Behind a high-security gate on a side road off the frenetic Apapa Oworonshoki Expressway, in the Anthony Village district of mainland Lagos, stands a nondescript three-story concrete building. The cement is chipped and the paint on it faded. So it’s something of a surprise to find, inside on the second floor, one of the most innovative Internet companies in the world: iROKOtv.
iROKOtv is the Netflix of Africa. Just as Netflix is changing the way content is made in the United States, iROKOtv is changing African film. It’s the brainchild of Jason Njoku, 36, a handsome, brash, fast-talker born in the United Kingdom and raised by his Nigerian mother on a council estate in London.
Njoku studied chemistry at the University of Manchester, England, graduating in 2005, but he was always interested in business. While at university he started a party-promotion enterprise, then a lifestyle magazine named Brash and in 2008 a network of aspirational blogs and websites. All the projects failed. By 2009 he was back in London, living with his mother on that council estate. Which is, of course, where he got his big idea.
Njoku noticed that his mother’s TV viewing habits had changed. His mum had always watched British soap operas, but he now discovered she was watching Nollywood movies on DVD, the discs imported from Nigeria and sold out of suitcases at African grocery stores for a few pounds. The discs were of terrible quality, as were the production values of the movies, but the films struck a chord with his mum. And, it appeared, with every Nigerian in the United Kingdom: Njoku discovered you could watch the movies on YouTube, pirated versions streamable in scratchy 10-minute segments. Despite the poor quality and the fact that they violated copyright, the clips had tens of thousands of downloads. A light went on; he had an idea.