MediaFile

African Web video service Iroko raises more funds, targets cable TV

A store in Nairobi, Kenya selling Nollywood movies (Photo: Reuters)

Iroko Partners, an online distributor of African movies and music, has raised another $2 million in its latest round of funding from a Swedish venture capital group as it seeks to take the service to cable and satellite TV partners in the U.S. and Europe.
The Lagos, Nigeria-based company raised the funds from Sweden’s Kinnevik, an early investor in Groupon Inc. Iroko previously raised $8 million from U.S.-based hedge fund Tiger Global in April as investors in emerging markets seek to tap into one of the fastest growing movie businesses in the world.

Kinnevik investments head, Henrik Persson, said his firm, which has invested in African telecoms, sees tremendous opportunity in African media and online services. “It has very low penetration and we see a really strong growth trend. He added: “A part of our investment philosophy is that we think that the perceived risk is higher than the real risk in this market..what people see as a lack of opportunity is a lack of supply.”

Iroko has focused on forming partnerships with most of Nigeria’s leading filmmakers for distribution on its own platform as well as with major partners like Google Inc’s YouTube.
Though the majority of Iroko’s operations are based in Lagos, it also has set up offices in London and New York.
Founder Jason Njoku said the majority of the company’s revenues come from users across the African Diaspora in the United States, Britain and Canada and other countries outside the continent.
The Nigerian movie industry is now widely acknowledged as the third largest after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood in terms of the number of movies produced. While so-called Nollywood movies are typically distributed within Nigeria and around the world on DVD or Video-CD discs, Njoku spotted a gap in the market to digitize the movies for online distribution. Most of the Web viewers have been in developed countries with fast-enough Internet traffic speeds to enable video streaming.
The company’s revenues are predominantly generated through advertising around the movies. But in July it launched a monthly subscription with the promise of earlier windows for fans to catch new films without advertising.
Since launching two weeks ago the subscription service Iroko TV has signed up just under 5,000 paying subscribers according to Njoku. It already had 560,000 registered users since the Iroko TV service launched in January.
“Our users have such an intense relationship with the content, they spend hours watching.”
Njoku said the new funding will focus primarily on helping expand operations outside Nigeria. He said the next stage for the company is to find ways of licensing its partners’ content to cable, satellite TV companies and international airlines.
“The Internet is one of the most poorly monetized platforms for content,” said Njoku. “Since we’re platform-agnostic it would be mad for us not to try and form relationships with TV.”
Iroko sees itself as a global business with pan-African roots so it is also looking to license more movies and other content from around Africa from countries like Ghana and Kenya among others.

Filmgoers to eat up more ‘Hunger Games’

By the size of last weekend’s lines, you’d think everyone had already seen “The Hunger Games.” But box office watchers are predicting another big turnout for the post-apocalyptic action movie this weekend.  

The record-setting Lions Gate blockbuster that stormed into theaters last Friday should pull in another $60 million or more in the United States and Canada, according to a forecast from Hollywood.com.

 

A tally like that would land the movie about teens forced to fight to the death among the top second-weekend performers of all time. “Hunger Games” would rank seventh on that list if it hits $60 million, according to website Box Office Mojo. The record for second-weekend ticket sales belongs, unsurprisingly, to 2009′s “Avatar.” That movie took in $75.6 million during its second weekend and went on to become the highest-grossing film ever.

Apple sightings…at your local cineplex

Searching for Apple’s secret sauce? Perhaps you need look no further than Hollywood for the key to their runaway success over the past decade.

According to the advertising mavens at brandchannel.com, the consumer electronics titan’s products — Macs, iPods, iPhones — cameo-ed in almost a third (10) of the 33 movies that topped the U.S. box-office charts in 2010, ranking first among all product placements last year. Nike, Chevrolet and Ford tied in second place.

Underscoring the broad-based appeal of the company’s gadgets, its devices manifested themselves in movies as diverse as family flicks from “Little Fockers” to “Tangled”, and in gritty art-house fare from “The Town” to “The Social Network”.

“Jackass 3D” tops “Avatar” on Viacom Chief’s movie list

Viacom Chief: Favorite 3D movie not Avatar

“My favorite 3D movie of all time is Jackass 3D,” Viacom’s Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said on Wednesday at  Reuters Global Media Summit. The movie, which grossed $116 million in the United States, according to Box Office Mojo was  “relatively low cost” and “significantly profitable,” Dauman said.  “You’ll see more of that coming.” 

What else might the future hold for Viacom in 3D? Possibly Snooki.

Reuters Breakingviews columnist Rob Cox asked Dauman if audiences can  soon expect a Jersey Shore in the third dimension.

“I’d love to see that,” Dauman said, “Gym, tan and laundry in 3D.”

Earlier this month, Viacom said it is selling Harmonix, the video game publisher behind Rock Band and this year’s  Microsoft Kinect hit “Dance Central.”  Dauman said the sale is proceeding swifty but declined to divulge details prospective buyers.  Media Summit  guest chief executives Bobby Kotick and Strauss Zelnick  from Activision Blizzard and Take-Two  respectively, said they’re not interested.

Blockbuster gets kicked when it’s down by cable companies

Blockbuster storeIt’s a tough time to be a video rental store owner wherever you are, but it’s especially tough if you’re Blockbuster Inc and have 6,500 stores to manage, thousands of employees, expensive debt repayments and a sinking share price.

Yesterday Blockbuster warned for the first time that it may need to file for bankruptcy protection and its auditors at Pricewaterhouse raised doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern.

It doesn’t get any worse than that right? No, it does.

According to a story we spotted today from Hollywood Reporter, movie studios and cable companies are joining forces for a $30 million advertising campaign over the coming months to promote awareness of movies available on cable’s video on demand services.

