Interviews: iROKOtv CEO Jason Njoku: "Nollywood Films Try to Tell Africa's Story"
Dubbed the “Netflix of Africa” iROKOtv has officially brought Nollywood films to the Internet and to viewers all around the globe. iROKOtv CEO Jason Njoku’s 3-year-old company now has 800,000 registered users and offices in London, New York, Johannesburg and Lagos. The tech entrepreneur spoke to BET.com about how he’s helping to digitally distribute the popular Nigerian films.
Would you define Nollywood for us?Nollywood is a film industry centered in mostly Nigeria and Ghana. But they are largely Nigerian productions, which create films for Africans about Africans. Many of the movies center around the dynamics of nuclear families and how they deal with traditional stories and issues from pre-colonial Africa. Other movies are based around marriage, religion, royalty, lack of success and even coping with illness. Nollywood films try to tell Africa’s story in modern life.
How did you come up with the idea for iROKOtv? I grew up in the United Kingdom. I largely benefited from the power of the Internet, from usage and sites like Netflix. I heard about Nollywood in 2009 and I saw that my mom spent most of her spare time watching these movies. She would ask me to get her some good ones. I would go online to try to find them and I found it pretty amazing there wasn’t a way for her to buy them. The only way to get them was down at the local mom and pop store. It was really amazing and popular content, but the distribution was lacking.
Once you realized the demand for Nollywood films, when did you know you could be a part of the business of distributing them? I jumped on a plane from London to Lagos to do a bit of fact finding and I found that no one was attempting to do this. So I thought it would be a good idea for someone like myself to take it on. I originally negotiated with a handful of production houses. We put a couple of hundred movies online, and we were able to make a return on our investment. We kept acquiring more movies and putting them online.
Where does most of iROKOtv’s traffic come from? Our traffic comes from London, India, Australia, Moldavia, the Caribbean and our largest market is in the United States. We’ve made the accessibility and the discovery of these movies that much easier. We’ve partnered with the production houses to help them deliver their movies to as many people as possible.
What do you think has been key to iROKOtv’s booming success? Nollywood is one of the largest film industries to emerge and definitely one of the most successful ones. The question became how would people globally around the world gain access to this popular content from Africa? What we did at iROKOtv is to make available the largest catalog of Nigerian movies. We have 5,000 movies available to watch on our website. We’ve multiplied the ability to watch and enjoy these films. The movies have been out there for a long time — they’ve been very popular from day one. We took great content and made it widely available to anyone who has an Internet connection.