Television has been a key source of news and entertainment in Nigeria since Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) began broadcasting in 1959, capturing our attention and connecting us globally.
Decades down the line, our consumption of local content is so different from how it was years ago, especially, with the growth of Nigerian on-demand services such as iROKOtv, which launched on December 1, 2011.
The content consumption models in the Nigerian entertainment industry has evolved from traditional TV to video rental store, cable TV and currently Video on Demand (VOD).
The industry has evolved from provider-driven to consumer-driven. The days when time slots dictated viewers’ schedule are behind us.
Viewers are no longer subject to TV schedules. They are now in control of what they want to watch – they could download content for future use, or stream whenever they want.
For today’s audience, it’s about mobility: You can watch your favourite movie or TV show even when you are travelling.
“It’s simply an audience shift, in that younger people, especially, want to have more control over what they watch. It has happened in the West, and as Nigeria is one of the most mobilized countries in the world, it’s no surprise that Nigerians are now choosing their mobile phones as their primary platform for content consumption,” Jason Njoku, the co-founder of iROKOtv said to Pulse Nigeria.
In Hollywood, there’s “Game of Thrones”, a show that’s cinematic, yet produced for TV and then Over-The-Top (OTT) audience.
“So technology has been a catalyst for the decline in consumer habits, but I wouldn’t write it [traditional Television] off yet, as a powerful content platform,” Njoku continued.
Since its launch, iROKOtv has invested and co-produced several movies such as “Picture Perfect,” “Dance to My Beat,” “Body Language” among others. This, according to Njoku, was because there weren’t enough quality content out there for their paying customers.
“So we decided to invest in co-producing movies and, later on, TV series ourselves. We now have a fully dedicated content arm of the company, ROK, whose content is watched and sold around the world,” Njoku explained.
Apart from commissioning movies, the platform has also been responsible for the growth of quite a number of producers, including Judith Audu, who produced the 2017 movie “Stormy Hearts“, a collaboration between Judith Audu Productions and ROK Studios.
Audu isn’t the only filmmaker who has worked with the platform as others include Desmond Elliot, Emem Isong, Uduak Isong and Biodun Stephen.
“They have changed a lot of dynamics in the kind of movies created to air on their platforms by making sure the scripts are right and the producers pay attention to details. It has now changed the quality of films produced as they don’t accept every film if it is not up to their standard,” Audu said to Pulse Nigeria.
To properly deliver the kind of content their subscribers want, Jason and Co. constantly comb the data from iROKOtv in search of popular trends in terms of genres, actors, themes. The acquired information is used to better inform their commissioning decisions.
“We produce content that will excite and entertain our customers. Now, this doesn’t mean we just repeat the same formula ad infinitum – we want to push the boundaries creatively, to ensure we improve and build on our uncatalogued. But at the heart of every commissioning decision is what the ROK or iROKOtv customer wants.”
Whilst VOD/OTT content is growing in popularity across the continent, there is still a TV-loving audience across Africa. To cater to this audience, on November 1, 2016, ROK launched across Africa on the DStv platform.
“ROK has produced some amazing content over the past three years, and we wanted to ensure it was as accessible as possible – which meant ensuring TV audiences could watch it. One day, they may come and subscribe iROKOtv to watch on-demand content, but in the meantime, they can be part of the ROK family via their television sets.”
According to Jason, iROKOtv influenced the existing TV culture in Nigeria by making TV stations rethink much of their scheduling and content strategies.
“I think our entrance into the market also disrupted the cost of content as well,” he said.
By being the first to digitize so much of Nollywood’s back catalogue, as well as investing in original content, iROKOtv has made Nollywood far more accessible than it has ever been: Old and new Nollywood films such as “Fugitive” and “Gbomo Gbomo Express” can all be found on the platform.
“Before, you were at the mercy of what the Alaba boys would sell you. Now, if you want a Village or Traditional movie from way back? We have it. If you want the latest release or cinema-quality film, we have it too.”
After five years of sustained growth in Nigeria, iROKOtv has grown into the international market. On September 29, 2016, ROK launched on UK TV station Sky TV by Mary Remmy Njoku, ROK CEO and wife of Jason Njoku, offering a free-to-view package for their UK subscribers.
The station ROK on Sky aired originals such as “Single Ladies”, “Bloodline”, and “Banks Chronicles.” While ROK on Sky was on an exponential rise, iROKOtv was losing money.
One of the main reasons for this loss could be attributed to slow internet in Nigeria: Streaming services require good quality broadband access, which is still not available in the country.
One of the key areas Njoku and Co struggled with when building their Nigerian audience was the fact that they simply couldn’t access their content because streaming was too problematic.
To solve this problem, they decided to re-calibrate the entire product and shift from a streaming platform to a download-first platform. They built from scratch, an app that allows for downloads. What this meant was that customers could download movies when they had access to WiFi, without the worry of running up huge data bills.
They also launched a series of IROKOtv kiosks across Lagos in 2016 – these are essentially places where customers can download movies for free, purchase subscriptions, and also find out more about downloading the app onto their phones, how much it costs, the type of movies they can watch and so forth.
“The transition was brutal and expensive, extremely hard work to carry out. However, in June of this year, Nigeria finally became iROKOtv’s largest market,” Njoku said.
Commissioning movies and changing the way content is consumed isn’t the platform’s only goal. Alaba – the home of piracy – is still a considerable force in the Nigerian movie space, and the vast majority of Nollywood content is still consumed on DVD/VCD.
However, with the evolution of streaming services in Nigeria, Njoku hopes that piracy will decline as more people will come online to select their content.
“The way the Alaba guys operate is unsustainable. The metric, sooner or later, simply won’t make sense for them. I think there is also a greater awareness among some consumers about the perils of piracy, and how it is so harmful to our industry, so there’s a concerted effort to buy the originals – whether it’s an original DVD, or watching content on TV or online, where producers receive remuneration via licences.”
Investing in content strategy by working with the best producers and investing in co-producing and producing original movies and TV series have played a role in the platform’s success.
“We’ve continued to lead rather than follow. What we offer today is totally different to what we offered five years ago — we’ve pivoted, built products that suited our audience and we’ve grown with our audience as well. And, on the most basic level, we are unrivalled in terms of content.”
To evolve and build its subscriber base, iROKOtv uses mediums such as the above-mentioned kiosks, through which they get to communicate to potential subscribers one-on-one .
“It’s a time-consuming means of building a base, but we are happy to invest in bringing on board new customers,” Njoku said.
In seven years, iROKOtv has evolved the way local content is consumed. Just like its foreign counterparts – Netflix, Hulu and Amazon – iROKOtv also accommodates the binge-watching habit: Nigerians can now watch multiple episodes of a TV series in rapid succession by means of digital streaming.
Whether through streaming services or traditional cable providers, television will always be a part of our lives. However, with platforms such as iROKOtv, the method of consumption is constantly evolving.