INTERVIEW: ‘Nigerians still want a lot of content for free, that has to change’ — Biola Alabi



Biola Alabi, chief of Biola Alabi Media, says the Nigerian entertainment ecosystem has not developed to the stage where consumers are used to paying for content.

In an interview with TheCable Lifestyle, the moviemaker who was named as one of the top 100 global female executives by Financial Times, said she might reconsider her stance on joining politics.

TCL: Any intentional steps towards your recent international recognition?

Alabi: I think it’s about doing the work rather than showing or telling the work. I think a lot of times, it can get mixed up and then you don’t have the right balance. It’s also about the opportunities; I always feel like so many women are capable but it’s about having the women get opportunities. It’s not about being special, yes you are smart, you are hardworking but a lot of people are smart and hardworking. I was hardworking, I really understood I wanted to do but at the end of the day there were a lot of great opportunities that came my way and I think all those things came together.

When you have the right opportunity, you have to leverage on them. So it’s not always about how do you use your platform to further yourself? It’s about how do you use it to activate and push forward other people? And that has been my motto especially when it comes to women.

The reason why is that I have had so many women along the line in my career that have lifted me up and given me the right opportunities so for me it has always been not giving back but also lifting up other people. I believe that women have a different way of communicating opportunities to other women.

TCL: Is the 75% women leadership at BAM intentional?

Alabi: It’s a company I founded, I have an opportunity to work with people that I have always wanted to work with. They asked me how many women work in my company and I just said it, I don’t think it’s an effort but I haven’t gone out of my way not to do it because I felt that there is a possibility that we can understand each other and if I am able to work and give them opportunities, why not.

So it’s not an exclusion of men, it’s just the management today and I am very proud.

TCL: What was the budget of Lara and the Beat?

Alabi: We don’t really get into the budget of our films because there are still a lot of things happening around the films so it’s going to take a year or two to actually get the full budget of the film because there are so many other things we are doing. We are still distributing the film; we are making edits to the film for different people.

We had a number of partners that wanted to help us tell that story so this is a film that we made a substantial investment in. We are proud of the outcome of the film.

About the two female characters, Lara and Dara, we are creating another world around them so we are not just leaving them in the film; we are taking them out of the film, we are creating a television series around them, we are creating a book series around them so it was important to use the film to launch the Lara and Dara world because we want to show their adventures, we want to show them empowering young girls, answering questions that a lot of times, parents aren’t able to answer.

So you will see a younger version of them in books and TV series, even in educational formats so you might be using them for health campaigns.

TCL: Will Somkele and Seyi Shay be a part of this?

Alabi: No, because these are younger versions, we’ve just written a book where Lara and Dara are in boarding school. These are nine to 12 years old so that journey during JSS to SS is going to be shown. There is a lot of things that happen in young girls’ lives that culturally, we are not talking about.

I remember asking people what was their first experience of their monthly period and some people were timid to talk about it and these are conversations that we don’t have a lot of. So it’s these kinds of conversation that they will be talking about in books and on screen.

TCL: What’s the inspiration behind Bukas and Joints?

Alabi: Bukas and Joints is something I’ve always wanted to do, I have always believed in Nigerian food, African food and in our culture. I believe our food and culture is intrinsically linked to our heritage.

Anywhere you go in the world and you meet a group of immigrants, the first thing is to serve you their food anywhere they are in the world so there is this constant linkage to your food so your food holds the heritage.  We were doing food competitions but we weren’t doing anything about how everyday people made these foods.

A Buka is a place where people connect and eat every day so we really wanted to track that. We’ve been to over six cities in Nigeria, we’ve also covered London and we will continue to do that; go to interesting places.

TCL: What difference is BAM looking to make in Nigerian entertainment?

Alabi: One of the things we’ve done, which was shown clearly in Lara and the Beat is that we want to make films that are not only for Nigeria but address issues around the world. If you look around the world, there is a history to wealth, preserving it and transferring it. This is something I experienced from my childhood.

