London — Thema-owned Rok Studios is producing 300 films and 20 TV series annually making it one of the largest producers on the continent. Russell Southwood talked to Thema's Clementine Tugendhat, Senior Vice President - Thematic Channels and Cedric-Pierre Louis, Director of Programming - African Fiction Channels about what they are doing and their future plans.
In 2014 Thema was bought by Canal+ and at the time Jacques du Puy, CEO of Canal+ Overseas, said: "The acquisition of the Thema group will speed up our development strategy, particularly in Africa, and will also provide us with vital marketing and publishing know-how with regard to ethnic content."
There were two key aspects to this acquisition for Canal+. Firstly, it wanted to acquire Thema's successful African channels which it had sold to all French operators. Secondly, it had built its own successful channels - Nollywood TV and A+ - but had no Nollywood content to speak of.
Canal+ wanted to expand its number of African channels and has since 2014 added NTV and Novelas TV (with African, Latin American and Turkish content). Thema has launched two new channels last year: Sunuyeuse TV (TV series in Wolof) and Cuisine (a cooking channel only broadcast in Africa). In March this year it will launch Novegaoy TV, focused on Malagasy TV series.
In order to pursue the Canal+ development strategy, Thema bought the production and distribution activities of iROKO in 2019. It gave Thema access to a range of different content and distribution assets: the production of 300 films a year and 20 TV series, 3 existing ROK channels on DStv and a ROK channel on Sky in the UK. Plus Tugendhat said that Mary Njoku, who expertise built the content portfolio, has agreed to stay on both in a producing and acting capacity.
Cedric-Pierre Louis told me:"The core ingredient of most storylines is drama with a pinch of romance and sometimes comedy. Comedy doesn't usually travel well but this type of Nollywood old school comedy focuses on visual gags. This part of Nollywood is missing and we'd like to get more. We want to invest in good writing. It's producing in English for French-speaking Africa. There's nothing like Nollywood in Francophone Africa."
There are a mixture of urban and rural dramas, the latter with a more traditional look and feel. There are also a lot of historical dramas about past kingdoms. Most of the productions are being made in Nigeria but about 10% are made in Ghana.
Thema now has both the content and distribution channels. It can distribute to the new VoD channels like Netflix (depending on iROKO TV windowing), in-flight channels and iROKO TV itself.
And its future plans? It is currently in pre-production for season three of Husbands of Lagos and is planning to bring more TV series to fruition. It also has plans to produce outside Nigeria.