Sarah Lacy delves into Iroko TV’s Jason Njoku: “This entrepreneur is hardcore”

Wilfred Okiche

Online platform, Irokotv, is the biggest collection of Nollywood movies ever gathered in one place at a particular time. They boast of popular and obscure home video titles that date as far back as the ‘Living in Bondage’ era and at least, till June this year viewers can view these titles in their entirety free of charge.

What Irokotv does isn’t magic; it is actually a painstakingly dedicated process. They go out into major movie markets, invite the producers and copyright owners, bargain with them and the owners transfer their copyright to them. They then improve on these movies, make them a little, scratch that, a lot more appealing. The graphics unit rework the posters and film jackets, make them more eye-catching, another unit is there to convert the films into a superior format than the original and enter the necessary information in a database like the IMDB model. They then upload the movies and live stream for a ready audience of millions, the biggest of which is in the United States.

When Google decided to open a Nigerian channel of the wildly popular online broadcast media, YouTube, it seemed only fitting that they hook up with Irokotv, the country’s largest movie market for content. And for a while, their’s was a sweet deal. Months down the line however, there were reports of discontent and discord from both parties, accusations and counter accusations with Irokotv insisting that Google was not living up to it’s end.

According to Irokotv’s founder, Jason Njoku, for all the millions of traffic generated by Irokotv (150 million views last year with a potential for hitting 250million at the end of this year),Google still does not understand the Nigerian market.

A typical example is in the advertising model. To generate income, YouTube places advertisement every 15mins and while this may bring in the cash, it makes the whole movie watching process tedious and over long. Multiple requests by Njoku to cluster various ads at the start of a film like YouTube allows for some other clients with even fewer traffic levels were turned down.

Also because he is doing business in Nigeria, peculiar problems arise. Large internet companies tend to automatically cancel accounts with a Nigerian IP address and he Irokotv kept having their accounts wiped clean regularly even as they were paying daily for paid search keywords.

Njoku then made a decisive move and shut down his revenue generating YouTube channel and is now in the process of migrating content. The big idea is to open a stand-alone site using Amazon web services, Ooyala and other video networks. While things have been difficult, at least Ooyala has been able to accommodate the unique needs of the company and Irokotv has in turn, shot up the web rankings, becoming one of Ooyala’s top 20 sites.

More challenges still persist but in all this, Njoku’s resolve remains unflinching as he strives to build a world-class brand. In an interview with PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy, he stresses in his matter: “we did $1.3million in revenues last year. We are the largest internet company in Lagos by any definition. We want to be Nigeria’s Netscape.” And he is as hungry for success as he was when he first started out. He tells Lacy, “My people- wherever they are in the world love what we’ve done. As long as I have that, we’re going to be ok.’’


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