From the places I travelled to and the interactions I had you find that first of all because of African culture, money isn’t something we talk about so in Lara and the Beat we showed what could happen if you don’t talk about money or you are not engaging with money and how quickly you can lose money and from one generation to another generation how wealth can disappear.

We want to create 360 trans-media type of projects, we want to make products that people can always go back to. For us, it’s not just about making money, it’s about making different things out of one product.

Those are the different ways that we want to tackle entertainment, infotainment and enlighten people. Lara and the Beat is a very aspirational world; everyone wants to become rich in Nigeria but what happens after you’re rich? You can become very poor very quickly if you don’t maintain it.

TCL: How soon should we be expecting the book and TV series?

Alabi: The first book we have now is in the final stages of going to the printer. It should be out by the end of the year and that book is targeting nine to 12-year-olds.

TCL: Seeing as these projects are about finance, are you looking to partner with any financial institutions?

Alabi: We partnered with Fidelity Bank and LIRS on Lara and the Beats so we will continue to look out for partners that are interested in these kinds of issues.

TCL: What is BAM’s ultimate goal?

Alabi: The ultimate goal is to continue to tell stories that change the narrative about Africa. There are still so many misconceptions about the continent and about Nigeria.

So many people are still misinformed about the news because they are not getting the news from the right sources. We don’t take being part of the ecosystem that can change minds likely. So we want to tell stories that can travel around the world.

TCL: What areas are still unexplored in Nigerian entertainment?

Alabi: I think the Nigerian entertainment industry is extremely young. We don’t have the right distribution for a film, we have on the average 33 cinemas working at any given time in Nigeria. If you go to developed places, this is the number of cinemas they would have in a small town.

We have not developed our entertainment ecosystem in a way that people are used to paying for content, they still want a lot of content for free. There is still a lot to explore really smart engaging and intellectual content. There is also a lot of opportunity in the development of distribution channels.

We need broadband that can make delivering content to mobile accessible because everyone is going to have a mobile at some point so how do we get everyone to have access to that content. We still don’t have enough of players in the market.

TCL: What would you advise women looking to advance their career?

Alabi: The thing for women is to build networks of strong women that can advise you and also have male and female mentors We live in a world that is both male and female and you have to be able to navigate that.

You will have different experiences that you will need different people to seek advice from. The sooner you start, the better. Look for professional networks to be part of, professional networks can connect you with people, opportunities and ideas.

Change them as you grow, your mentors will change along the line because your needs will change and your role is changing.

TCL: Would you reconsider your stance on politics?

Alabi: We need women in every facet of life, we need women on company boards, in policy-making, investing in business and people. It doesn’t necessarily have to be political.

I agree that we need more women on the seat where these policies are made. I guess I should say ‘never say never’ anymore instead of saying never.

The older I get, the more I realise that for us to truly change the status of women in Nigeria, we need to be more involved in the policy side.

TCL: What’s your business ideology?

Alabi: We don’t go out of our way to have a business ideology but we are very committed to telling African stories. We are committed to empowering the people that work here not only to be workers but to be able to think for themselves and grow. I support people when they work for me and find other opportunities.

They have to grow and I don’t think that growth would necessarily be within my organisation. I have had amazing women that I have worked for and our relationship didn’t end because I stopped working for them.

Sometimes when people are not doing well here, we have a conversation with them to say ‘Do you think you will happy somewhere else?’ so we encourage them to get into the right job in the right place.

TCL: What’s fashion for you?

Alabi: I hate answering that question. I just wear clothes that I like, that I feel comfortable in and enjoy. I try not to think about it even though I might not wear a black suit every day, I try to wear simple clean clothes that will not take too much time.

I think one of the areas where women can tend to waste time and money is what they wear and how they dress so I try to keep it simple. If I see something I like, I buy it in every colour available.


TheCable