Free-to-watch service includes best of local content

ACCRA, GHANA — Frustrated by the difficulty of accessing quality African content abroad, a group of Ghanaian entrepreneurs have teamed up to launch a service they’ve dubbed the African Hulu.

ReelAfrican.com, a new streaming video service now beta-testing ahead of a planned fall launch, will offer original African films and series using a model similar to Hulu’s.

Content will be free for all viewers, with revenue initially generated by selling a 10-second advertising spot for every 8-10 minutes of content. The company will split ad revenues 50-50 with content owners.

The site’s target audience, says Victor Mallet, one of the four co-founders, is the large number of Africans living outside the continent with no reliable way to watch movies and series from home.

“The market that wants to watch these films is in the U.S.,” he says. “We would like to see good content coming out of Africa, (but) there’s no way to watch it.”

The site plans to target the U.S. first, before expanding to the U.K. and the Caribbean.

Modest distribution networks for African films already exist Stateside. Specialty distribs offer DVDs of Nigerian and Ghanaian hits that are usually sold in barber shops or grocery stores owned by African immigrants.

Mallet says ReelAfrican aimed to reach those consumers, and the many who view content on YouTube or sites like Naijastream, a popular Nollywood portal.

Those Web viewers, he says, would likely be drawn away from other online portals, which are typically poor quality with features chopped up into smaller installments.

Much of the content acquired by ReelAfrican so far has come from the prolific Nigerian and Ghanaian film and TV industries.

That should suit the site’s prospective auds: According to the most recent census figures, the two West African nations contribute the largest numbers of African immigrants to the U.S.

ReelAfrican has lined up rights deals with helmers in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, including Ghanaian multihyphenate Shirley Frimpong-Manso, who is founder and CEO of film, television and advertising production company Sparrow Prods.

Frimpong-Manso’s “The Perfect Picture,” about the lives and loves of Ghanaian femme friends, won director honors at the 2010 African Movie Academy Awards.

Her “A Sting in the Tale,” about two young couples facing the harsh realities of life after college, won the audience favorite award at the 2010 Pan African Film and Arts Festival.

Both pics are playing on Reel-African. The site includes “The XYZ Show,” the popular satire that uses puppets to poke fun at African pols, and MTV series “Shuga.”

The site’s founders have invested close to $20,000 building infrastructure, meaning that money for promotion is in short supply.

Mallet says they would rely heavily on guerrilla marketing to create buzz on social media sites, and among the prolific bloggers who regularly track entertainment news in the African diaspora.

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