Magazine article Variety

Digital Site Taps into Nollywood's Global Allure

Magazine article Variety

Digital Site Taps into Nollywood's Global Allure

Article excerpt

With the bulky frame of an NFL linebacker, iRoko Partners CEO Jason Njoku was hard to miss as he paced the hall at the Discop Africa conference in Johannesburg last winter.

If all eyes were on Njoku, it was nothing new for the British-Nigerian entrepreneur. With the wildfire success of his iRokotv online movie platform, Njoku is the man many hope can lead the way across the continent's uncertain digital terrain.

"Digital is the future of Africa," he said in his Discop keynote.

If the digital revolution is transforming the way content is delivered across the world, the potential seems especially great in Africa, where ramped-up investments in broadband and a staggering number of mobile phones - an estimated 700 million, on a continent of 1 billion - have many analysts believing Africa can leapfrog traditional technologies, like TV.

For many African entrepreneurs, iRokotv's success has been the first clear indicator that Web and mobile distribution platforms can be monetized.

"We've actually created a marketplace where people respect that there's some value for Internet content," Njoku says.

Njoku, who was raised in the U.K., was inspired to launch iRokotv after fruitless attempts to track down Nigerian DVDs for relatives in London. Before long, he realized most Nigerians in the diaspora were forced to watch Nollywood pics online, where featurelength films were chopped up and uploaded in short segments onto YouTube, or distributed by fly-by-night peer-topeer sites.

Despite the poor quality, the pics had a huge following. Njoku realized how much untapped potential the Internet offered for the Nigerian film biz.

He wasn't, he admits, reinventing the wheel.

"What we've done hasn't been radical," he says. "We basically made something that was very popular easily accessible."

What began as a dedicated YouTube channel, Nollywood Love, was soon getting more than 10 million page views a month. Bandwidth costs were becoming unsustainable, and Njoku knew the company needed a bigger platform in order to grow.

Enter hedge fund giant Tiger Global, an early investor in Facebook, which came calling in 2012 with an $8 million injection of capital. Tiger had already invested in Ivi.ru, a streaming service known as the Hulu of Russia; NetMovies, a Netflix rival in Brazil; and Youku, which is often dubbed the Chinese YouTube. …

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