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.

Video streaming, file sharing — bad for network security, good for security business

Palo Alto Networks, the network security company, that modernized the firewall with its web application inspection took a look at what people do at work by analyzing Internet traffic in over 2,000 organizations.

Seems a lot of people watch videos.

In fact, Palo Alto’s semi-annual application usage and risk report says the bandwidth used by streaming video more than tripled to 13 percent from 4 percent in December 2011.

And that’s before the Euro 2012 Soccer Championship, the 2012 Olympics and the U.S. elections.

Tech wrap: New RIM CEO says no drastic change needed

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins, who joined RIM in 2007 and previously served as a chief operating officer, said during a conference call that he would hone the current strategy rather than abandon it. “I don’t think that there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving … but this is not a seismic change,” Heins said. RIM’s U.S.-traded shares tumbled as investors wondered whether Heins could reverse the BlackBerry maker’s decline, closing the day down 8.5 percent.

The founder of file-sharing website Megaupload was ordered to be held in custody by a New Zealand court, as he denied charges of Internet piracy and money laundering and said authorities were trying to portray the blackest picture of him. U.S. authorities want to extradite Kim Dotcom, a German national also known as Kim Schmitz, on charges he masterminded a scheme that made more than $175 million in a few short years by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorization. Megaupload’s lawyer has said the company simply offered online storage.

The Supreme Court ruled that police cannot put a GPS device on a suspect’s car to track his movements without a warrant. The high court ruled that placement of a device on a vehicle and using it to monitor the vehicle’s movements was covered by U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence. “A majority of the court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cellphone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store, and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives,” Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

Hear RIM’s new CEO. Then speak your mind.

YouTube Preview Image

For many BlackBerry users and smartphone industry pundits, this Youtube video was their first close-up look at new Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins.

RIM, which announced Heins’ elevation and the resignations of co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis on Sunday night, no doubt posted the clip in hopes of introducing the world to their new frontman, and getting their message out there.

Judging by the torrent of biting comments that followed, being “on track” might not have been the best message to relay. Many investors and consumers have been calling for a new strategy to stem the BlackBerry’s market share slide.

Tech wrap: Nokia throne in Samsung’s sights

Samsung CEO Choi Gee-sung told reporters in Las Vegas the company overtook Nokia in handset revenue terms in its latest reported quarter and was confident of topping the Finnish group in shipments this year. Samsung’s bullish forecast is in line with some analysts, including Royal Bank of Scotland, but on average analysts have expected Nokia to keep its lead on the market. According to the latest polls by Reuters, Nokia was expected to sell 418 million phones in 2011, versus Samsung’s 320 million, the gap narrowing this year to 388 million versus 359 million.

Google made changes to its search engine, combining content posted by users of Google’s social network Google+ and pic sharing site Picassa with regular search results. Links shared by a Google+ user’s connections are given more weight and will show up in Web search results with a person icon beside them, VentureBeat’s Jolie ‘Odell writes. The changes increase Google+’s prominence online, which is lagging behind Facebook in total number of users.

Sony’s videogaming business, led by its just-launched handheld “Vita”, will prove pivotal in returning the company to profitability, Kazuo Hirai, the executive pegged to succeed Howard Stringer as president, said.

Samsung takes the Sony media route with ex-AOL, ex-YouTube hire

Samsung Galaxy tablets (Photo: Reuters)

Samsung, the South Korean consumer electronics giant, has spent most of the last two decades eating the lunch of rival Japanese electronics giant, Sony.  While Sony has had struggled with all types of existential debates and attacks at home and abroad including, the global hacker attack of its online network, Samsung has gone from strength to strength in setting the electronics agenda with its cutting edge  TVs, phones and tablets.

A lot of Samsung’s success could be put down to be its focus on the basics: making great mass market products and not getting distracted with creating or distributing content. By contrast, Sony not only owns the world’s second largest music company and a major Hollywood studio but also a video games business.

The problem is that Sony has never been able to figure out how to make all those things work in conjunction with its position as one of the world’s largest device makers. Most recently it has launched new online music and video services that it no doubt hopes will help sell more devices. It’s very early to tell if that will strategy will work.

YouTube’s new look: Web surfing meets channel surfing

(Corrects earlier version to clarify YouTube has hundreds of thousands, not millions, of channels)

YouTube wants to be more like the boob tube.

The world’s No.1 video website unveiled an overhaul of its site on Thursday that will put the hundreds of thousands of online video “channels” front and center.

For many, YouTube is a place to go looking for a specific video. With the redesign, YouTube hopes users will make a habit of visiting the site just to see what’s playing on their favorite channels.

Disney comes to YouTube and Google TV

Photo: Reuters

When it comes to Hollywood movies and TV shows on the Web, all the focus is on Netflix, Hulu and even BlockBuster’s online ambitions. Yet YouTube, the daddy of the online video space with some 3.5 billion views a day,  has been quietly bulking up its traditional studio content. All this while there’s been a lot written about its $100 million investment to create hundreds of new cable channels of the future.

Since May, YouTube has signed up Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros to offer their movies for rental through YouTube, and on Wednesday it confirmed it has inked a deal to offer initially a “handful” of Disney titles in the U.S. and Canada, with hundreds of titles to be added in the coming weeks.

The Disney movies include titles like the original Alice In Wonderland, the new version of Winnie the Pooh as well as Pixar hits like Cars and Cars 2. The shows will also be available on YouTube through Google TV.

YouTube + Google+ = Engagement?

Google hasn’t had much trouble getting people to sign up for its Google+ social networking service. But getting people to come back every day and use the service as obsessively as they do with Facebook has been a trickier proposition.

Sure, Google says that more than 3.4 billion photos have already been uploaded by users on Google+, but as anyone who’s been on the service can plainly see, there just doesn’t seem to be the same frenetic level of user activity as there is on Facebook.

That’s where YouTube comes in.

On Thursday, visitors to Google+ were greeted with a small YouTube logo button, displayed prominently on the top right-hand side of their newsfeed. Click on the YouTube Logo and it slides open to reveal a text box asking “what would you like to play?”

Tech wrap: Apple hits new app download milestone

Apple customers sure like their apps. More than 15 billion applications have been downloaded from the App Store by iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users since its launch in July 2008, according to new figures from the company.

To put that number in context, remember it was just this past January when Apple announced its 10 billionth app download. That means customers have downloaded around 5 billion apps this year alone, compared to the 2-1/2 years it took to reach the 10 billion mark.  Apple can thank its wildly popular iPad for the surge in demand. Of the more than 425,000 apps now available from the App Store, 100, 000 are designed specifically for the tablet computer.

Meanwhile, Apple’s attempt to stop online retailer Amazon.com from using the “App Store” name has failed. Apple filed a trademark lawsuit saying Amazon improperly used the name to solicit developers in the U.S. Amazon responded by saying the term is generic. The U.S. judge who denied Apple’s request argued that while the term wasn’t purely generic, the company failed to prove “a likelihood of confusion” with Amazon’s service.