Northern Nigerian Hausa-language channel Arewa24 is launching Arewa24On Demand, a new global subscription video-on-demand and OTT streaming service. Russell Southwood spoke to Arewa24 CEO Jacob Arback about why it launched the service and what is planned.
The idea for launching a VoD and OTT streaming service has been in Arewa24's strategic roadmap for a long-time: Our goal was to unite Hausa speakers on a TV platform in the north, then expand to the rest of Nigeria, then out to the Hausa diaspora. We were waiting to get a critical mass of library content with the quality standards needed to compete internationally."
Arback describes the new service as "Netflix for Hausa content", which means that it has all the genres of that global service, including drama, music, sports and so on. There will be no advertising and users will get unlimited access for US$4.99 a month and US$48 a year.
Launched at the end of October, it will be available from Arewa24's website and there are iOS and Android apps available. Google Play shows that there have already been 500,000+ downloads of the app. It will also be available on Roku and Amazon Prime and over time through several other platforms.
"The strategy is to upload the content free on YouTube with a transition message saying that users will need to move over to the new channels by 21st November. We want to start with early adopter fans in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the USA and Europe." He sees the service as a way of avoiding having an expensive satellite service to reach these diaspora fans.
Arewa24 is working closely with independent producers in the north that Arback says has "wonderful writers and storytellers. All they need is capital, says Arback, to grow like Nollywood in the south of the country:"We are working with a couple of producers, producing special features where they talk about their films."
Its content strategy is very much focused around original scripted drama produced by the channel. Titles include thriller 90 Days and popular long-running drama Dadin Kowa, the channel's first sitcom produced through an independent production house:"We will script another original drama next year. Hausa speakers love dramas. They very hyper-local but with high production values."
In addition, there will be all the other content on the channel including: its hip-hop programmes, its breakfast and cooking shows, its kids content and sports (including round-ups of the EPL and big leagues from London, dubbed into Hausa). There will also be a shorts section including animation, comedy, skits and short films:"We have one show where the social media team go out and ask people stupid questions."
How much will the new service be affected by connectivity challenges?:"The service is first and foremost targeting Hausa speakers outside Nigeria who want culturally appropriate entertainment. We're a very specific niche channel for a particular diaspora community: a rough estimate indicates there are 8-10 million of them with the largest communities in Saudi Arabia and Sudan. It will be available in Northern Nigeria and will have a feature that adjusts to the speed of the connection available."
How many subscribers does he think it will have in 2-3 years time?:"I couldn't tell you. We have 50 million YouTube viewers but we're taking a big leap investing in this. We need to deliver fresh content every day, every week. We want to produce 11-12 shows every day and it makes sense to have another distribution channel to let others see it."
What level of investment has gone into it?:"For our channel, it's a big investment but in a global context, it's probably quite reasonable." It wanted to get in before someone got in ahead of them:"It all starts with content. We probably have 45,000 hours. Only half will go on the app as the later work was of higher quality."