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Njoku, du Puy on Canal+ ROK deal

ROK founder Mary Njoku and Canal+ International CEO Jacques du Puy tell Content Nigeria about this week’s deal bringing ROK under the wing of the French group.

Jacques du Puy

The recent acquisition of major African film studio and international TV network ROK by French audiovisual firm Canal+ Group is a move that is geared towards strengthening the latter’s content production reach across Africa.

The deal sees Nollywood broadcaster and production studio ROK change hands for an undisclosed sum while ROK’s former owner, SVoD company Iroko Partners, takes full ownership of Francophone African SVoD platform Iroko+, which was previously a joint venture with Canal+.

Content Nigeria caught up with ROK founder Mary Njoku and Jacques du Puy, CEO of Canal+ International, to learned about the motives behind this new partnership.

Elated about the acquisition, du Puy says: “We are happy to welcome Mary Remy Njoku in the Canal+ family. We are glad to expand our activities in Africa to content production. We are proud to strengthen our channel portfolio with the popular and successful ROK channels, that will sit alongside their French sisters, Nollywood TV and Nollywood Epic.”

“I am delighted and proud,” adds Njoku, who is married to Iroko founder and CEO Jason Njoku. “The acquisition of ROK by Canal+ is a great milestone for our business and Nollywood as a whole. We are taking Nollywood to new audiences and that has always been the goal, to take our authentic African stories and share them with the world.”

Du Puy notes that the creation of Nollywood TV began some time ago. “We created Nollywood TV in 2013 after the acquisition of a Nollywood movie package from Africa Magic, part of the MultiChoice Group.

“This content immediately proved to be one of the most relevant in French-speaking Africa, and we had to partner with Iroko to ensure a regular and high-quality supply to Nollywood TV. We also sporadically bought Nollywood series from other producers in Nigeria and recently acquired a small package of premium movies to offer Canal+ subscribers in Africa a Nollywood festival on our premium channel this August.

“We have been acquiring content from Iroko ever since 2013 to feed Nollywood TV. Mary and Jason are not only partners but they are also friends now. We then invested in Iroko in 2015, becoming one of the main shareholders. There is already a long history between Canal+ and Iroko. And ROK Studios is just the largest and more successful producer and aggregator in Nigeria and Ghana,” he adds.

With this week’s deal a landmark accomplishment for the four-year-old start-up, Mary Njoku elaborates on what has propelled the success of the studio so far.

“The fans and lovers of Nollywood across the world motivate us to constantly create quality content. Nollywood fans have a voracious appetite for new content; this is why so many Nollywood films are produced each year.

“However, it is a difficult balance to maintain and develop quality at scale. I had always felt that there was a need for a studio that empowered young people to put their skills to work and create the content that we now see on our ROK, ROK2 and ROK3 channels in Africa and the UK. Now, with the fact we are working even closer with Canal+, we can take this content into French-speaking Africa and eventually the rest of the world.

“Our teams across Accra, Lagos and London cannot be left out of our success story as we all work hand in hand to make ROK story a success,” she adds.

According to both du Puy and Njoku, the deal includes the production studio as well as the four ROK-branded, English-language channels that currently air on African pay TV platforms DStv and GOtv and in the UK on Sky. Canal+ channel distribution subsidiary Thema will oversee the distribution of these channels, adding to its own Nollywood TV and Nollywood Epic channels.

Continuing her leadership role as the director general of ROK Productions, Njoku believes the content that will now be produced will be of higher quality. “With this partnership, we now have the resources to create higher-budget movies,” she says. “Our budgets are typically fairly modest, so get ready to see different types of content across all ROK platforms, including animated content – content that will cut across English- and French-speaking Africa.

“ROK will receive more resources to create content without the loss of our creative freedom. It was very important for us to retain creative rights as this is the main reason for ROK’s success today. We will develop Nollywood in French-speaking Africa and globally through Canal+’s Africa and global channels. Surely this will open more doors to other untapped parts of Africa that need to be reached. However, essentially, it will be more of the same, just at an even faster pace.”

