Sunday, 21 August 2011

Nigerian Internet Entrepreneur Takes Nollywood To The World

Nigerian-born Jason Njoku is at the vanguard of Nollywood's digital revolution. (Nollywood, remember, is Nigeria's booming movie industry.) In his early thirties, Jason is the founder of NollywoodLove, a YouTube channel that streams the most recent Nigerian movies for audiences scattered across the world. In less than a year since launching, Njoku has built one of Nigeria's most recognizable web brands from his base in Lagos. NollywoodLove is the most subscribed YouTube channel in Nigeria, and upload views are heading toward the 50 million mark. NollywoodLove is also profitable, though its founder politely declines to reveal revenue and net income figures.
I chatted with him via email recently, where he recounted his startup story, and voiced his thoughts about the future of Nigeria's movie industry.

You started NollywoodLove in September 2010, but in less than a year, you've built one of Nigeria's most renowned web brands. NollywoodLove already attracts more than 1.2 million views from some 230 countries on a monthly basis- an unprecedented record for a Nigerian web brand. How did NollywoodLove start? What inspired the conception of NollywoodLove, and how did you manage to make a runaway success of it so quickly?

To be honest I have been completely overwhelmed by the scale and speed of NollywoodLove's success. In November last year it was me alone in my bedroom. Now it's a much bigger project than I ever really anticipated. Nollywood as a phenomenon has been one of most underappreciated social, cultural and economic movements coming out of Africa. I believe that Nollywood is Nigeria's national treasure-an amazing way to crystallize our culture, aspirations and attitudes today. My goal in starting NollywoodLove was to support the industry from a distribution and infrastructure standpoint by instilling the basic building blocks to help push Nollywood amongst the only real competing film industries: Bollywood and Hollywood.

The demand was always there. I simply made it easy for Nollywood fans globally to re-connect with their heritage and culture. Mixing the world's number one video sharing platform (YouTube) with Africa's most popular content was a potent mix. Anybody anywhere globally can access a plethora of Nollywood movies within seconds. That is the power of super distributing content on the Internet. Our success is merely a barometer of the success of Nollywood as an industry.

Can you give me some insight into your business model? Your website streams the latest Nigerian movies. How do you do it? Does your company have a partnership with these movie producers, or do you pay a licensing fee to enable you host these movies on your site?

Our licensing deals vary massively but ultimately they are bedded in the view of ourselves as legal online partners of Nollywood, so we work with production houses to make the online economics viable as both a marketing and monetization channel. It is tough both evangelizing and executing on this vision as piracy for many years has driven the economic dynamism behind Nollywood, shaping and mutating Nollywood to what we have now. Our model is still evolving; we are currently utilizing the awesome YouTube partnership programme which relies on advertising to spread far and wide the beauty of Nigerian culture to anyone with an Internet connection.

It is still very early and we are nowhere near the stage where we are solving the online (and offline) piracy issues. Thankfully after paying the production houses we have enough to fund our operations.

Has NollywoodLove raised financing from any venture capital firms? Or is the company entirely financed with your own funds?

NollywoodLove is not financed by any VC or PE (private equity) firms; the company was entirely financed with cash flow from operations and founder's funds.

Do you think Nollywood will ever get as big as Hollywood?

Hollywood is 100+ years old. Nollywood is at most 20 years old. Piracy was never as big a problem in the infancy of both Bollywood and Hollywood compared to which Nollywood has to compete with today, not to mention the complete lack of copyright protection and enforcement globally for their content. We have not even seen the true potential of Nollywood yet. Remember Nollywood has a 'local' market of sub-Saharan Africa which is almost one billion people. Hollywood is more culturally and commercial geared for global audiences. Nollywood will never have that super mass appeal. So in that sense I don't believe Nollywood will actually be as big as Hollywood, and that is due in large part to the simple economics of global wealth dispersal, but Nollywood needs to chart its own course of self sustainable both creatively and commercially.

Where do you see Nollywood in the next ten years?

Ten times more awesome than it is today. Seriously.

Any advice for upcoming African tech entrepreneurs?

I would say Africa is the final frontier for BIG opportunities. African entrepreneurs should look to create real value, real business' and change in Africa. From a media and technology standpoint we need to stop attempting to build the 'African twitter' but focus on using technology to solve real problems for consumers. Just get started and figure it out yourselves.

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