Film Business

Wait a Minute, I Thought Jason Njoku’s IROKOtv Was the “NETFLIX of Africa”?

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In case you have been hiding under a rock, Netflix launched its services globally last week, including on the continent of Africa. Of course its Nigeria launch couldn’t happen without making a big splash among Nigerians.

Nigerians were so excited about the launch and the Nigerian media, entertainment and technology insiders began asking what the launch means for IROKOtv/IROKO Partners. Legitimate questions, if you ask me. Some, however, began predicting it may be the downfall of the online media distribution company. In response to the articles and statements, Jason Njoku, CEO of IROKOtv, took to his blog and distanced himself from Netflix, making it unequivocally clear that IROKOtv is not Netflix. In pertinent part, here is what he has said….

“I use Netflix pretty much every week. My wife uses it pretty much every week. I have been a subscriber since 2012 and have never churned out. It’s amazing. I have blogged and generally been smitten by the company and their internet style market share grab. Where possible, I even try to emulate it. But Netflix irokotv isn’t. irokotv is irokotv. 

But as I have mentioned before, there is only one Netflix of Africa. And that is Netflix. Why? People fail to remember that Netflix is an 18 year old company. 18 years they have been refining their skills at getting people to subscribe for content. They are just awesome at it. But Africa is a little different…” – Netflix in Africa

My thoughts when I saw his post was, “okay am I missing something? Yes IROKOtv is not Netflix but what happens when you are a brand that has ratified and/adopted an association of your brand identity with Netflix for years to the point where the average consumer has now followed suit?”

When CNN in 2012 dubbed IROKOtv as ‘Netflix of Africa,’ Jason reluctantly allowed the comparison, but subsequent years showed a full adoption of that comparison.  There were many articles, videos and so much more shared about his company comparing or declaring it to be ‘Netflix of Africa’ or Nigeria without a true objection until much later. Even (in the one instance) when he did explicitly object, he continued to affirm articles that used such comparison. In fact, he proudly displays these articles on the right side bar of of his blog.

Also, just last year, Jason Njoku’s IROKO signed a deal with Netflix to provide content, in behalf of other Nollywood content providers, to Netflix. A move that had a few industry stakeholders unhappy because of their  alleged beliefs of exploitation by IROKOtv of the intellectual property rights of African content providers. There have been no substantiation of the allegations. 

If Netflix is now in IROKO’s backyard and can directly negotiate such deals with these African content providers, doesn’t that change the game for IROKO? Careful how you answer this and think about the cultural DNA of Africans, especially Nigerians. So, isn’t it somewhat “k-leggy” to say Netflix has a “zero impact” on IROKO? What happened to the deal signed with Netflix? Does that change? Are the licenses IROKO has from Nollywood content providers such that the duration is quite lengthy so it has a net effect on Netflix’s presence, in the short run, on the continent? There are many questions but whatever the case may be, let’s not pretend western brands in the backyards of African owned businesses have zero impact on revenue/bottom lines. The numbers and facts don’t support this premise.

Beyond existing western brands that have existed in Nigeria for what seems like aeons, we are seeing a resurgence of luxury brands in the country and the continent. From beauty brands to vehicles, fashion, music, technology, entertainment and communication, western brands are having a field day in Africa and especially in Nigeria.  Nigeria has the largest GDP on the continent, we have an insatiable appetite for western products and services, including entertainment and lifestyle. Further, given what is at stake, and the competition and fight for Africa’s natural resources, I only see even more entrances as Africans like Jason Njoku do the initial work of showing investment opportunities and trailblazing the way for future investors. It is interesting to observe. For all the noise African brands and brand owners have made, I consistently maintain that we are not seeing a reciprocal relationship flow in the western direction where our brands are dominating the marketplace in the west, especially in a place like the USA.

My point? It is great when you are a startup to be compared to a more established brand or even be called that brand in your niche i.e. ‘IROKO, Netflix of Africa.’ Indeed, it is a quick and fast way to position yourself in your market, announce your entrance and dominate. But when the brands you are compared to begin to hang out in your backyard and it gets uncomfortable, don’t act like you weren’t so happy to have/capitalize on that brand’s value and the recognition that came from such a name being associated with your brand, all along.

A few good articles with the IROKO/Netflix association that are displayed on Jason’s site:

‘Netflix of Africa’ brings Nollywood to world – July, 2012, CNN Article

IROKO’S JASON NJOKU IS CREATING THE NEXT NETFLIX IN NIGERIA, April 2013, Fast Company

‘Netflix Of Africa’ iROKOtv Raises $8 Million In Funding – December 2013, Forbes Article

‘Nigeria’s Netflix’ takes Nollywood to a global audience – July 2014, BBC Article

Meet iROKOtv, the Netflix of Africa (Guest Column) – September 2015, Variety Article

On another note:

Question: As an African (on the continent or in the diaspora), if you can easily obtain African content on Netflix, do you still plan to solicit IROKOtv or similar African owned companies like IROKO? If no, why?

Nigerians react

Bloomberg’s take on the whole Netflix global move.

Paul Hastings Announcement – Short Version

Paul Hastings Keynote speech

Listen to the Latest AML Podcast Episodes

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2 Comments

  1. RichyGame says:

    It is curious that Jason had an arrangement with Netflix only for them to show up on our shores likely without his privileged knowing.

    But one thing is certain, Netflix would not flip the script for a market like Nigeria with their global domination onslaught, not for an arrangement with iROKO that would leave them at a disadvantage. I guess this is what happened.

    Well, Tastee Fried Chicken, TFC, though may have lost a little market share when the origo, KFC berthed in Nigeria didn’t flinch, why? They never claimed to be Nigerian KFC… Jason to me, likes attention and the comparison offered free value which he kind of rode on til the bubble burst. You can’t really blame him.

    I see iROKO not failing if there is serious attention paid to a lot of burning issues the platform seems to be plagued with as I’ve noticed with comments here and there… And let the truth be said, na de same market dem dey sell, Netflix and iROKO, that is.

    If Netflix streaming quality offerings augur with our internet infrastructure with creative and affordable data packages, Mr. Njoku has another thing coming for him.

    * Content must be up to date and not the current catalogue of movies that are not too recent and this is where he may slam a brick wall as Nigerian film producer are eager to host their content on Netflix against iROKO with the hope of better deals

    * Subscription pricing must be competitive. Many opine that Netflix pays better as international and local content are available in one shop so he needs to buckle up

    * I don’t foresee Netflix as content producers for richly African and Nigerian stories but if the ‘network’ model is adopted for our climes by commissioning content, Jason has to step up his Rok Studios work and at the same time, be incredibly diverse and not compromise quality. I mean Netflix have exclusive-to-them and self-produced series like HOC, Orange Is The New Black, Narcs, The Making Of A Murderer… do the math.

    1. I like the analysis @RichyGame.

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