Nigerian start-up a real upstart

2013-09-08 14:00

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MTN sees the potential of Afrinolly’s video content to increase data traffic

Nigerian tech start-up Afrinolly is inking a deal with MTN to take what is already the continent’s most spectacular app-development success to a whole new level.

Founded in 2011, Afrinolly is an app that curates a wide variety of African video content – from feature-length films, short films, music videos, stand-up comedy and film trailers – for viewing on mobile phones (see sidebar).

Afrinolly is the quintessential internet start-up with a staff of 11 and a massive user base that it still needs to turn into revenue after 3?million downloads in just two years.

Chike Maduegbuna, from Fans Connect Online, the company behind Afrinolly, is looking to the future.

“Mobile phones are movie screens and there are more people who have access to mobile phones than those who have access to cinemas.”

This week, Afrinolly’s team, including Chike and wife Jane, was in Joburg ironing out the details of a partnership with MTN.

MTN has already been working with Afrinolly in markets such as Uganda and Nigeria, and has seen how the video content it offers drives traffic on its networks.

The premise of the partnership is to restrict some of the content on Afrinolly to MTN subscribers only. In return, Afrinolly gets the backing of MTN’s massive continental marketing budget.

This drives data traffic to MTN’s network.

Maduegbuna says: “This deal will not make us rich, but we want to use their money to build the stadium,” referring to Afrinolly’s planned expansions.

It seems the Nigerian start-up is punching far above its weight by negotiating MTN down from its initial insistence on total exclusivity.

The deal is also temporary, with Maduegbuna wary of being tied into one telecoms company’s network for too long.

When MTN and Afrinolly piloted a partnership in Nigeria, “we were shocked at the marketing budget”, says Jane Maduegbuna.

“There were advertisements on TV, radio, everywhere.”

MTN Group’s chief commercial officer Pieter Verkade said the Afrinolly application has been a success in Nigeria.

Afrinolly’s users come from across the African continent and also the African diaspora.

But Maduegbuna says Afrinolly is more than just a content aggregator and distribution model.

“We started Afrinolly as a technological product to enhance online distribution,” says Maduegbuna.

Afrinolly is now looking to apply technology in other areas of the African-movie scene, such as promoting the growth of film makers and helping institutionalise the sector.

“The Afrinolly Short Film Competition, Afrinolly Masterclass and Afrinolly Radio Show provide unique opportunities to promote African film makers,” he says.

Afrinolly is also creating a comprehensive database of African movies, music videos and actors as it grows.

Maduegbuna says the app was conceived in May 2011 at a Google summit in Lagos.

“At the conference, Aneto Okonkwo, the product manager at Google, highlighted what people are searching for online and charged participants to pay attention to African entertainment, especially Nollywood, and develop a product that will be relevant for such a growing industry.

“That inspired us to build Afrinolly,” says Maduegbuna.

“It was developed for the 2011 Android Developers Challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, again organised by Google,” he adds.

“It won first prize in the entertainment, media and games category in the continental competition.”

From these humble beginnings, Afrinolly is looking to establish itself as the home of African film making.

HOW AND WHY

Afrinolly is an app that aggregates and organises content. The videos themselves are hosted on YouTube.

Film makers can ask to have their content included for free. Access is also completely free.

According to Maduegbuna, opportunities for monetising the content, both for Afrinolly and the film makers, do exist.

The platform’s massive traffic draws advertising and its user base sits largely in the valuable 18 to 35-year-old market.

The data usage it generates has drawn the interest of mobile operators.

As the platform grows, Maduegbuna foresees the introduction of limited premium content, which could be a revenue stream for the film maker or Afrinolly.

Above all else, the economic value of the app lies in the exposure it gives film makers.

Successful Afrinolly film makers, who get voted up the ranks by viewers, can draw investors for new film projects.

The app also creates a kind of self-reinforcing improvement in the quality of work being made, he says, whereby people not only get exposed to the work of peers across the continent, they also feel the judgement of the viewers very directly.

»?To enter the Google competition, Africa Connected: Success stories powered by the web, visit www.africaconnected.com

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