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AP/ Sunday Alamba
iRoko TV builts its reputation as the home of Nollywood.
NOLLYWOOD OR BUST

The “Netflix of Africa” is taking on Netflix in Africa

By Omar Mohammed

iROKO TV, the self-declared home of Nollywood, the extremely popular Nigerian films, has raised $19 million from the French cable service Canal+ and the Swedish-based media company Kinnevik AB. The streaming service says it will invest the capital in original content and further expansion across the continent.

The platform, once dubbed the “Netflix of Africa” built its reputation on being the go-to place for Nollywood films, aims to scale up its original offering by producing 300 hours of fresh content this year, with plans to double that output by 2018, the company said in a statement.

Jason Njoku, co-founder and CEO of iROKO, said that his company will continue to leverage the growth of mobile in Africa as its distribution tool for its content. “For us, there is no version of reality where the marriage between Africa’s most powerful communication tool [mobile] and the most prolific and loved entertainment provider [Nollywood] won’t be a joyous union,” he said.

iROKO’s announcement is another evidence of a changing environment for online streaming services on the continent. A couple of weeks ago the real Netflix announced its global expansion which means that the platform is now available to African audiences as well. And earlier this year, the South African media company Naspers launched ShowMax, its own video-on-demand outlet, also targeting the continental market, and beyond.

What these companies are hoping to tap into is Africa’s growing consumer class that is young and increasingly savvy when it comes to the kind of content they want to consume.

The question, however, is whether these outlets have jumped the gun. The fundamentals needed for streaming services to flourish remain elusive on the continent. Internet access is incredibly expensive and frustratingly spotty.

Njoku’s recent comments on the nature of iROKO’s audience demonstrates the scale of the challenge. 55% of his subscribers come from outside the continent. And in 2015, only about 6% of his viewers across iROKO’s YouTube platforms were in Nigeria. This just goes to show how small the market for streaming services is on the continent.

But despite these challenges, any smart reader of the tea leaves will see that, with growing smartphone usage, the trend for internet access in Africa is heading in the direction of deepening penetration. And that’s what the likes of iROKO, Netflix and ShowMax are betting on. Which means, in that eventuality, the content they offer will be how they standout in what will be an increasingly crowded market. iROKO is hoping that local content will be how they win out over its competitors in Africa.

“The challenges surrounding mobile TV in Africa are mighty, but not insurmountable,” says Njoku, who was nominated as a Quartz Africa Innovator last year. “It’s human to be entertained and connect over community and we are obsessed with creating Africa’s largest community around local content.”