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iROKO brings in $19m funding

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African mobile entertainment and internet TV provider, iROKO, has announced multiple deals totalling $19m, both in content development and in capital funding.

French media giant CANAL+, together with existing investor Kinnevik AB, are investing in addition to iROKO’s own cash flow to give the African tech & entertainment company the platform to scale its operations and expand aggressively across the continent.

iROKO will channel the investment into local content financing and production, as well as its product and engineering teams in Lagos and New York. The ambition is to produce at least 300 hours of original content in 2016, with the expectation of doubling that by 2018. This will enable the company to build on its already extensive catalogue, making it arguably one of the largest libraries of local African content. The announcement also sees Jacques du Puy, President of Canal+ Overseas, join the iROKO board.

Jason Njoku, CEO and Co-founder of iROKO says: “With millions more Africans poised to come online via mobile in the coming years, our mission is to lead viewers to content they’ll love.This is something the vast majority of the continent struggles with today. We hope to bridge that divide, and this additional investment supports such a plan. For us, there is no version of reality where the marriage between Africa’s most powerful communication tool [mobile] and the most prolific and loved entertainment provider [Nollywood] won’t be a joyous union.”

Mobile phone subscriptions in Africa are almost at 1 billion and by 2019, it is predicted that smartphone handsets, with which viewers can watch content, will make up 73% of the continent’s devices.

Njoku adds: “The challenges surrounding mobile TV in Africa are mighty, but not insurmountable. It’s human to be entertained and connect over community and we are obsessed with creating Africa’s largest community around local content. We have always been crazily bold in our ambitions to bring the content closer to viewers and build a truly frictionless and inclusive entertainment experience. Today’s news improves those odds.”

Fabrice Faux, CFO of Canal+ Overseas says: “We congratulate Jason and all the iROKO team and investors for their outstanding achievement so far and we are proud to partner for the scale-up in French-Speaking Africa, with clear ambitions and the means to reach them.”

Nollywood [Nigerian Hollywood] is the world’s second largest film industry in terms of output, employs ~one million people and constitutes 1.04% of the Nigeria’s GDP. iROKO, the home of Nollywood, has previously raised $25m from international investors, including Tiger Global, Kinnevik and RISE Capital. The technology and entertainment company is a leading Nollywood film, TV, content producer and platform provider and currently has a mobile app for Africa, holds distribution deals with Canal+, BA, Emirates, Nollywood TV and Lebara and has two Linear TV channels on Africa’s Star Times.

Arts and Entertainment

Solo movie finds its feet

Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a great film if you know enough about the Star Wars universe and not so much if you’re not well acquainted with it, making it one of the less successful additions to the franchise, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story is the most enjoyable Star Wars prequels yet. The film starts in the time when Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) lived in Corellia with one of the Star Wars universe’s newest characters, Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke): she is introduced kissing Han in the first few minutes of the film. The film starts with some jokes that don’t land too well, but it quickly finds its feet in the first 10 minutes or so.

There has been some online skepticism about whether Ehrenreich could fill Harrison Ford’s Han Solo boots. He did an amazing job. The way Ehrenreich holds himself, the way he speaks, and his general character, is a perfect representation of how Solo should be: young, full of life, and hungry for justice. Solo explains how Han gets to become one of the best pilots in the universe, despite all the challenges he faces. 

It’s a great struggle story of a nobody from Corellia finding his way in the Star Wars universe. That being said, the movie has a lot more to it than just Han finding his way.

The tale begins when Han and Qi’Ra get separated, forcing him to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot alone. He is quickly led into the pits of battle, where he meets bandits and a 196-year-old (!) Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). He makes friends with the bandits and his new Wookie friend to become an intergalactic looter of a rare and expensive power source, coaxium. Along the way, Han needs help from Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

Qi’Ra’s initial appearance in Solo asserts her as one of the strongest female leads since Princess Leia. Her strong screen presence leaves one hanging onto her every word, especially when she appears later in the film. In her time alone away from Han, she mentions she learned a bit of Teras Kasi, one of the strongest form of hand-to-hand combat in the Star Wars universe. 

The great thing about this moment is that Teras Kasi has never been mentioned in any Star Wars film and was only referenced a few times in the 1997 PlayStation 1 game, Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi. This is one of the greatest, and most under-appreciated, Star Wars tie-in moments in the film.

Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) pushes the limits of defining relationships in the Star Wars universe by having a love interest in a robot, L3-37, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Solo’s writers have revealed (in a Huffington Post interview) that Lando’s character is pansexual, which can be noted from Lando flirting with anyone (and anything, if we’re not calling robots people) he meets. 

This is an extremely progressive move from the Star Wars writers, creatively expressing what is essentially a LGBT character in a science fiction universe. 

Overall, this Star Wars story is brilliant if you know enough about the Star Wars universe and less than brilliant if you’re not well acquainted with it. That being said, the box office force wasn’t exactly with Solo, which may be a sign of prequel fatigue. 

What should be next to save the Star Wars universe? Proper cool-off time before creating more Star Wars films, as we’ve seen one a year since 2015.

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Arts and Entertainment

VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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