Walk into any African hair braiding shop or store in the United States and you'll probably see a Nigerian film blaring from a television screen.
Once only available as pirated DVDs sold by street-side peddlers, the wildly popular "Nollywood" films will now be as accessible at the click of a button – thanks to fledgling firm iRoko Partners, an Internet company that distributes Nigerian films all over the world.
"When we started the company, iROKO Partners, we were trying to solve the massive, I would say, dislocation in the popularity of Nollywood and the value it's created," said Jason Njoku, founder and CEO of the company in an interview with CNN.
"A big part of what we did was actually focusing on cleaning up and organizing the content so we can provide a superior user experience, something which Nollywood lovers can really be proud of."
Known as the "Netflix of Africa," the company recently launched a new Web subscription service that allows subscribers to watch exclusive Nollywood films for $5 a month. Calling itself the "web infrastructure partners to the Nigerian entertainment industry," the company operates five Internet brands – iROKOtv, iROKING, iROKtv, NollywoodLove and YorubaLove. And, already, the company has 500,000 registered users.
"Having more than 500,000 registered users in a short space of time demonstrates that the appetite is there," Njoku told CNN. "People really love this content, which means it should be organized and given to them in the best format possible.
"We've spent a lot of money – in the industry, licenses, organizing our team, we've got a staff of 100 people – so our view is that some additional value needs to...be given to this new subscription service we're rolling out, (called) iROKOtv+."
Broadband restrictions in Africa have forced the company to focus on the 30 million-member African diaspora, with their biggest markets located in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and Germany.
But, the ultimate hope is to tap into the rich, built-in market in Nigeria. With a ripe potential market – offices in London, New York and Lagos – and having secured $8 million in funding from U.S.-based hedge fund Tiger Global, early investors in Facebook, iRoko Partners is well on the way to becoming as big as Netflix, which in April had a total estimated 26 million subscribers to its streaming service.
Said Njoku, "We are really young, as ambitious as we want to be. Are there 25 million people who love this content? Most definitely there are 25 million people in Nigeria who love this content. Are they willing to pay for it? That's the big experiment we're kind of playing now.
"So we wouldn't want to compare ourselves to Netflix but we have an interest and opportunity to at least get somewhere along that line."
(This story was featured by New America Media and reported by The Afro.)