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‘The Problem With Nollywood’ – Jason Njoku

‘The Problem With Nollywood’ – Jason Njoku

I was speaking to an executive of one of the largest cinema chains in Nigeria. He was telling me how most people he spoke to thought iROKO was ‘bad for the industry’. To be honest this is something I hear regularly. My first thought was, If I am bad, who is good? Then, second to

I was speaking to an executive of one of the largest cinema chains in Nigeria. He was telling me how most people he spoke to thought iROKO was ‘bad for the industry’. To be honest this is something I hear regularly. My first thought was, If I am bad, who is good?

Then, second to that I thought, how does one come to that conclusion? He told me I needed to ‘communicate’ more about iROKO’s industry perspective, you know, shake hands and kiss babies, using political parlance. Anyway. This morning I awoke to the news that one of the most pioneering startups in the world had massive new competition. Apple Music. And had raised another $526m at a $8.53b valuation. Spotify is largely reviled in the music industry. Even though they have paid $3 billion to artists, with $300m of that being in Q1 2015 alone, they are continually slammed by the likes of Jay Z, Taylor Swift and others for the apparent little they pay to the artists. Spotify has 20m paid subscribers, 75m users overall. Apparently they are bad for the industry too. Even though they created its most promising model and future. Funded of course by $1.1 billion of venture capital money. Spotify recently announced that in 2014 it made $1.3b in revenue. With losses at $197m. Losses. FYI – Iroko loses money too. Lots of it.


I just returned from a 4 day trip to Paris for the 3rd edition of Nollywood Week. The film festival has become something of a feature for Parisian Nollywood fans. Interestingly, it has been my fourth trip to Paris this year and actually my first actual creative Nollywood industry event. Ever. On the opening night they aired a documentary called Jimmy goes to Nollywood. It was the story of Haitian-born Hollywood actor Jimmy Jean-Louis (of Heroes and Arrow Fame). He walks through his experience shooting Dr Bello and the wider Nollywood industry at large. He goes on to discuss with the stalwarts the challenges of the industry.

Cultural context

Culturally, iROKO isn’t actually very entertainment-like. We have never done a press conference. We typically don’t attend festivals or ‘industry events’ and although we have ridden on the crest of publicity and evangelised Nollywood beyond the shores of Nigeria, we typically stay far from creativity and talent. Even our choice of office location is isolated. First Festac, then Anthony Village. These aren’t really known as the centres of anything. To be honest, most in Lagos haven’t really even heard of Anthony Village let alone know where it is. For all intents and purposes, that is by design. When I first landed in Lagos in April 2010 I was approached by all kinds of businessmen / charlatans (movies and music tend to attract them in hordes) promising me ‘help’ in navigating the industry, attempting to tell me what to do. All manner of vices were thrown my way to attract my little capital via them into their pockets.

So I made a decision very early on. We were leading viewers to content they’ll love, so in order to do that we needed to remain focused and absolute in our perspective. There needed to be a separation between Church and State. We erred on not mixing with talent and creativity. I was very happy with that, I find It too confusing, emotional and subjective.

At the beginning I used to watch every movie title we acquired. Early 2011, I stopped that and hired a team of people to scale that activity. We now possess one of the best curative teams (albeit subjective) in Nollywood. We also brought a structured data-driven perspective to an industry where data integrity and availability at best is zero. Big data is in vogue now, but from the very beginning iROKO has been trying (and largely failing – thankfully) to distill success in Nollywood filmmaking to a formula. But although we have failed at that overly ambitious task, we have picked up a thousand different insights around the reality of Nollywood. Especially distribution. There is no platform in existence that iROKO doesn’t have a strong grasp of their root economics. None. So when we discuss the state of the industry, it’s grounded by that data and that is our reality.

Bastian and I are nerds. I read Chemistry. Bastian was an oil trader. Those disciplines are grounded in numbers. They conceptualise the abstract. They seek for truths in low probabilities. It’s almost impossible for me to grasp a scenario without attaching a number to it. It’s impossible for Bastian or I to have a debate without a number or dataset being present. Yes, we use gut instinct as well, but the processing requires pulling into summations of previous conversations downloaded in data. Culturally, most of the leadership team at iROKO shares that value. It’s only when I am out in the wild that the core values of iROKO clash with the very being of talent and content creation. This is at the heart of the ‘iROKO is bad for the industry’ debate.

Back to ‘In Jimmy…’. In the documentary, captains of the ‘Nollywood’ creative industry bemoaned the dire state of the industry. Piracy (zzZ), lack of investment, distribution etc. etc. At Nollywood Week Paris, I spoke on a distribution panel around the challenges in the industry. And they are numerous. But what was interesting to me was the constant lack of concrete perspectives. The lack of actionable solutions. The lack of numbers. Then it finally hit home. The lack of numbers. Nollywood rarely deals in numbers. Ever. When they do, it’s usually hyperbole. On the panel, every answer I had was direct and backed by numbers. Let’s take an example.

Nollywood is popular in Africa? 

The latest viewership numbers for most linear Nollywood channels in Africa are available. Whether it’s DStv or CanalSat or StarTimes or FTA network CitizenTV in East Africa. The numbers are out there. I simply made it our business to get them. In SA, Africa Magic Epic is #4/5 most popular channel, it reaches ~1m people per day and 7.8% of the daily reach in South Africa. Only after local free to air channels SABC1, SABC2 and e.TV, Mzansi Magic comes in just behind it at #5. Forget Telemundo, forget Disney, forget SuperSports, forget MNET Action, forget MTV. DStv Africa Magic Epic blows them away. What does it show? 24/7 Nollywood content. In SOUTH AFRICA. On iROKOtv, international content viewing after almost a year represents 6% of actual video views and hours delivered in Africa. At best, marginal. I can go platform by platform to demonstrate this. Crikey, our entire StarTimes deal is grounded on that single truth. The data is available. You just have to push through the door to discover it.

When people think of ‘popular or hyped’ or content online, I smile, TV shows Gidi Up season 2 saw an impressive ~1.1m and An African City ~1.8m video views. A Nollywood movie Housewives of Lagos, saw in less time a hearty 2.4m video views. In fact our YouTube team in Q1 2015 saw 33m video views and 222.5m minutes watched. So popular? Methinks so.


If the debate lacks a verifiable data perspective, folk at iROKO begin to struggle. We pride ourselves on being brutally honest. Executives call me out when I am inconsistent or wrong. Happy to be 100% wrong. I am cool with that. As long as it advances the cause. Most creative industries’ feedback is usually vague or ineffectual. Ours is brutally honest. Every movie we acquire we have a subjective opinion and a data perspective. Sometimes, when we give feedback, folk get emotional and begin to dislike us. But feedback one must give. On the economics of content creation we have a very strong opinion. And that opinion will probably create the most industry wide tension. Part 2 coming next week.


This post first appeared here.



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