The man behind the ‘Netflix of Africa’

Iroko Partners is one of the fastest growing internet companies in Nigeria. Its iROKOtv online movie streaming platform, which has exclusive rights to distribute Nollywood films, is making ripples in the technology and entertainment scenes. The company’s founder and CEO Jason Njoku says iROKOtv is the African version of popular American movie streaming service Netflix. Njoku shared his plans for the company with How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi.

Jason Njoku

Jason Njoku

What inspired you to start iROKOtv?

Coming from a Nigerian family, I have always had a sense of the power of Nollywood films. I had difficulties when my mother asked me to get her some. Other family members also struggled to get their hands on their favourite films. I soon realised that there was a gap in the market since the films were only available on DVDs, which were quite difficult to find in the West.

I bought the online licences for as much Nollywood content as I could and started to distribute them online. Today, iROKO is the largest online distributor of Nollywood films. In our first year we had over 152 million viewers. We launched iROKOtv or the ‘Netflix of Africa’, which has a library of over 4,800 movies all of which people can access from across the world.

Describe the impact of iROKOtv on the Nigerian movie industry?

Without a doubt, I would say that iROKOtv has finally made the Nigerian movie industry accessible to the African diaspora. Even more than that, since we arrived and started paying to distribute the films online, the producers are able to monetize their content more than ever before and receive a proper fee for their work rather than seeing their income diluted because of the current chaotic and often illegal distribution system. Producers are able to reinvest in their films, making new movies of better quality, which will ultimately benefit the industry as a whole.

The investment made by Tiger Global has also introduced Nollywood to the attention of the business world. Nollywood is going global. We are at the forefront of this and have grown to such an extent that there is no-one currently in as strong a position as us to dominate this market.

Iroko Partners recently received an US$8 million investment from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based venture and private equity fund. How do you intend to use this money?

Eight million dollars is a lot by any standards and we plan to use it to invest in more content and to develop the business further. Content is expensive and by paying the higher prices, we also create barriers to entry.

iROKOtv is a relatively young business, but we want to develop and grow, especially in Western markets and with this investment, we have the opportunity to do so. So far, we’ve only just started to scratch the surface in terms of where we can take iROKOtv.

If users can watch movies for free, how do you generate revenue?

At present we have an advertising model although later on this year, we will be moving to a subscription model for top movies as well as an advertising strand for revenue generation.

How does slow internet affect the viewer experience in Nigeria?

At present, more people watch iROKOtv in London than they do in the whole of Nigeria. This will change in the future once broadband connections have penetrated the market. However, we do have a number of mobile apps that make it easier for Nigerians to access our great content.

How vibrant is Nigeria’s technology scene?

The whole African tech scene is very exciting, dynamic, bold and ready to burst onto the global scene. Africa is just starting to come online and there is so much potential in this market, not just in Nigeria.

What advice would you give to aspiring African entrepreneurs?

Spot an opportunity, make a plan and run with it. I definitely had the right idea, in the right place, at the right time and I knew I could do it. I learnt from my mistakes, but still kept true to my own vision. You need to have that kind of confidence to make these things work. Don’t hang around waiting for things to happen.

What are your future plans for Iroko Partners?

At the moment we are exploring all our options. We want to invest in more content and to develop the iROKOtv platform. Ultimately, subscribers might have to pay for the newest releases on the channel, but we’re still exploring that option. Our biggest markets are in the West and as Africa comes online we expect our numbers to increase super quickly. We are focusing on building our London office and starting up an office in New York soon. We’ve only just started to unlock the potential for Nollywood and we are excited about it.