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.
Netflix to make SA series
The world leader in streaming movies has announced the first South African production to join its Originals roster.
World leader in entertainment streaming services Netflix this week announced its first Original series in Africa, with South African series Queen Sono.
The news comes immediately in the wake of local rival Showmax announcing it’s first original drama production. In this context, it heralds a new phase in the evolution of streaming video-on-demand in South Africa.
The action-packed series follows Queen Sono, the highly trained top spy in a South African agency whose purpose is to better the lives of African citizens. While taking on her most dangerous mission yet, she must also face changing relationships in her personal life. The series will be created by Director, Kagiso Lediga and Executive producer Tamsin Andersson.
South African actress, Pearl Thusi, will star as Queen Sono, with the character having been created with her in mind. Thusi is also known for her performance in the romantic dramedy, Catching Feelings, available on Netflix.
“We are excited to be working with Kagiso and Pearl, to bring the story of Queen Sono to life, and we expect it to be embraced by our South African users and global audiences alike.” said Erik Barmack, Vice President of International Original Series at Netflix.
“We are delighted to create this original series with Netflix, and are super excited by their undeniable ability to take this homegrown South African story to a global audience. We believe Queen Sono will kick the door open for more awesome stories from this part of the world” added the director and executive producer of the series, Kagiso Lediga.
The series is due to start production in 2019.
Showmax shoots its first local drama
Showmax has completed filming its first commissioned drama, as it builds out its roster of original content.
The Girl From St Agnes, Showmax’s first original drama, wrapped on 28 November 2018 after filming in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and Johannesburg. The eight-part whodunnit premieres on Showmax on 31 January 2019. It is the second series in a programme designed to build out its roster of exclusive, original content.
As Netflix takes hold as South Africa’s preferred streaming video-on-demand service, Showmax owner MultiChoice has made a string of strategic announcements designed to take the DStv paid satellite broadcasting service into the streaming era. Original content is critical to this strategy, as Netflix is on track to become the world’s biggest movie studio.
Showmax is available in 70 countries.
“Our first Original – last year’s light-hearted comedy Tali’s Wedding Diary – had the most successful launch day of any series on Showmax ever,” says Candice Fangueiro, head of content at Showmax. “This is a complete change of direction: The Girl From St Agnes is a dark murder mystery that will keep you guessing and taps into the current conversations in South Africa about #metoo and teen sexuality.”
At St Agnes, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the Midlands, a popular and beautiful student is found dead at the base of the old mill. Fearful of the scandal it might cause, the school is quick to declare the death of Lexi Summerveld a tragic accident.
But drama teacher Kate Ballard doesn’t believe it. On the night of her death, an upset Lexi had been trying to contact her, and Kate had ignored her. Now wracked with guilt, Kate attempts to piece together the terrible truth.
The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t know Lexi or the school at all. Behind the imposing walls of St Agnes, Lexi’s killer won’t be the only person exposed…
Newcomer Jane De Wet was handpicked to play Lexi by legendary South African casting director Moonyeenn Lee (Tsotsi), who’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards in the last three years, for The Looming Tower and Roots.
Kate is played by Nina Milner, who modelled for Vogue Germany and at Paris Fashion Week last year and most recently starred in Troy: Fall Of A City as Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons.
Jane and Nina are joined by an impressive supporting cast that includes internationally recognised South African talent like Robert Hobbs (District9), Tyrone Keogh (24 Hours To Live), Tessa Jubber (Wallander), Karl Thaning (Dredd) and Shamilla Miller (Troy: Fall Of A City) opposite local favourites like Celeste Khumalo (The Queen), Richard Lukunku (Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word), Zakeeya Patel (High Rollers), Graham Hopkins (The Lab) and three-time South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) winner Jerry Mofokeng (Heist, Tsotsi), not to mention hot new talent like Paige Bonnin and Tristan de Beer.
The Girl From St Agnes is being produced by Quizzical Pictures, winners of the SAFTA for Best Drama for six of the last eight years, as well as a Peabody. Producer Harriet Gavshon, Quizzical Pictures’ managing director, is drawing on her own private school experiences, which sparked the original idea for the show. This is the first time Harriet has produced a series, rather than just executive producing, since 2009’s Hopeville, which won Best Drama and Miniseries at Rose d’Or, was nominated for an International Emmy, and was a finalist at Monte Carlo.
Catharine Cooke, who won this year’s Best Director In a TV Drama SAFTA for iNumber Number, co-directed the shoot with Cindy Lee, a commercials director helming her first drama series, having previously worked as the social media director on the Emmy-winning Black Mirror. Double SAFTA winner Gillian Breslin (Umlilo; 4Play: Sex Tips For Girls) is head writer. This makes Girl From St Agnes a rare TV series commissioned, produced, written and directed by women.
“What links Girl From St Agnes, Tali’s Wedding Diary and the other Showmax Originals in the pipeline is our aim to work with the best South African talent and be the home for brave, quirky and at times edgy local stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says Candice. “Creating new characters that audiences come to love and follow is an incredibly rewarding experience and we want to establish a platform for more ‘Tali’s’ across varied genres.”
All eight episodes can be binged on Showmax from 31 January 2019.