Du Puy thinks the quality of Nollywood movies out there can be enhanced. “Talent is there and Nollywood movies are already very popular,” he says. “But it is true that the audience is more and more demanding, so the quality will progressively enhance because ROK has the unique capacity to detect, select and grow the best and newest talents in Nigeria or Ghana. In addition, we are planning to invest in technical equipment that could be lent to our associated producers.”

Both executives are preparing head-on for any challenges that may arise from this partnership. According to Njoku: “With every partnership comes challenges. However, we hope to resolve all issues amicably and as quickly as possible. We’ve been working alongside Canal+ for nearly five years now so we know how the other works, where our strengths lie, and how to get the best out of one another.”

“We first need to consolidate the leadership position of ROK Studios and go on growing the audience of the ROK channels. Then we would love to explore African kids content, which is very rare at the moment in Africa, and try to bring the Nollywood expertise to French-speaking Africa and to grow the production of daily series there,” du Puy adds.

Strengthening its position as content provider and giving it access to the entire Nollywood value chain, the deal will see Thema working with ROK as well as engage in the distribution of third-party Nollywood content to digital operators across the world; produce and distribute four channels under the ROK brand broadcasted in English-speaking Africa and the UK.

Looking forward to serving fans with more content across all platforms, Njoku says: “ROK will produce thousands of more hours of Nollywood content to deliver movies and original TV series for Canal+ Group’s audiences in French-speaking Africa. As part of the acquisition, Canal+ Group will continue to collaborate with Iroko, with non-exclusive content distribution of ROK content via the Iroko SVoD app.”

The deal, as well as moves by SVoD giants like Netflix to commission more African content for its platform, shows it’s not just African countries that are enjoying Nollywood films and TV series.

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MLW, StarTimes enter the ring

Sports media company Major League Wrestling (MLW) is set to air its TV series Major League Wrestling: Fusion on StarTimes across Africa.

Weekly episodes of the flagship hour-long programme are set to start this summer in 10 countries, including Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Sudan.

According to MLW’s founder and CEO, Court Bauer: “The African region is extremely important to Major League Wrestling and we are thrilled to begin this partnership with StarTimes to bring MLW to our fans in Africa.”

StarTimes which offers content ranging from movies to music, sports, news and documentaries, has over nine million subscribers worldwide and transmits more than 80 local and international channels.

MLW’s weekly series, featuring high-profile fighters such as Alex Hammerstone, MJF and Mance Warner, already airs in the US, Canada, UK, Israel and Puerto Rico.

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France’s Canal+ acquires ROK

France-based Canal+ Group has acquired Nollywood broadcaster and production studio ROK for an undisclosed sum as part of a move to boost its local production in Africa.

Mary Njoku

The deal was struck with ROK’s Nigeria-based parent company Iroko, which has exited the production and broadcast subsidiary while retaining full ownership of Francophone African SVoD platform Iroko+, which was previously a joint venture with Canal+.

ROK claims to reach some 15 million pay TV subscribers across the DSTV and GOTV platforms in Africa with its ROK channels and has so far produced over 540 movies and 25 original TV series, making it one of the most prolific production houses in Nollywood.

Under Canal+’s ownership, ROK will produce “thousands more hours of Nollywood content to deliver movies and original TV series” for Canal+’s audiences in French-speaking Africa, according to the French firm. The acquisition also includes ROK’s linear pay channels.

Iroko, which also owns and operates the Iroko SVoD app across Anglophone Africa and around the world, launched ROK in 2013 to produce content for its various platforms. Canal+ Group will continue to collaborate with Iroko, with non-exclusive content distribution of ROK content via Iroko’s SVoD app.

As part of the deal with Canal+, ROK founder Mary Njoku – who is married to Iroko founder and CEO Jason Njoku – will continue as director general of ROK Productions SAS, and retain a shareholding in the company.

“ROK has captured the imagination of millions of movie fans and they have truly supported us as we’ve grown the company to celebrate and enjoy our African culture,” she said.

