s a brutally simple idea, that has been tough to execute but we feel we’ve made an everlasting and positive change to the industry.

iROKOtv started online but has recently moved into the DVD market – why’s this?

We can preach the good word of www.irokotv.com until we’re blue in the face but, in Africa, the reality is that most people simply do not have Internet access that is good enough to stream movies. This is why 96% of Nollywood in Africa is still consumed on VCD – OTT on the continent isn’t a major platform yet. When Africa comes online, our company will be totally transformed. Until then, we still want to engage with Nollywood fans in Africa and that’s why we entered the DVD market earlier on this year, starting in Johannesburg and moving to London and Lagos. We were very much aware that we were entering a market that is totally flooded with counterfeit goods and that we wouldn’t be able to compete on price point, however we definitely can compete in terms of quality of item. We’ve developed a network of retailers in each city, people can buy the DVDs on iROKOtv and we’ve also partnered with e-commerce stores such as Jumia (Nigeria), Amazon (UK) and Bid or Buy (SA). It’s simply an expansion of our online service, again focussing on and trying to solve the issue of access in Africa.

What is the potential in the African technology space, particularly with regards to video?

Africans have just as much thirst for awesome video content as anyone else in the world, but they are thwarted by poor internet infrastructure across the continent. But we have a young, internet-ready and content-thirsty generation whose disposable income is higher than their parents’ and they are desperate to get online. They, like us (the content providers) are waiting. Just waiting.
The potential of video combined with that of mobile in Africa is literally limitless. The mobile is king on the continent – it is the device of choice for most and there are 100Mn+ registered SIMs in Nigeria alone. Once the telcos have solved the issue of access and are able to price data at a favourable rate that is accessible to millions rather than the thousands, then we will see an explosion of video content. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when.

Finally, what is the importance of an event like AfricaCast in this context?

AfricaCast is a fantastic opportunity for African content makers and platforms to meet, discuss opportunities and make some deals. It’s also a chance for us to highlight the challenges facing content distribution across the content and, importantly, figure out what we can do to improve the situation.

Jason Njoku will be speaking at this year’s AfricaCast (Cape Town, November 12 – 14), the region’s premier show on the future of broadcasting. For booking and more info go here.