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Vivendi's Canal+ acquires African film studio ROK

Angela Ukomadu

LAGOS, July 15 (Reuters) - French pay-TV group Canal+ has acquired African film and television studio ROK, marking the first international acquisition in Nigeria's film industry, popularly known as Nollywood.

Lagos-based ROK, which announced the deal on Monday, owns a large library of films and animation series in Nigeria and produces movies and TV series for distribution platforms.

Nollywood is one of the world's biggest film production hubs and Canal+, owned by Vivendi, aims to expand in Africa as stiff competition from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon has caused the group to lose subscribers in France.

With more Africans buying TVs - and streaming services not widely accessible due to relatively high data costs - the continent is fertile ground for satellite pay-TV companies to provide original content and generate customer loyalty.

"ROK will produce thousands more hours of Nollywood content to deliver movies and original TV series for Canal+ Group's audiences," ROK said in a statement. It did not say how much Canal+ had paid for the company.

Under the deal, Canal+ acquired ROK's production, content distribution and publishing channels, from IROKO Ltd, Africa's digital content distributor for Nigerian films. ROK founder Mary Njoku will continue as general director of ROK Productions.

ROK will produce Nollywood content for Canal+ group's French-speaking African audience, to be distributed via IROKO's subscription video on demand app.

Last year, Vivendi said that Canal+ aimed to add 1.5 million African subscribers by 2020 to bring the total to about 5 million, up from 1 million five years ago.

Rights to European and African soccer have long been a draw in Africa and Canal+ has invested heavily in locally produced content.

IROKO incubated ROK in 2013 and has produced over 540 films and 25 original TV series in Africa. It said ROK reaches 15 million subscribers on satellite TV services on the continent. (Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Susan Fenton)