“I’m excited to be taking our platform on the next stage of its journey with Canal+ Group, which shares our passion for creating original content and supporting new talent, and together we have ambitious plans for the future.”

Jacques du Puy, CEO of Canal+ International, added: “Through this acquisition, Canal+ Group is very happy to develop and enhance the catalogue of Nollywood content and expand the ROK brand inside and outside the African continent.”

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Sipromad takes over Africanews

Pan-African television and multilingual news media service Africanews has been bought by the Madagascar-based Sipromad Group for close to US$20m.

Ylias Akbaraly

The new headquarters of Africanews, previously a subsidiary of France-based Euronews NBC, is speculated to be at Abu Dhabi, a country that has become an important hub for international media.

The acquisition, led by group chairman Ylias Akbaraly, is part of a strategy to globalise the activities of Sipromad Group.

Africanews, which aims to give African people access to independent, trustworthy and relevant national, regional and international news has a newsroom with about 30 journalists and a team of 55 technical staff.

According to Sipromad, the deal will be finalised by the end of July.

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Discovery’s Real Time joins DStv, GOtv

Pay TV company MultiChoice has added Discovery’s entertainment channel Real Time to its DStv and Gotv services to be aired all over the continent.

Amanda Turnbull

Rolling out today, Real Time features programmes that depict real-life stories, crime, medicine and nature.

According to Amanda Turnbull, VP and general manager for Discovery in Africa and the Middle East, Discovery will be offering world-class content to more African viewers including a personalised channel targeted at the modern African woman and her family.

She said: “Discovery is incredibly excited to present Real Time to a broader audience in the market and to further diversify and expand the brand’s local portfolio offering.”

Yolisa Phahle, MultiChoice’s CEO of general entertainment, said: “MultiChoice is excited to welcome the new channel which will give viewers access to a wide variety of entertaining television shows from Discovery.”

Real Time was recently added to DStv for its subscribers in South Africa, to the Chinese StarTimes in Africa and also to the StarTimes StarSat brand in South Africa.

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M6 sets up in French-speaking Africa

French broadcaster M6 Group is planning to launch a service in French-speaking Africa under the name M6 International.

Nicolas de Tavernost

The new company will operate in TV production and broadcasting, radio and digital offering M6 content, said the group CEO Nicolas de Tavernost.

Since acquiring Lagardère’s TV business for €215m, M6 aims to expand and develop its activities internationally, leveraging the global distribution expertise of its TV business.

M6 now owns Lagardère’s DTT, kids and pay TV channels broadcasting in French-speaking Africa, the Middle East and Russia.

The deal will be finalised by the end of July by French TV regulator the CSA as soon as it is approved by the French competition authority.

M6 Group has invested €450m in acquisitions including radio station RTL France as part of its strategy to become a multimedia business.

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StarTimes to air live ICC matches

Pay TV company StarTimes is gearing up to broadcast the pre-season tournament of the upcoming International Champions Cup football competition.

All 18 matches, taking place between July 17 and August 10, will be broadcast live in HD on StarTimes World Football channel 245 and Sports Premium channel 246.

The tournament brings together some of the biggest clubs in football and enables them to play friendly matches all over the world.

The major clubs playing this year include Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Fiorentina and Guadalajara of Mexico.

StarTimes is the official broadcaster of the ICC tournament for Sub-Saharan Africa.

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NTA, NCC campaign against piracy

The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) have linked up to launch a copyright awareness and enforcement campaign in a bid to stamp out broadcast piracy.

Ibn Muhammed

The news was revealed during the visit of the director general of the NCC, John Asein, to the NTA’s headquarters in Abuja.

The NCC acknowledged the contribution of the creative industries to Nigeria’s socio-economic development and also celebrated copyright owners.

Asein urged the NTA to imbibe a culture of respect for copyright in Nigeria and to educate people to instill zero tolerance for piracy in Nigeria.

He said: “The NCC and NTA would work together to do an intellectual property audit of NTA rights and the NCC would intensify its enforcement measures to shut down the copyright infringement outlets in unauthorised hotels, TV stations and airports, among many others.”

