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iROKOtv has brought the globe to Nollywood

Since 2011 that iROKO Partners launched the iROKOtv website, the web platform that provides free and paid-for Nigerian films on-demand, has grown to become Africa’s top online movie streaming website; and iROKO Partners is today regarded as the largest licensors and distributors of Nollywood movies. In this interaction, Jason Njoku, the CEO of iROKO Partners tells MOSHOOD ABUBAKAR of IT Edge News, that the company has helped to reposition Nollywoood by creating a global appeal for a market once consigned to the periphery of the local Nigerian movie market. Jason also speaks of plans by the company to expand presence to several African countries.

Since 2010 when iROKO Partners was founded, it has grown an audience in excess of 6 million unique users from 178 different countries, how has this impacted in terms of tangible and non-tangible values on the Nigerian entertainment industry?

Essentially, iROKOtv has set Nollywood content free and it has now never been so accessible to a global audience. We’ve set a precedent by attributing a value to Nollywood content online – this simply didn’t exist before iROKOtv launched. We attract around one million unique users to www.irokotv.com every month – that’s a tangible metric I guess. We have viewers in 178 countries around the world – another tangible metric. We have invested about $5Million in purchasing Nollywood content from the industry’s producers. We have brought Nollywood to a global audience, something that no-one had done previously and, further to this, by promoting iROKOtv so broadly with the world’s press, we have helped to raise the profile of Nigerian tech companies.

In Africa and diaspora, Nigerian films are very popular but with broadband very low, majority of Nollywood fans in Africa still can’t get access to the internet, how is iROKO Partners working round this challenge and what does it portend for online distribution of entertainment content?

We have created an amazing VOD for Nollywood and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. We can talk about how awesome www.irokotv.com is until we’re blue in the face, but if you as a consumer cannot access the Internet, then we’ve lost you. So this is why we recently launched a DVD business – we print and distribute the most popular titles in our catalogue and sell them in markets, hair salons, grocery shops…. wherever our demographic is really, allowing us to better access the 95% of Nollywood fans in Africa who still tune into their favourite movies on disc, rather than online at the moment.

iROKO Partners is streaming music online through its iROKING platform, have it been able to effectively meet issues of legal compliance in the US, UK and Nigeria with regards to payment of digital music royalties with the increasing infringement of copyrights in cyberspace?

Yes. We are compliant with all the legalities in this emerging sector and we invest thousands of dollars in ensuring our artists’ work is protected from illegal sharing and downloading.

Many believed that your strength in iROKO Partners is in its movie sharing platform iROKOtv, but in terms of its music platform it has no real connections in the music industry unlike Spinlet to even connect Nigerian music industry professionals to other important acts in the UK, USA or even the Caribbean, how will you react to that?

iROKOtv is certainly our more popular content platform – it’s what launched us as an international company and it has received global recognition. However, iROKING is a major player in the Nigerian music eco-system, and we have over one million unique users coming to us every month. About 8 months ago, that figure was 10,000, so you can see that the growth we’re generating is staggering. Regarding the issue of making ‘connections’, I agree that they are important, but our job isn’t to connect professionals. It’s to connect content. We focus on those who produce Nigerian entertainment content and see them as digital infrastructure partners. We can easily connect artists to overseas professionals but that’s not our primary focus. We are re-organising digital distribution to homes. We have fantastic relationships with Nigerian music industry and that’s all that matters.

How should the industry tackle piracy and copyrights infringement as entertainment content increasingly go online and as pirates strengthen their reach and depth?

The industry needs to work together in looking after and valuing its content. Piracy is an uphill struggle for everyone involved at every stage of the filmmaking process; from production to distribution. If a producer finds his or her content online without their permission or payment, they shouldn’t just shrug their shoulders; they should fight to pull the illegal content down. I think that there’s work to be done in terms of Nigerian legislation in terms of Intellectual Property and Copyright infringement – not just in defining the law, but also in terms of how the law is enforced.

Last year iROKO Partners sued Afrinolly the mobile app that also streams Nigerian movies online, what informed the decision to take legal action against Afrinolly?

Afrinolly doesn’t stream movies, they stream movie trailers – there is a huge difference. Also, we didn’t sue them in the end, but we had to make a grand gesture in order for them to take note. My legal team had taken formal steps to get them to stop using our content, which they had taken from the Internet without our permission, or without the permission of the producer. In effect, they were infringing on our copyrighted content and building a business on the back of this. We thought this was unacceptable and the only means of stopping them, at that time, was to seriously consider legal action.

What edge does iROKO Partners have over other competitive brands like Afrinolly and Spinlet and are your platforms only web based?

Our edge is that we have the content to make us stand apart. Thanks to our VC-backing, we are able to invest heavily in purchasing content – we have aggregated the largest online catalogue of African entertainment in the world – we have a catalogue of over 5,000 movies and 35,000+songs, so we let our content act as the differentiator. We have also now developed an offline strand of the company, with the launch of our DVD business, so unlike the other companies you’ve mentioned, I believe we have better and more diverse revenue-generating models.

Is YouTube still the distribution partner of iROKOtv and would you agree that the future of entertainment content is online being that the future of iROKO Partners itself depends on the web?

YouTube is still a distribution channel for us. However, the vast majority of our Nollywood content is on www.irokotv.com. However, we’re acutely aware of the power of YouTube and it’s a key part of our business. In fact, we now have a separate arm of the company called Guru and the sole function is to bring more and more African content online. To-date, via Guru-run YouTube channels, we’ve had 500Mn views from 45 million unique viewers, totalling over one billion minutes streamed. We recently brought on board the inimitable Julius Agwu – he wanted to monetize his huge catalogue of content and distribute it to a audience as possible, so he came to us to help him achieve this.

You were listed in the Forbes list as one of the young African Millionaires to watch as the founder of iROKOtv which many analysts believed to be worth as much as $30 million as at July last year, how did you achieve this feat and what is your advice for young internet entrepreneurs like you?

The nod from Forbes was humbling and I’m extremely proud of it, especially being recognised alongside other top individuals. However, I don’t dwell on awards or lists too much; to be blunt, they don’t pay the bills. My advice for other young entrepreneurs is to do it now before someone else does it. And if you’re just starting out and you don’t think you can live without all the frivolities that comes with modern life – a flash car, parties, designer clothes etc. you probably won’t cut it as an entrepreneur.

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