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.

Survey: VCs more confident investing domestically, in IT sectors

If every cloud has a silver lining, the silver lining for global venture capitalists during the current economic gloom appears to be cloud computing, according to results of a confidence survey from Deloitte and the National Venture Capital Association released Monday.

The first Global Venture Capital Confidence Survey measured the input of more than 440 venture capital, private equity and growth equity investors from around the world, revealing that global VCs have higher confidence investing domestically versus abroad and in information technology sectors like cloud computing and social media.

Venture capitalists favored Brazil, China and the United States for investing, showing the least confidence in France, Japan and South Africa. Cloud computing, software and new media/social networking held the most confidence by industry, with the lowest confidence in semiconductors, telecommunications and clean technologies.

Online video service Chill snags $8 million funding round

Do consumers want a more social side to video? Some $8 milllion to Chill, an online-only video service that works via Facebook, says they do. The cash comes from venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, talent firm William Morris Endeavor, and others. Chill allows people to watch videos and comment on them in groups, live. The cash should help it grow faster, while the relationship with William Morris, a new investor, should help it reel in more content partners, a spokesman said. Its current partners include celebrity-news service TMZ and TV show Jimmy Kimmel Live, it said.  About 18 million registered users have signed up with Chill, and around 10 million are regular visitors, the company said.

Blue Jeans Network wants video meetings to be commonplace

One year after its launch, Blue Jeans Network has expanded the reach of its interoperable videoconferencing service and secured a third round of funding worth $25 million.

The company’s goal: making video meetings as functional as a pair of blue jeans.

Users of the service can access a meeting through Skype, Google, Microsoft Lync, Polycom, Cisco, traditional phone and now directly through their web browser. My interview with the Blue Jeans Network executives was a perfect test of Blue Jeans’ interoperability, with the four members of the conference on Skype, Polycom, a web browser and a landline phone.

Freshplum takes data-driven approach to online pricing

Palo Alto start-up Freshplum hopes to take the guesswork out of digital commerce by using analytics software, data science and math to help companies make decisions like how to price merchandise. 

After a month under wraps, Freshplum announced Tuesday that it has raised $1.4 million in seed funding from New Enterprise Associates, Greylock Partners, Google Ventures and Charles River Ventures, as well as a number of current and former executives from Facebook, Google and PayPal.

The company was co-founded by Sam Odio, who formerly worked at Facebook after his photo-sharing start-up Divvyshot was acquired by the social networking giant. The other co-founders are Nick Alexander and Michael Yuan.

Swipp looks to quantify your comments

Silicon Valley start-up Swipp says it has raised $3.5 million in funding from venture firm Old Willow Partners, an early investors in Groupon. It will use the cash to develop and launch its first products sometime in late fall. On the subject of what exactly those products will be, Chief Executive and co-founder Don Thorson was cagey. But it seems like he’s aiming to create a social network where it would be easier for consumers and merchants to analyze or make money from data than on say Twitter or Facebook.

“With (so many) people connected we should be able to do so much more than just tell each other where we’re having lunch,” said the executive, adding that conversations on social networks like Facebook and Twitter are “pretty cool stuff but not meaningful data. The bigger the network gets the smarter it should get.”

A basic Twitter search of a particular hot topic like a service price increase or a new product can already give a snapshot of how people are reacting, But that’s not enough for Thorston “We think that’s just a really 1.0 way of being able to extract information,” he said. With Swipp “you’ll have quantifiable data on that topic.” For example, it could figure out what percentage of comments were complaints and what percentage were positive.

from Paul Smalera:

Startups are big in Boulder, but where are the tech billionaires?

"I'm not interested in working on this unless it's going to be a multi-billion dollar idea. If I thought this would be a hundred million dollar company -- what's the point?" - Anonymous entreprerneur discussing his startup. Overheard in front of Ozo Coffee, Boulder, CO.

I'm in Boulder, Colorado for a few days this week to attend Big Boulder, a conference devoted to the social side of "big data." Gnip, the company hosting the conference, is one I've written about before. They're doing the plumber's work of connecting all the firehoses of raw, public user data from social media companies like Twitter and Tumblr up to clients that want to derive insights from the wisdom of these online crowds.

A quick note on the definition of "big data." Generally speaking, it's the sort of data set that's so huge, even running a simple report on it won't tell you anything interesting. For example, if you could ask the IRS for a list of all the 25-30 year olds in the U.S. that paid taxes last year, you'd get back a list, alright. But what would be useful about it? On the other hand, if you could filter that list by several other factors: did they pay capital gains, did they owe over six figures in taxes, what is their self-reported job title, and so on, you might end up with a list highly correlated to young, dot-com millionaires and billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg. And you might cross reference that list against all the other data sets you can find on them: where they live, where they shop, where they travel, what they watch, eat and listen to. It's all out there.

Got an idea but nowhere to pitch it? Try Intel and Facebook

Have you dreamed up the next social media sensation, energy-efficient engine or hot consumer gadget but don’t know where to pitch your idea? If you’re between 18 and 24 years old, log onto Facebook.

Intel and Facebook are teaming up in a new program called Intel Innovators to give young people a forum to debut new ideas and give feedback on other people’s. And $100,000 a month are up for grabs to help turn winning concepts into real start-ups — as long as you’re in the United States.

Through the Intel Innovators platform on Facebook, participants can lay out their business ideas and receive suggestions from fans to help refine and improve their plans.

Lending Club taps into consumer ire

With consumers more angry than ever with credit card companies and big banks, and increasingly worried about another economic downturn, one upstart company has made this into an opportunity.

Lending Club has been going after consumers who have stellar credit histories but have a less than stellar view of credit card companies that don’t reward their good record.  The company also targets investors looking for a low-risk return on their capital. 

Since it opened for business in 2007  the company has attracted big backersincluding Union Square Ventures and Thomvest, the venture fund of Thomson Reuters director Peter Thomson,

What’s in store for Dropbox after receiving a big pile of cash

Dropbox, one of the most watched companies in Silicon Valley, officially announced on Monday that it raised an astounding $250 million in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, reportedly valuing the virtual file cabinet company at a whopping $4 billion.  This massive round stands in contrast to the first bit of money raised — about  $7 million –  from early investors including Sequoia Partners, Accel Partners, and Hadi and Ali Partovi.*

Founded in 2007, Dropbox is virtual storage that allows consumers to access documents, photos and videos from several devices.  So if you happen to snap a picture on your Android operated phone and store it to your Dropbox, you can pull that same photo on your iPad or laptop, for example. It eliminates the need for thumb drives or even email as long as you download a storage box on each device.

The company has about 45 million users. Dropbox provides a certain amount of storage for free before charging people for extra capacity. People can also get more storage by referring friends. Dropbox won’t reveal revenue or profit figures.