AMBITIOUS ENTREPRENEUR: Jason Njoku
OPRAH WINFREY, Aliko Dangote, Mo Ibrahim, Mike Adenuga are all names synonymous with wealth, but a new entrant to the list is Nigerian entrepreneur Jason Njoku.
Njoku is the founder and chief executive of iROKOtv, an online platform which has revolutionised the way people enjoy Nollywood movies. If you haven’t yet heard of him, you will soon. His business puts him at the centre of the Nigerian film industry, which UNESCO has declared is the second largest in the world, pushing Hollywood into third. Bollywood, India’s film industry is the biggest.
Since 1992’s Living In Bondage – considered by many to be the first Nollywood film– the industry has boomed and creates revenue of $590m (£364m) each year.
Nollywood film producers have traditionally bypassed the cinema stage, instead releasing their films straight to video or DVD. Because of this, films were slow to make their way out of Nigeria and therefore, preventing broad appeal to larger audiences. Experts believe this hurdle could be eradicated with the birth of Njoku’s iROKOtv, which has been dubbed the "Netflix of Africa".
The 31-year-old chemistry graduate buys and uploads African films to the website, making Nigerian films and shows available on demand for the whole world to enjoy. And it is all for free. The shrewd businessman, who grew up on the Pepys estate, in Deptford, southeast London, established iROKOtv in December last year.
The University of Manchester alumni got the idea after noticing the difficulty his mum faced while hunting for the latest Nollywood movies in London. Njoku gambled on the notion that others might be in the same boat inspiring him to start the online company. And it worked.
iROKOtv is now Africa's largest content partner on YouTube and other videosharing websites like Dailymotion and is now estimated to be worth over US$30 million (£18.8 million).
It has more than 3,000 Nollywood titles in its library, including Blackberry Babe and one of the biggest films of the year, The Return of Jenifa.
Thanks to iROKOtv, Nigerians from London to Houston, from Zurich to New York, no longer need wait for visiting aunties or cousins to bring the hottest new movies to them – they can simply log on to keep up.
According to Forbes, iROKOtv is the world’s largest digital distributor of African movies. The online platform has heavily invested in building the world's largest library of Nollywood movies and, most crucially, owns the licenses to a back catalogue of about 5,000 titles.
Since its launch, it has recorded almost 50 million plays. It has grown rapidly over the past year, recording over 800,000 registered users in just eight months, who are tuning in from over 178 countries across the world.
But the journey to becoming one of Nigeria’s biggest Internet entrepreneurs was not all smooth sailing for the young business owner, who revealed in an honest talk in London last weekend that “iROKOtv[was] my 11th company. The first ten failed!”
His first venture was a magazine called Brash while a university student. And in 2005, Njoku founded Nollywood Love, a similar project to iROKOtv.
In a recent interview, Njoku described his venture as "incredibly simple; African stories, by Africans, for Africans.”
“We've had an awesome first year at iROKOtv and we've got great plans in the pipeline for 2013, including adding more films to our library and growing our global audience. Our first year has seen us bring Nollywood to the Diaspora, whose thirst for movies seems unquenchable,” Njoku said.
“Our biggest markets are in the West, dominated by the US and UK. However, in 2013, we will be focusing our attention back on Africa and figuring out ways we can bring this awesome content to new audiences.”
The entrepreneur, who also counts the popular online music platform iROKING among its suite, has now opened offices in New York and London, following an investment by US hedge fund and Facebook investor Tiger Global.
At present, the company makes money through advertisements. “We ask people to watch a few adverts before watching the movie and people understand,” explained Njoku, who was recently honoured at the Nigerian Youth Merit Awards for best use of social media.
Njoku’s project has even won support from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan, who has promised to invest £30 billion in the Nigerian entertainment sector, recently praised the Nigerian film industry.
"These are the people who market this country positively in African countries and even outside Africa and even in the Carribean, where they appreciate Nigeria because of Nollywood," the Nigerian president claimed.
Aside from transforming the way Africans and the Diaspora access Nollywood, iROKOtv is also changing the Nollywood industry for its producers by opening up a new revenue stream for them.
Before iROKOtv, producers would find their movies online, but without receiving any payment and losing out on thousands of dollars. Now, working with iROKOtv they can license their movies and stream their content online legally.
Njoku’s said his success was part of a wider mission to bring money to Africa, rather than take money out of the continent.