Moses Babatope is the Group Executive Director/COO, FilmOne and co-Founder of Filmhouse. In the last 15 years, he had a track record as a film distribution strategist in the U.K., releasing Nigerian contents. He is a judge at the screen international awards and a producer of “When Love Happens.” In this interview with Tosin Clegg, he talks about cinema and a lot more
My formative years
I was born in Ibadan in the early ‘80s. I am the first of six children, three males and three females. I grew up in Lagos before moving to the UK to complete my University education. I started working in 2000 at Sainsburys Supermarkets in the UK and later moved into cinema exhibition in 2002. I graduated from Middlesex University’s Business School, United Kingdom, with a B.A in Money Banking and Finance. I also hold a Masters’ degree in International Finance, and Chartered Financial Analyst, Kaplan, London.
About Filmhouse and FilmOne
We were a bunch of Nigerians that had worked together for several years with the biggest cinema chain in Europe called Odeon UCI Cinemas. We always had a passion for Nigeria, and sometime in 2006, some of us started discussing the idea of setting up cinemas in Nigeria. This was against the backdrop of the popularity of Nigerian films in the UK at the time, mainly on VCDs and DVDs. We had succeeded in showing some of these films in our cinemas by creating events around the screenings, inviting the key cast and having a red carpet for guests to feel special and take pictures. My partners Kene Mkparu and Kene Okwuosa took the bold step to move to Nigeria in 2008 to set up Genesis Deluxe Cinemas (now Genesis Cinemas). They left in 2010 and 2011 respectively to set up Filmhouse and we opened the first two locations in December 2012. I joined the team in 2013, having held the growing international front for Nollywood films while my partners were developing the structure for cinema exhibition in Nigeria. We set up FilmOne Distribution in 2014 and the Production arm followed in January 2015.
We had the Challenge of the Cinema Culture
Even though the country had a history of cinemas in the ‘60s to the ‘80s, military rule, the deteriorating economy and lack of transparency in the sector at the time, meant that a lot of the locations had to close because they could not access content and the country was not conducive for such a business.
This led to an almost 20-year gap before a modern cinema- Silverbird Cinema- was built in Victoria Island, Lagos. Slowly but surely, Nigerians are getting used to having cinema-going as a viable and enjoyable entertainment option. There was also the problem of Finance. We faced challenges of sourcing finance, even though we were experienced. The fact that we were new meant that we represented huge risk to fund managers.
Through prudent management of meager resources and maximising opportunities, we were able to secure private equity financing in 2014, which ultimately led to our expansion as a business, thereby attaining market leading status as the number one cinema chain in West Africa.
We have recorded successes in a variety of ways
We have increased the number of cinemas and locations. We have nine cinemas in six cities in Nigeria; the best geographical spread of any of the cinema chains in Nigeria. Filmhouse also enjoys a large market share. Due to our strategic positioning and operations, we have held the number one position for cinema attendance and box office for two consecutive years, and this trend looks to stay for the considerable future. In terms of pricing, we have managed to be the most affordable cinema company in the country, delivering unparalleled guest service and memorable cinema experience. Part of the successes of Filmhouse is the establishment of West African first and only IMAX cinema. In August 2016, we unveiled the first IMAX cinema in Lagos, Nigeria, and West Africa. Our IMAX screen in Lagos is described as one of the best in the world. We boast of the most experienced management team in the sector. Of all the cinema companies in the industry, Filmhouse is blessed to have over 100 years of Management experience in cinema business, gained in mature markets like the UK, US, Spain, France and Italy.
FilmOne as the Biggest Distributor
Nollywood films including Half of a Yellow Sun, October 1, FIFTY, Wives on Strike, A Trip to Jamaica, The Wedding Party, Alakada, Okafor’s Law, 10 Days in Sun City, and The Wedding Party 2. We have the highest grossing Nigerian film of all time, and producer of the highest grossing film, which is The Wedding Party. Also, filmone is a licensee of Hollywood Studio, Twentieth Century Fox. We own aggregation work for the world’s biggest global internet TV platform, Netflix. We also stand as the number one theatrical distributor in West Africa, 2016. As Chief Operating Officer of FilmOne Distribution, I have spearheaded the strategic direction of the company, and executed landmark projects with successful outcomes.
Challenges of Film Distribution in Nigeria
It ranges from low skill-base in cinema exhibition and film distribution to cost of marketing and advertising, access to data, cinema-going culture, limited screens and locations, piracy, censorship, lack of enough quality content, lack of government support for sector and absence of trade or lobby body to protect the interest of distributor and influence legislation.
The Nigerian Film Contents
There is a better appreciation for Nigerian content by Nigerians and non-Nigerians now than ever before. The quality of production has improved dramatically and this has impacted positively on patronage and, consequently, on the amount made at the box office. Also, there is more participation by corporate Nigerians in the sector in the form of sponsorships, product placements and activations. This never happened before. The social media has contributed immeasurably in terms of creating awareness of films being made and released. Film stars are engaging their fans more directly through cinema visits and in the process, increasing their followership as a result of their quality work. We are also at a stage where state of the art equipment are now being used for Nigerian film production, and more collaborations are happening, meaning that people are playing to their strength in the production process.
Nigerian Films Good for Foreign Distribution
Yes, it’s already happening. We are releasing films in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, UK, France and the US already. The Wedding Party 2 is aiming to be released in fifteen territories later this year. AY’s 10 Days in Sun City will be released in about 10 territories at the end of its cinema run. Our films are on Netflix, and very soon you will see them on I-tunes, Amazon and Google Play. Our films are being screened on at least 15 international airlines.
The Future of Cinemas in Nigeria
I think the future of cinemas in Nigeria will be the development and proliferation of community cinemas for the low-end mass-market crowd who are huge consumers of local content. This is what will get the cinema industry in Nigeria to fulfill its promising potential. The multiplex and luxury cinemas will also grow but at a slower pace than the community cinemas. As the economy improves, cinema will become a lifestyle product and culture for Nigerians to adopt.
At Filmhouse, we want to remain number one in West Africa and to also move to other parts of Africa, especially Central Africa, expanding in cinemas particularly community cinemas, opening at least two more IMAX locations in Nigeria, playing an active role in the development of the film industry in Nigeria. Also, at FilmOne, we want to remain the number one and best distributor in the region, taking up one or two more studios in addition to Fox, producing and distributing the best films in the territory, expanding international distribution base beyond diaspora to other mature markets like Europe and Asia.