Last month, Africa’s leading film studio and international TV network ROK was acquired by French TV company Canal+ Group for an undisclosed amount.
The buyout gives ROK studios, which already reaches 15 million subscribers across DSTV and GOTV platforms on the continent, the opportunity to produce Nollywood content for CANAL+ channels in French Speaking Africa and globally.
Following the transaction, ROK founder and Director General Mary Njoku spoke to AB2020 about what the move means for Nigeria’s billion-dollar entertainment industry, and the future of Nollywood.
ROK’s acquisition by CANAL+ is the first buyout of its kind in Nollywood’s billion-dollar industry – a groundbreaking move. What does this mean for the industry in general?
This acquisition is a massive opportunity for Nollywood, especially in terms of visibility for our talent and the stories that we tell. It opens us up to more global opportunities and investments in the industry. The acquisition by CANAL+ will also expose us to more viewers across French Speaking Africa and their other global channels, which is another step towards changing the perception of Africa across the world. It will also generate more opportunities for employment in the sector.
Having produced over 540 movies and 25 original TV series, ROK is one of the most prolific production houses in Nollywood. What have been some of your most memorable moments?
My most memorable moment would have to be shooting Festac Town when I was seven months pregnant. It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. Playing producer, director and actress is not easy when you’re pregnant, but this experience taught me that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. It was quite an emotional experience, as it was a narrative that was so personal to me; and it was also my first full production.
What can you tell us about Nigeria’s entertainment sector, and your audience specifically?
Nigeria’s entertainment sector is definitely growing. We are slowly but surely becoming recognised for our craft on global stages. Ten years ago, we could only dream of where we currently are but there’s still work to be done!
Nigerians [and Africans in general] are becoming more critical of the work we put out; they can no longer deal with mediocre content. We need to constantly release quality content in order to satisfy their cravings for uniquely delivered African content. They want to see their favourite stars on-screen with new talent coming through. They want to be able to recognise classic Nollywood stories and storylines, but they also want the genre to advance – so it is always a balancing act.
Who are the key members of ROK’s team?
I’m the Director General, and then there’s all our amazing actors such as Mercy Aigbe, Efe Irele, Desmond Elliot, Bolanle Ninalowo, Chinedu Ikedieze, Annie Idibia etc, and behind the scenes staff across Accra, Lagos and London.
Can you breakdown the connection between ROK, and your husband Jason Njoku’s IROKOtv…
IROKO incubated ROK in 2013 when there was a need for the platform to begin producing its own content due to higher licensing fees from other Nollywood producers. Once we began creating content, we needed to share our work with a larger audience. ROK Studios now creates content for the IROKOtv platforms as well as ROK TV stations across Africa and the UK, and will now create content for CANAL+ platforms globally. IROKOtv is the subscription video on demand (SVOD) platform where viewers can watch Nollywood movies (produced by ROK Studios) on demand, via an app on their mobile phone or tablet, and also on their computers.
Having made such a huge impact in a relatively short time, as well as providing jobs for Nigeria’s young creatives, what would you say are some of the challenges you face in the industry – and how do you solve them?
Initially when we started it was quite difficult to build a team for both the acting and behind the scene roles, however once we had these in place it became a lot easier to manage the process. Nollywood viewers have a crazy appetite for film which means we have to keep producing because they want to see new movies every week, and this requires a strong, dedicated and reliable team [both on and off screen] in order to keep up with the demand.
What are your thoughts on the future of the industry?
More people need to become trained in the art of filmmaking. It is not just about placing random content on TV stations anymore, the work has to be meaningful and speak to the minds of young people. In order to be able to compete globally we must make the effort to educate ourselves and become better at the craft. It’s more sustainable this way!
Finish this sentence: In 2020 Africa will be…
More visible to the world through innovation in tech and entertainment.