Generally speaking, startup acquisitions across Africa are few and far between, and if you consider the entertainment and media industries, then it looks even more bleak. That's why when the news of Nigeria's ROK being acquired by France's CANAL+ are welcome and encouraging for the startup ecosystem at large. Especially considering that the Nigerian startup is four years old.

Launched in 2013 by Mary Njoku, ROK is a Nollywood studio which has grown in stature and in terms of pan-African and international viewership by reaching 15 million subscribers across MultiChoice's DSTV and GOTV platforms in Africa alone. The Nigerian startup has has produced over 540 movies and 25 original TV series, making it one of the most prolific production houses in Nollywood. Its content is also available on African video streaming platform, IROKOtv, as well as the CANAL+ and IROTOtv joint venture streaming platform for French-speaking Africa, IROKO+.

Fresh from announcing the startup's acquisition by CANAL+, I caught up with Njoku to hear more about the business of Nollywood, the CANAL+ deal, and more.

Mary Njoku, founder of ROK.

iAfrikan: If you had to give a one minute elevator pitch on ROK, what would you say?

Mary Njoku, Founder of ROK: ROK is a storytelling platform with pan-African and global appeal. Nollywood is our first love. We have grown ROK from a production house to an African entertainment brand, with three TV channels in Africa and one in the UK.

How did the idea for ROK come about?

I have only ever really worked in Nollywood - since even before University - so I know the industry inside and out. Through IROKOtv, we were licensing a lot of content from producers, but it was becoming more and more expensive; the prices for a one or two year license were becoming harder to generate a return on investment. I had always planned to move behind the camera - storytelling is my passion, so we decided to venture into content production.

Specifically, what specific problem was/is ROK solving?

ROK is delivering high quality Nollywood content, at scale, and on-budget. By at scale, I mean that Nollywood fans have a voracious appetite for new content. So far, ROK has produced over 540 movies and 25 original TV series. And in all honesty, there is appetite for even more. So we are solving the challenge of producing original Nollywood content, as well as solving the issue of distribution - via our TV channels, as well as through our SVOD partner, IROKOtv.

What were some of the challenges you experienced when starting ROK?

Because I was known as a Nollywood actress, some of the more established characters in the business were skeptical about how an actress could go behind the camera, and build a business around it; there was definitely some push back from people. However, I think this made me more resilient and even more determined to succeed. It has been an extremely hard and challenging four years - but today’s news is, I believe, evidence that it can be done.

What advice would you give media and entertainment startups in Nigeria and Africa at large?

Focus on the content, keep listening to your audience, your fans. We never make any assumptions about what people will want to watch - we ask them, we look at the data on what’s popular, we refine and we create content that they want. Content is King is an overused term in this sector - but it is true. We produced great content and it literally speaks for itself.

What trends have you observed that are key in your industry?

People like authentic stories that resonate with them. Of course, Nollywood still has a huge star system - so big names like Desmond Elliot or Mercy Aigbe or Tiwa Savage are still big pull factors, however what we’ve also seen at ROK is that our fans have appreciated the new talent that we’ve worked with and brought on board; they seem to like a mx of big name stars, as well as fresh faces gracing their screens.

Are you able to share details on the numbers of the acquisition?

We are unable to disclose the numbers.

How did the CANAL+ acquisition come about?

We have worked with Canal+ for almost five years - and in fact they invested in our content strategy back in January 2016. So they have first hand experience of what we have achieved, and how we work. And for us, it’s been great having a strategic partner, in the form of Canal+, a global media company who has incredible reach across the continent. So the deal came about as a progression of what we had already achieved together.

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