Viewers from about 100 countries can easily access Hausa films and shows on Northflix, a platform exclusively for streaming Hausa films.

As the world slowly moves from TV to streaming platforms, Kannywood has been left behind as the industry does not have the necessary funding and talent to create films and shows that match the quality requirements of global platforms like Netflix or Prime Video. This has led to a big gap as Kannywood films have been left out of the streaming revolution, depriving producers of a wider, more global audience. 

At an event in Kano, where he was invited to give a lecture to graduates, businessman Jamilu Abdussalam had a conversation with veteran actor Ali Nuhu, where the actor mentioned the distribution problems wrecking the Hausa film industry. The desire to solve it pushed Abdussalam to create a streaming platform, Northflix, that offered a wide variety of Hausa films to people across the globe.

What has the reception to Northflix been like?

JA: We’re growing really fast. In the past five years, we’ve achieved over 100,000 subscribers from all around the world. When we started, we thought only people in Nigeria would watch content on our platform, but to our surprise, we have subscribers from close to  100 countries. People from Greece and Finland watch content on Northflix, and that’s a great thing. We’ve been featured on CNN and BBC as well, which I believe speaks volumes about how far we’ve come.

What’s the relationship between Northflix and Kannywood like?

JA: The relationship has evolved over time. When we started, we used to rent films on our platforms and split the revenue with producers. After about a year, we started to acquire the content licence from producers. So, we’re buying the licence that gives us the rights to be the exclusive streaming platform, but they can take the [same] films to TV stations.

This relationship is the basis for our business. We came in for three purposes. One is to control the piracy problem in the industry. Secondly, we want to provide access to a distribution channel where people across the globe can have real-time access to the content. Lastly, we wanted to improve the quality of the films Kannywood produces. 

How do you navigate finding quality content for your platform?

JA: One of the most challenging things we experienced was selecting the films to be streamed on our platform. There was a need for better-produced content and better stories if we wanted to appeal to a more global audience. People watch movies of a certain quality on platforms like Showmax, and you can’t expect them to go from that to low-quality content. We had to step up and be more deliberate about the kind of stories we tell and the quality of content available on the platform, which meant being more choosy with films and insisting that producers put in more effort. 

What we do to improve the quality of the content being produced in the industry is to join the production team or produce original content for our platform. Right now, we have over ten projects that have been scripted and they range from feature-length films to documentaries and even TV series. So far, we’ve produced only one TV series called Zaure (The Corridor) to test the market, and it’s doing well.

Another challenge we struggled with was piracy but I’m glad to say that we’ve solved that. We’ve enabled technology that makes it impossible to record movies directly from our website which has greatly reduced the rate of piracy.

What are some challenges that you’ve encountered so far?

JA: As with every business, a challenge I’ve experienced is funding. With investors from the Northern part of the country where I’m from, it’s hard to sell them the idea of a streaming platform as a viable business opportunity. They’re used to traditional business ventures so telling them about subscribers and how they can yield revenue is not what they understand or want to hear.

On the other hand, investors from other parts of the country or world do not understand why we’re exclusively a Kannywood streaming platform. We always get questions like “Why not include other Nollywood or Bollywood films?” or “What’s so special about the northern entertainment industry?”

What’s so special about the northern entertainment industry?

JA: I did not build Northflix just because I’m a Northerner. The reason I started Northflix is because Kannywood is a niche market with a lot of opportunities. There are over 200 million Hausa speakers around the world, which is a lot, and creating quality content in Hausa for these people is a great business opportunity. 

What are the next steps for Northflix?

JA: We look forward to being listed as an IPO company and selling shares to the wider public, that’s our dream. We want to make Northflix bigger and create content of higher quality content that can compete with content from global streaming platforms. People watch Indian and Korean movies even when they don’t understand the language, and this is what we want for Hausa films and shows.

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