According to the DG of NTA, Ibn Muhammed: “Piracy will decrease with more public enlightenment and the NTA will support the NCC in its campaign to educate Nigerians on the values of respect for copyright and the legal implications of the piracy of protected creative works.”

He added that the NTA will partner with the NCC to secure its assets across the country and also ensure that an improved broadcasting environment is created and regulated by Nigeria’s laws.

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Kwesé TV goes into administration

Econet Media’s Kwesé TV pay television business has been placed in administration as a result of the challenges it has faced in several countries.

Joseph Hundah

The news comes soon after subscribers to the Kwesé Play streaming platform received a message on their screens saying Econet has dropped it for technical reasons.

Consequently, customers no longer have access to its streaming service, Kwesé Iflix, according to reports.

In an effort to revive the business, the administration process will be handled and managed by accountants Ernst & Young, said CEO Joseph Hundah.

“Kwesé’s free-to-air business was too small to sustain the financial burden of its satellite operations, which led to the decision to negotiate with creditors,” he said.

“The company struggled with the foreign currency restrictions in Zimbabwe, who stopped recognising the US dollar, South African Rand and other foreign currencies as legal tender in June in a bid to curb black-market trading.

“The group’s inability to exit money out of Zimbabwe has had an impact on the business.”

He added that Kwesé TV’s FTA business, Kwesé Free TV, which received a licence from communications regulator Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in March, would continue operating in the rest of Africa, and that no other business in the Econet group is affected by the administration process.

ICASA has given Kwesé 24 months to launch the service, a time frame set to elapse in March 2021. Other shareholders in Kwesé Free TV include Royal Bafokeng Metix (45%) and Mosong Capital (35%).

Econet Media is owned by Strive Masiyiwa. Roku-powered Kwesé Play launched in 2018.

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Tiso Blackstar sells African media interests

Media company Tiso Blackstar Group intends to sell its media and broadcast businesses in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana to a black-owned investment company in South Africa for US$71m.

In a statement, Tiso said that the acquisition by Lebache Investment Group would “ensure continuity of the business while retaining key management, and Tiso has confidence that the current business strategy is one that is sound and viable.

“We believe there will be further opportunities to grow the assets through the acquisition and by increasing its market share.”

The business, which deals with print, TV, digital, films and radio, will instead focus on its remaining investments and businesses.

Tiso Blackstar is a global company with its roots in Africa, operating media, broadcast and retail marketing properties. The group has strong exposure to the rapidly growing digital, broadcast and mobile markets, with a leading position in South Africa and a broad footprint across Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

The sale is expected to be finalised by the end of November.

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Nigerian trio join Oscars academy

From left: Filmmakers Tunde Kelani and Chinonye Chukwu and actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

The US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has invited three more Nigerians to become members in an effort to include more people of different races and colour in the academy.

The move was a result of the uproar after the Academy’s 2015 Oscars ceremony when no people of colour, Hispanics or Asians were among the nominees. This year it invited 842 new members, half of them women and 29% coloured.

The new members of Nigerian descent are director Tunde Kelani, who is currently working on a film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s novel The Lion & the Jewel; British-Nigerian actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who has appeared in films such as The Bourne Identity and Thor: The Dark World; and Nigerian-American filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu, who became the first black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s biggest prize for her movie Clemency.

Last year Nigerian actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and filmmaker Femi Odugbemi were invited to join the academy.

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MultiChoice picks up four marketing awards

Pay TV operator MultiChoice has won four awards at the Brands and Advertising Awards of Excellence held in Lagos.

Martin Mabutho

The annual ceremony, organised by Marketing Edge and themed ‘Story telling as a new paradigm shift in contemporary brand building: Convergence of creativity and technology,’ was aimed at celebrating the most innovative minds in the integrated marketing communications industry.

The company won the Outstanding Entertainment Services Provider of the Decade award, while its DStv and GOtv brands received the Outstanding Pay-TV Brand of the Decade and Innovative Digital Terrestrial Television Brand of the Year awards respectively.

