NewsWest AfricaMedia: Nollywood's French kiss


Posted on Friday, 26 February 2016 18:31

Media: Nollywood's French kiss

By Oheneba Ama Nti Osei

iROKO is re-encoding its library of Nollywood films to minimise data costs for watching via the app. Photo©PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFPRomance has blossomed between Nigeria's iROKO and France's Canal+, who have signed a multi-million-euro deal to distribute Nollywood hits in French via an app.

Nine people sit around the dining table. A deep silence holds the room, the only sound is cutlery scraping against plates. But when Tamara breaks the silence to announce her up- coming nuptials to her half-siblings, her sister Nina suddenly starts coughing and choking, apparently mocking her.

You've guessed it: it's a scene from the hit 2013 Ghanaian-Nigerian comedy House of Gold, in which the siblings, who have just learnt of their father's terminal illness, try to honour their dad's dying wish of staying under the same roof for one week.

The networks were never designed for data in the first place, and it has created significant constraints upon what is possible

Until now, though, only Anglophone Africa could get this on the move. But a new partnership is due to change that, extending Nollywood's finest to a French-speaking
audience via a phone app. Nigeria's film-and TV-streaming company iROKO and leading French pay-TV provider Canal+ will launch a subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) service for Francophone Africa this year.

Jacques du Puy, president of Canal+ Overseas, the foreign distribution arm of Canal+ Group, explains to The Africa Report: "The idea is to offer a very popular SVoD service that will give priority to English-language African content from Nollywood."

The service will be accessible via an Android app and users will download French-dubbed Nollywood content for a monthly fee. iROKO and Canal+ announced the deal in December last year.

The launch into Francophone Africa, with its 250 million people spread across 23 countries, is a big deal for the emerging Nigeria-based firm. Started in 2010, iROKO – today the world's largest online distributor of African content and Africa's largest internet TV operator – has previously only provided content in English.

But the opportunities in French-speaking Africa cannot be overlooked, says the iROKO team. Founder Jason Njoku says that Francophones love Nollywood content, and "you can take a Nollywood movie, dub it and it becomes one of the top movies on the big pay-TV networks in French-speaking Africa."

Films on phones

For its partner Canal+, the realisation of Francophone Africa's potential came 20 years earlier, and it currently boasts nearly 2 million subscribers in several Central and Western African countries. But despite its relative lack of experience compared to the French pay-TV firm, iROKO still holds sway.

"Canal+ is a strong partner, but it also respects that there are some areas where a new emerging player can definitely bring some value to the table," says the British-born Nigerian entrepreneur.

The duo are pinning their hopes on the current smart-phone boom in Africa for the success of the iROKO and Canal+ branded app, but they realise that it will take a while to make a profit.

Du Puy says: "It's a medium-term investment which I hope will become profitable fairly rapidly. We're convinced that it will become something very significant because the number of smartphones alone will explode [...] and I believe our timing is right." However, Africa's VoD market is still in its infancy, and the pair will have to tackle a number of challenges.

Russell Southwood, chief executive of London-based consultancy and research company Balancing Act, points out that 4G networks that provide better video streaming are not yet well established across the continent. "It's a fundamental problem [...]. The networks were never designed for data in the first place, and it has created significant constraints upon what is possible," says Southwood.

To sidestep this problem, iROKO has turned off streaming to focus only on optimised downloads for the app. Njoku says the company is currently re-encoding its library to reduce the size of a movie to between 50 and 100MB to help minimise data consumption costs.

With the arrival of new English-speaking players in the African VoD market, iROKO's entry into Francophone Africa keeps it a step ahead of its competitors. And as to whether it is time that other Nigerian companies stop sitting on the sidelines and jump into Francophone Africa, Njoku says the big barrier is the language but companies will get there gradually.

"On a company level, I think that it will just come with time. As Nigerian companies mature in their own markets, they'll look for new markets and the obvious ones will be those surrounding them." ●


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