Nollywood 2.0 – tech tools are boosting Africa’s movie industry to global leader status

Nollywood, Nigeria’s ever-expanding film industry, is ranked #2 globally, after Bollywood (#1) and Hollywood (#3), by the number of annual film productions (making roughly 40 films per week, at an average cost of $40,000 per project). This stat still blows me away—this is arguably the most popular content across sub-saharan Africa and the prolificity of this US$590 million movie industry has all happened in less than 20 years.

Impressive when we consider the challenges the industry faces:

  • Rampant piracy
  • Poor production quality and infrastructure
  • Insufficient funding sources and venture capital
  • Lack of reliable electricity (Nigeria is one of the most inefficient producers of electricity in the world)
  • Competition and disorder of an emerging market

Vanessa Clark, co-founder of Mobiflock and my go-to mobile-guru recently brought iRoko Partners, to my attention after she heard them speak at Mobile Entertainment Africa 2012, and I was intrigued. The creation of adequate digital distribution channels for the Nigerian entertainment industry has become a priority and iRoko Partners aims to address this.

Straight out of Nigeria (or Naija, as the BlackBerry Babes would say), iRoko Partners, an online distributor of Nigerian movies and music, is working with Nigerian producers & artists to bring their content to the digital world. The company is the brainchild of Nigerian Internet entrepreneur, Jason Njoku.

Piracy and poor distribution channels have long been the bane of Nollywood. Films generally go straight to CD; are shot on low budget and often in a time frame of two weeks. iRoko Partner’s head of marketing and analytics Lanre Akinlagun says that “Nollywood has counterfeits entering the market within 48 hours to a week of a movie being released, resulting in little incentive for movie producers to produce quality work.” These CDs and counterfeits are then sold from market stalls and by hawkers, not just in Nigeria but to the rest of the African diaspora as well.

Jump to ‘Nollywood 2.0’ and piracy is no longer limited to a hawker on the street selling a counterfeit CD, but is now spreading fast into the digital space. Online pirates are uploading content to their sites without permission or payment of due royalties to the producers. They don’t charge viewers for access to the hosted movies, but make their money off Google Ads that result from traffic generated to their website.

iRoko Partners’ two main platforms focus on furthering the Nigerian media and entertainment industry in a way that benefits both the artists and the industry. Here are a few fast facts:

iRokoTV

  • Online distribution of Nigerian movies, focusing on forming partnerships with most of Nigeria’s leading filmmakers for distribution on its own platform as well as with major partners like YouTube.
  • The company is YouTube’s biggest partner in Africa. Nollywoodlove, is a collaboration between YouTube and iRoko Partners which pumps US dollars into multi-year contracts that go straight to the production houses, buying the right to stream movies online and create a new stream of revenue for producers who hadn’t even considered digital as source of capital.
  • A large amount of Nollywoodlove’s site traffic currently comes from outside of the continent—where broadband services are more readily available and where large Nigerian Diasporas are located.
  • iRokoTV provides its users with value-added services, including an IMDB-styled database, subtitle additions and removal of unauthorized content.
  • The company’s revenues are generated through advertising and a recently launched monthly subscription ($5 per month) giving fans the opportunity to watch new films without advertising.
  • iRokoTV has a catalogue of over 5000 films and over 500,000 registered users since its launch in July 2012

iROKING

  • Online digital music platform aiming to provide West African artists with new online revenue streams by using its platform to share and sell music online that includes metadata and ownership details. The platform holds over 35,000 songs from 200+ Nigerian artists and also manages and monetizes the YouTube sites of many of these artists.
  • Recently launched mobile website (m.iroking.com), allows users to download tracks on the go. This creation of bite-sized, mobile content links to a recent prediction that the emergence of low-cost smart phones will raise the demand for music videos.
  • Partnered with iTunes and publishes on behalf of the artists, also regulating illegal content on iTunes in cases where artists were unaware their music had been published.
  • Revenue is split 60/40 in favour of the artist, and has grown to 31-million views, with 24% of these from mobile devices. Monetising content for artists is still a challenge though, with mobile money still in its infancy and the large number of unbanked consumers in Nigeria.

What’s next for iRoko Partners? The company recently raised $2 million of funding from a Swedish venture capital group as it seeks to find ways of licensing its partners’ content to cable, satellite TV and international airlines. 2012 will see iROKOtv on tablet platform and an app for iOS.

As for Nollywood, even your Hollywood stars are jumping in on the action, including Vivica A. Fox in Black Gold (2011), and Thandi Newton in Half of a Yellow Sun (2013).

Victoria Soroczynski (@VicciSpark) works out of Sparkpr’s Cape Town office. Look for more posts from her about the fresh, spicy and vibrant African tech scene. Full of innovation and investment opportunities, it’s an exciting hub of creative startups and companies at the forefront of a burgeoning mobile, media and technology landscape.