Martin Mabutho, MultiChoice Nigeria’s chief customer officer, also received the Outstanding Brand Personality of the Year award.

John Ajayi, CEO of Marketing Edge, said: “Our resolve to recognise and reward our deserving awardees, peers and gladiators – some of them personalities and institutions that have contributed tremendously to the nation – is a result of, and in sync with, our raison d’être, which is promoting the brand idea.”

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MTN offers 4G+ internet in major cities

Telecoms company MTN Nigeria has begun offering faster internet speeds by launching 4G+ in major cities including Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt.

The new service will offer a much higher broadband speed, regular connection and improvements in indoor coverage.

MTN is using 800MHz spectrum for the 4G+ launch in an effort to extend the reach and capacity of its data network in Nigeria and enable speeds of up to 200Mbps.

MTN subscribers using 4G+ should find that downloads will work at a much faster rate than before.

According to Mazen Mroue, CEO of MTN: “The launch of 4G+ represents a natural evolution from MTN’s already fast and reliable 4G network and further demonstrates the company’s commitment to continued investment in technology that caters to the present and future needs of its customers and country.

“At MTN, we believe that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. With this enhancement, our customers in covered locations can expect faster downloads and uploads, and better browsing and streaming experiences.”

To activate the service, customers need a compatible mobile device as well as an MTN standard 4G SIM card.

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Star Wars’ Boyega stars in BBC drama

British-Nigerian Star Wars actor John Boyega will star in Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s BBC1 drama Small Axe (6×60′) next year.

John Boyega

The UK public broadcaster’s show, which also stars Black Panther actor Letitia Wright, tells five different stories over six episodes set in London’s West Indian community between the 1960s and 80s.

The series is executive produced by Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios and McQueen for Lammas Park. Shooting began on location in London on June 24.

The drama was commissioned by Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, and the executive producer for the BBC is Lucy Richer, senior commissioning editor for drama. BBC Studios is handling worldwide sales.

McQueen, who is also the show’s executive producer, said: “I felt these stories needed to be shared. I wanted to relive, re-evaluate and investigate the journeys that my parents and the first generation of West Indians went on to deliver me here today, calling myself a black British person. What’s important about our stories is that they are local but at the same time global.

“I think audiences will identify with the trials, tribulations and joy of our characters as well as reflecting on the present environment in which we find ourselves. The dynamic nature of the series allows us to confront injustice in the face of adversity.”

Boyega has appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film adaptation of the hit novel A Naked Singularity, sci-fi romance Hold Back the Stars and also produced South African thriller God is Good. McQueen’s credits include Widows and Twelve Years A Slave.

Production is currently underway on location in London. Small Axe is newly formed production company Turbine Studios’ first project. The company was set up last year by producers Scoffield and Tanner alongside Andrew Eaton (The Crown, The Trip) and Justin Thomson (The Fall, Death Comes To Pemberley).

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Total BBNaija prizes upped to N60m

Reality TV show Big Brother Naija, which starts its fourth season on June 30, has revealed the winner of this year’s show will receive a N30m cash prize and a total prize worth N60m.

This is an increase on last year’s show when winner Miracle Ikechukwu Igbokwetook home N45m worth of prizes.

John Ugbe, CEO of the show’s broadcaster, MultiChoice, said: “Each edition of Big Brother Naija significantly improves on all aspects of the previous season and this year is no different.

“The winner of season four will walk away from the house with a N30m cash prize and a top-of-the-range SUV, amongst many other exciting prizes.

“The Big Brother Naija winner will also emerge as the most popular and marketable personality on the continent, as the show is known to launch prominent careers in arts, entertainment and other supporting industries.”

In addition, the winner will win a trip to Dubai, a home makeover, a year’s supply of Pepsi and One Africa Fest VIP experience, a year’s supply of Indomie noodles and Munch it, a new Oppo smartphone and also a bonus prize of two VIP tickets to a European football final, courtesy of BET9ja

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BON, BMA line up media convention

The fourth annual Digital Broadcast Media Convention is set to take place on August 27 and 28 in Lagos.