Friday media highlights

Here are some of the day’s stories on the media industry:

Movie studios try to harness “Twitter effect” (Reuters)
“Audiences are voicing snap judgments on movies faster and to more people than ever before on Twitter, and their ability to create a box office hit or a flop is forcing major studios to revamp marketing campaigns. The stakes are especially high this summer season when big budget movies like “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which opened on Wednesday, play to a core audience of young, plugged-in moviegoers,” writes Alex Dobuzinskis.

Sun-Times chief optimistic about sale of company (Chicago Tribune)
But, Michael Oneal writes: “In a court filing last week, creditors in the Sun-Times’ bankruptcy case raised concerns about the sale efforts, noting that the company has “limited time” before it “can no longer sustain the losses being incurred from operations.” They warned that unless a buyer is found soon, “time could run out, or a buyer could be located that would only pay a fire-sale price.”

Goldman makes peace with blogger in trademark case (Reuters)
“The agreement required blogger Michael Morgan to post a disclaimer on his goldmansachs666.com website, saying it has no affiliation with the financial firm. Morgan, a Florida investment adviser, uses his blog — whose name combines Goldman’s name with numbers used to evoke connotations with the devil — to criticize the bank and its large profits,” writes Martha Graybow.

Wednesday media highlights

News about the media industry:

Netflix looks to future but still going strong with DVD rentals (USA Today)
“Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings doesn’t think his 58 distribution centers are in immediate danger of becoming obsolete, but he knows that day will come. He believes DVD rentals have four to nine years to keep growing, despite inroads in Internet delivery of movies to set-top TV boxes and other video-on-demand options,” writes Jefferson Graham.

Is the bell tolling for Clear Channel? (San Antonio Express-News)
David Hendricks writes: “Analysts believe Clear Channel, now with about $22 billion in total debts, will have trouble making scheduled payments later this year. The company, already down to about 800 stations from its peak of about 1,200 stations, either will have to start selling stations itself or go into bankruptcy, where lenders will put stations up for sale.”

Foes No More, Ad Agencies Unite With Internet Firms (NYT)
Eric Pfanner writes: “With consumers spending more and more time online, analysts say Internet companies and ad agencies have no choice but to work together to develop ways to make money from digital media.”

Disney turns to baseball to pitch guinea pig spy film

Walt Disney is turning to baseball to hype a 3-D movie about secret-agent guinea pigs.Walt Disney Pictures has signed a deal with Major League Baseball for undisclosed terms under which the entertainment giant will give away 1 million tickets to the movie “G-Force,” scheduled to open nationwide on July 24, if a grand slam home run is hit at the sport’s All-Star game on July 14.”G-Force” is a comedy adventure about a covert government program in which guinea pigs are trained to work in espionage. “Armed with the latest high-tech spy equipment, these highly trained guinea pigs discover the fate of the world is in their paws,” says Disney.Under the program, a grand slam at baseball’s mid-summer classic means a free ticket for the first million people to register at Disney.com between April 22 and July 14, as well as the more than 46,000 fans attending the game in St. Louis.If no grand slam is hit, no free tickets. In 79 previous MLB All-Star games, the only grand slam was hit in 1983. (Thank you, Fred Lynn).Most U.S. sports have been hurt by consumer and corporate spending cutbacks in the recession. Major League Baseball officials expect attendance to fall as much as 10 percent this season, but that still translates to more than 70 million people at the games. And companies are still drawn to the sport as recent marketing deals have shown.The last movie to use the MLB All-Star game to promote its debut was Disney’s “Angels in the Outfield” in 1994.”G-Force” also will be part of the All-Star voting, appearing on more than 20 million ballots distributed at the 30 MLB ballparks, more than 100 minor league parks, and through in-stadium messages and announcements.The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie stars the voices of Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, Penelope Cruz, Nicolas Cage, Jon Favreau and Steve Buscemi.Hey, it may be guinea pigs, but check out Bruckheimer’s track record. His credits include such hits as “Flashdance,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Top Gun” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” in theaters, as well as “CSI” and “The Amazing Race” on TV.Baseball is careful about how it ties into movies, however.You will see no “G-Force” logos on any bases. In 2004, baseball officials scrapped plans to promote the “Spider-Man 2″ movie on its bases after a major public outcry.

(Photo courtesy of Disney.go.com)

Blockbuster sees its digital future

Here’s the thing about Blockbuster: like other cultural icons, its synonymous with its service — renting movies from a local store.

Sure it does other things, rents video games, sells gadgets and point-of-sale popcorn, but most of us hear the name Blockbuster and do a quick mental check — “did I return that rental copy of “To Sleep With Anger”? (Ok, maybe that’s just me.)

But even with the spectre of looming debt, and market talk that bankruptcy might be an option it’s exploring (an idea the company flatly denied), Blockbuster is mapping out a future where Blockbuster = Movies (not so much on the “local store” part).

Verizon Wireless sues Velveteen Rabbit promoters

You’d think nothing could be cuter than a stuffed rabbit that comes to life to cheer up a lonely child. But Verizon Wireless rewarded the promoters of Velveteen Rabbit, the movie, with a not-so-cuddly lawsuit.

A representative for the mobile service said Verizon had nothing against children’s movies but it is taking issue with a Utah-based telemarketing company, which has apparently been calling cellphone users to advertise the movie.

Verizon said it filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey , alleging that Feature Films For Families Inc illegally used an auto-dialler for LA-based Family 1 Films. The suit says Verizon Wireless customers and employees received nearly 500,000 calls with a scripted promotion for the film over a 10-day period in February.