iRoko TV, an online platform also known as the “Netflix of Nigeria” seems to be making quite some wave around the world. Founded by Jason Njoku in 2011, the service has revolutionized Nollywood, Nigerian movie industry.
Cinema in Nigeria is not big, and due to a lack of facilities movies produced also find it hard to reach to a global audience since there aren’t many takers when it comes to cinema, which is why they are limited to DVDs, however iRoko TV is making quite a change.
iRoko TV with its extensive range of catalogue has garnered millions of views over the years. This also appears to be the aim of Njoku, who said that the platform is "connecting African films with fans globally".
There is a lot of content available in Nigeria which the global audience might be interested in. The company pays about $10,000 to $25,000 to purchase digital rights and stream movies online.
This might not be a lot when we compare to Netflix, where the budget of a single episode of a series can be in millions, but it’s good for a start.
The company spends about three to four million dollars a year over licensing and is one of the few ways to watch Nigerian content in a legal manner.
Even though most productions are from Nigeria and Ghana, iRoku TV attracts subscriber from all over Africa who pay a subscription fee of $8 a month for unlimited access to online catalogue.
"You look at the stars, you look at the director…super important…you also look at the quality of the actual movies themselves, and we try to sync that with the audience, so, every ten movies we view, we only buy one or two of them," said the founder highlighting how difficult it is to make a mark in this industry, but iRoku seems to be doing well.
iRoku is not the only platform available in the continent. You will find many similar services in Africa, but they do not have the kind of reach iRoku has today, despite the beginning being a little shaky.
The industry is growing in Nigeria and is estimated to contribute about 1.4% to the economy by 2020. It is also one of the country’s biggest employer despite there not being much movement.
Many known names in the country, including Obi Emelonye, a homegrown talent with excellence in direction, is hoping to step into the spotlight and also to be featured on iRoku TV before the end of the year with his 100 episode film series The Calabash.
The Lawyer turned filmmaker says, "It's a very tasking, almost stupid episode to film 100 episodes in a go without $1bn, but we can show that with a good story, with dedication, with a committed cast and crew, with a bit of luck, you can achieve great things."
Producing a movie in Nigeria can be a trouble mainly due to power cuts. Producers have to bear an added expense of generators to make sure production does not halt.
However, experts say that a bigger challenge is to make sure the movie reaches an audience.
Nigerian film industry produces about 50 films a week, which makes it the second biggest industry in the world. However, the budget is nothing compared to movies produced in India and Hollywood. Most of the films are released on DVD and are available at cheap prices all over Nigeria. Despite their popularity in other African countries, getting these movies out there can be a pain.
"Distribution is the biggest problem for Nollywood," says Mr. Emelonye. He added, "DVD is dying out and since we are still dependent on DVD then our industry suffers."
Nigeria has a population of over 160 million people with only 14 functioning cinemas, which mainly feature Hollywood movies. The DVD market is still thriving with Idumota, one of the oldest parts of Lagos Island, being the best example. This place still has a series of shops covered with posters of Nollywood titles like Funke The Illiterate and Brazil Return.
Kelechi Kene, a vendor says, "Some films sell out very quickly… as soon as people know who the actor is they come and buy the copies." Kene even said that platforms like iRoko TV don’t pose a threat to their DVD business.
The industry needs a push. It lacks award shows where celebrities would walk the red carpet with beautiful name necklaces. All this can help make an industry bigger. However, there is hope that iRoko and other such platforms will soon be able to help producers make more money and make Nigerian movies reach a wider audience.