Godfrey Ohuabunwa

The event is a collaboration between the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) and Broadcast Media Africa (BMA).

This year’s event was announced in a joint statement by BON chairman Godfrey Ohuabunwa and Benjamin Pius, publisher of BMA. It is supported by Nigerian producers’ association ITPAN and advertisers’ association MIPAN.

Described as promoting “a vibrant broadcast industry for a convergent media environment,” the event will bring together television and radio broadcasters, content providers, solution providers, regulators and industry executives to network, gather market information and find solutions to business issues.

The Digital Broadcast Media Convention is aimed at CEOs, privately owned broadcasting organisations, broadcast solution providers, public service broadcasting organisations, broadcast signal and platform managers, ministerial and government departments, regulators and policymakers.

For further information on the event, click here.

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Brotherhood debuts on Nigerian TV

A new documentary series focusing on male entrepreneurs has debuted on Accelerate TV in Nigeria, in partnership with YouTube.

Brotherhood: Ring of Fire, produced by Nigerian filmmaker Kemi Adetiba, showcases a group of men who reveal their stories of success, disappointment and failure, and explain how they overcame challenges.

According to a post on the channel’s Instagram page, those featuring in the series include business consultant Fela Durotoye, chef Fregz (aka Gbubemi Fregene), recording artist Lynx, fashion stylist Noble Igwe and producer Godfrey Ibeakanma.

Others include Real Livestock MD Shola Ladoja, Club Escape founder Richard Nnadi and the founder of Tech Advance, Edmund Olotu.

The series comes after Adetiba’s series about female entrepreneurs, King Woman, and can be seen on Thursdays on Accelerate TV.

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Abudu to chair International Emmy event

Filmmaker and CEO of EbonyLife TV Mo Abudu is to chair the 47th International Emmy Awards Gala on November 25 in New York.

Mo Abudu

She took to her Instagram page to make this announcement, saying: “I am honoured to chair the 47th International Emmy Awards Gala that celebrates extraordinary television producers from all over the globe. I would like to thank the International Emmy Awards for this honour and opportunity.

“As producers, we are in a unique position to share fresh, authentic and original stories with a global audience. Our content is not limited by language or culture. Viewers want to see stories that reflect their everyday lives which can be found everywhere.”

The International Emmy Awards are bestowed by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in recognition of the best television programmes initially produced and aired outside the US.

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Filmmaker Project picks top five

Finalists in the 2019 Accelerate Filmmaker Project

The third edition of the Accelerate Filmmaker Project has selected its top five entries.

Twenty-five participants were trained by Nigeria’s top film industry professionals in production design and art direction; cinematography; editing; script writing and character development; and directing last week.

The initiative, set up by African entertainment portal Accelerate TV, aims to sharpen the skills of Nigeria’s young aspiring filmmakers and give them the opportunity to make their own short films. These will debut at Nigeria’s AFRIFF 2019 film festival and will also be made available on Accelerate TV.

A post on Accelerate TV’s Instagram page said: “The final five filmmakers emerging from the Accelerate Filmmaker Project 2019… which means five dope short films are coming to you this year!”

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Football Reality Show puts squad together

Talent series The Dream Football Reality Show is holding auditions in various Nigerian cities for aspiring young footballers who wish to appear in the second season.

Aimed at helping young male players aged from 13 to 18 across Africa to chase a career in the professional game, the new season will air on NTA and TVC.

The first player screening event will take place in Warri on July 6, the second in Enugu on July 7 and the third in Port Harcourt on July 9.

A statement on the show’s Instagram page stated: “If we can touch one life it makes all the difference. And if we can give this opportunity to as many kids as possible then it makes all the difference. We will continue to put our best foot forward in developing grassroots football.”

The Dream Football Reality Show was created by professional photographer and filmmaker Abu Salami, whose dream to pursue a career in football was never acheived due to the lack of opportunities.

To register for the auditions, click here.

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