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July 15, 2013

Nigeria's Film Industry Enters S. African Market

by Peter Cox

Nigeria turns out full length feature films at a rate second to only India. Nollywood, the movie-making industry of Nigeria - known for shoe-string budgets and lax editing - is now maturing in quality and looking to expand its reach. iROKOtv, a website that streams movies and also a DVD distributor, has just entered the South African market - hoping to gain new interest, new customers and establish a strong African foothold for Nollywood films outside of Nigeria.

At the C.C. African Shop and Supermarket in central Johannesburg, there is a stand full of iROKO-branded Nollywood movies set up next to a heavily fortified cash register.

Charity Udeze, the shop’s owner, says iROKO approached her to sell its movies because the neighborhood has a lot of Nigerian immigrants and she keeps her shelves full of Nigerian beans and plantains not always found in Johannesburg shops.

"They came and approached us that we should advertise it and sell it for them…. They have sold many of it anyway. From here we have sold up to 50 pieces," she explained.

iROKO has offices in Lagos, London and New York - all places where it has a significant customer base. But now the company has turned its hopes to South Africa.

"In general yes, we want to grow everywhere," admitted Genevieve Dumorne, the director of the new Johannesburg office for iROKO.

"The continent is definitely our growth strategy, like where we would like to make an imprint, and then have people come to know our name. And also come to know our products…. So South Africa is one of the first places outside of Nigeria that we would like to grow that base."

iROKO opened offices in Johannesburg in January and launched a DVD distribution operation in June.

The Nigerian movie business, Nollywood, turns out more 1,000 movies a year. The movies are shot on small budgets and are notoriously lengthy, dealing with issues like greed, faith, relationships and crime.

The South African market isn't brand new to Nollywood movies, but the often pirated movies have usually been hawked by street vendors or streamed online through iffy websites.

Dumorne said that's where iROKO is hoping to make its name.

"What we did bring to the table is the higher level of quality," Dumorne noted. "If you go to our website it's not going to be some shady Nigerian website that you are afraid to watch because it will download malware or spam on your computer."

The company is following the models of the popular American sites Netflix and Hulu, which stream television shows and movies online.

But in order to do that, iROKO made some changes to its strategy.

South African Internet can be slow, expensive and unreliable. So the company is offering up DVDs of the movies usually set behind the site's paywall, in hopes of enticing South African customers to become Nollywood fans.

The DVDs are edited down from a three to five hour length to about two hours, something more digestible for someone new to the Nollywood phenomenon, Dumorne explained.

At CC African Shop, Udeze said the clientele isn't just Nigerian.

"South Africans, they love it a lot… Even if they are not Nigerians. South Africans, they love watching them, they do buy them," she said.

For Nollywood, that's good news.