Expanding Iroko in French Speaking Africa (FSA)

When Canal+ invested in Iroko, a bunch of people in the English speaking Africa world kinda scratched their heads. Canal who? Little did we know that Iroko had been distributing dubbed content across FSA since 2013. In Nigeria, for the most part, French Speaking Africa never really comes up in casual conversations. Unless we are talking domestic staff (especially cooks) and going to Cotonu to buy imported cars, we, as a people, are so inward looking that we don’t really bother to remember that both Nigeria and Ghana are literally surrounded on all sides by French speaking countries. Granted they are all pretty small, but being ~180m people in Nigeria vs ~230m across FSA one can understand a degree of naval gazing. I was guilty. I had been to Paris/Cannes x10 times in 2015 alone, but had never been to an FSA country in my life. Post the Canal+ deal, I now go several times a year. This doesn’t violate my Lagos first rule btw. It’s Lagos 1st. Maybe 2nd too. But a 100% focus? I love being Lagos focused for Android and irokotv. Over the last year, it has served us well. Nigeria is now the #1 active subscriber country for irokotv. We expect Nigeria in time to completely dominate with 80%+ of the total base.

Beyond capital, the last few weeks have really demonstrated our ambition in FSA with the launch of IROKOMUSIC (coming to the 3m DTH subscribers on Canal+ Afrique), which is a 24/7 linear tv channel focused firstly on Nigerian music and secondly on youth lifestyle. The channel launches today. In the absence of other Nigeria music channels, this is definitely an important milestone. We invited and had in attendance Chinedu Chukwuji, General Manager/CEO COSON at our launch, as we try to expand Nigerian content to new markets. Below is the cocktail party we held at Discop Abidjan in late May.

Iroko+ and Orange bundle launch. About 10 days ago we launched a bundle offer with Orange in Cameroon. Below are the team and press launches. It was a genuinely successful launch with Iroko+ hitting 50% of their month 1 target in eight days. Our product and engineering team worked on the actual integration but it was definitely supported by a major collaboration between Orange and Canal teams in country and in Paris. The offer is stupidly simple. 200 CFA (€0.30) gives you 24hrs access to Iroko+ and 300mb data of which 250mb is whitelisted and can only be used for downloading content on Iroko+ with the additional 50mb for browsing etc. Month 1 we expect tens of thousands of bundles sold alongside our very successful direct to consumer play. We are comfortably one of the largest SVOD players in FSA.

If you look at the above internet access map. Its obvious that SVOD has a really really long way to go. At Iroko, we expect the real growth to come in many years’ time. For now, we are breaking rocks and bleeding stones in order to demonstrate there is something of a market hiding there. With Beyond Data we have shown that, and the numbers attest. It’s just BD doesn’t actually scale very well. In fact its brutally inefficient to seed that thing.

Oo the High Prophet of all things internet in Nigeria and I had the exact debate above a few weeks ago when he visited the London Iroko office. The issue is that Iroko has always been an international company. We have always maintained multiple offices. So it’s natural for us to look everywhere for growth. We attempted, and failed, in South Africa back in 2012. We attempted and largely failed in East Africa in 2014. I still believe in what I told him then. It’s really difficult to manage multiple locations without a massive organisational maturity. I don’t believe Iroko is there. We are still very much immature. My leadership skills struggle when we encounter big new issues. That’s why Iroko+ works. Canal+ have thousands of people on the ground, >9,000 point of sales, deep relationships with everyone across FSA which makes launching something easy. If we had tried this alone, without the French leadership, we would have failed. Ending 2015 we had <100 subscribers coming from FSA. The app was in English after all. Duh.

But I do agree with High Prophet. Lagos-only thinking can be bad for thinking.

Like what you read? Give Jason 'Igwe' Njoku a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.