NEWS BRIEF: Nollywood drama The Set Up, produced by Niyi Akinmolayan, has this week begun streaming on global SVoD service Netflix.
The Set Up follows a woman who is drawn into a web of deceit when she is hired by a socialite to assist with his scheme to marry a wealthy heiress. It features Nollywood actors including Dakore Akande, Adesua Etomi, Jim Iyke, Tina Mba and Joke Silva and is coproduced by Chinaza Onuzo and Isioma Osaje for Inkblot Productions.
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.
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.
British-Nigerian actor Jimmy Akingbola, a regular in US dramas Arrow and NCIS, has urged global SVoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon to tap into the burgeoning creativity in Nigeria.
Speaking to Content Nigeria during the LA Screenings last week, Akingbola said: “There’s so much talent coming out of Nigeria at the moment, it’s such an exciting time. In terms of content, if I was Apple, Facebook, Netflix or Amazon, I would see the potential in that market and want to engage with Nigerian creatives and see what content is coming out of there.”
He added: “These places are huge and sometimes people forget how big these markets are and their desire for content that’s not just international but that reflects them as well. If they can engage with a country on its domestic level and also its outward ambition then the potential is so exciting.”
As well as US dramas Arrow, Scorpion and NCIS, Akingbola has appeared in UK series including Holby City, Rev and Death in Paradise. He was born in London to Nigerian parents but has since moved to LA.
Akingbola is also one of the founders of Triforce Creative Network, an organisation aiming to help the TV and film industry to discover diverse talent via showcases for actors, writers and film festivals.
Nigerian rapper and comic Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz, will feature in an original TV drama series from BLK Prime, a Silicon Valley-based subscription VoD platform.
Falz has announced he will be making his Hollywood debut on BLK Prime’s TV series Church. He will play lead character William Randolph Church, a charismatic Nigerian billionaire.
Falz, star of popular Nigerian TV series Jenifa’s Diary, said he is enthusiastic about this new role. “I am so excited to introduce my character to audiences around the world and to be a part of BLK Prime’s mission of offering diverse streaming entertainment worldwide.”
In a statement, Scott Scherer, senior VP of BLK Prime, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Falz. With millions of fans around the world and nearly three million Instagram followers, Falz has proven to be a gifted performer with the ability to captivate an audience. Church is a complex character that will showcase Falz in a way audiences have never seen him before.”
Church is set to premiere worldwide on BLK Prime before the end of June. Falz made the announcement to his Instagram followers on Friday.
In 2016, Falz won the Africa Movies Viewer’s Choice Awards for Best in a Comedy Series/Movie, making him the first musician to win the award.
Backed by EFC Investment Group, BLK Prime is an SVoD platform based in California and is available on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Prime streaming services.
Econet Media-backed pan-African entertainment company Kwesé has acquired an undisclosed stake in SVoD service iflix, based in Malaysia.
Kwesé, which already had a distribution deal with iflix in Africa, has acquired what is being described as a “significant stake” in iflix’s African operation. Further details have not been revealed.
Iflix will now become the “core” mobile offering for the pay TV operator, providing local African series and international programming to viewers.
Kwese said the deal would allow it to offer “an exceptional mobile offering for consumers on the continent.”
Strive Masiyiwa, Econet Group’s founder and executive chairman, said: “We are thrilled to deepen our operating partnership with iflix to lead the transformation of media in Africa.
“Our companies share a mutual passion for innovation, along with a deep understanding of the culture and evolution of digital businesses. Mobility in content consumption has grown exponentially in Africa and by partnering with iflix Africa we are ensuring that we are not only taking part in the evolution, but are leading the movement.”
Mark Britt, iflix Group’s co-founder and CEO, described the deal as “a huge milestone” for his company.
“Following the initial phase of building our business in Africa, we have seen tremendous growth across our operating markets, far exceeding our expectations. Econet’s deep experience and success in media and telecoms will be a huge advantage and enable us to continue to grow rapidly.”
Kwesé is present in 13 countries while iflix claims to be available to more than one billion consumers in 24 territories throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Last year, iflix secured a US$133m funding round with investors including US media giant Hearst. Existing shareholders such as US cable giant Liberty Global and European pay TV operator Sky were also part and have increased their investments in Netflix’s rival.
Last year’s round took the total funding raised by iflix in 2017 to more than US$220m. The firm launched in May 2015.
The company has also been agreeing distribution partnerships with telecommunications operators to bundle the iflix service with customers’ mobile and data subscriptions.
The Yuletide season has brought about many special offers and discount prices from companies in Nigeria, the latest coming from MultiChoice.
The pay TV company is now offering free viewing of the Showmax channel on its premium bouquet on pay TV platform DStv until January 7.
Naspers-owned Showmax is an online SVoD service that offers a wide range of TV series and blockbuster movies. It launched in South Africa in 2015 and has expanded to 36 countries in Africa a year later.
Martin Mabutho, general manager of marketing and sales at MultiChoice Nigeria, said the company is committed to providing subscribers of its pay TV with the best services and innovation.
“Our mission has always been to be at the forefront of digital and technological innovation and stay in line with global trends by providing our customers with the latest technologies. Showmax provides customers access to the latest movies and series at their fingertips,” he said.
Customers who are interested in viewing Showmax on DStv must subscribe to the Premium bouquet. A Showmax subscription also allows customers to watch on two devices simultaneously.