Last week, founder and CEO of EbonyLife TV, Ms. Mo Abudu and Ebony Life Films issued a press release celebrating the conclusion of Fifty, the Biyi Bandele directed and Tope Oshin produced first movie from the stables of EbonyLife Films. In the press release, the producers claim that the film has “…redefined return on investment (ROI) metrics in the African Film Industry.
This is a very heavy claim, especially from an industry that is not known to have the infrastructural capacity to return more than N30m on the average on any film.
Fifty is estimated to have grossed about N400m through various revenue generating streams, according to the press release. In fact, the release goes further to claim that: “The movie’s revenue intake leverages on a unique business model not previously explored in the Nigerian Film Industry.” And what is this ‘unique’ business model? “In partnership with Film One Distribution, Fifty made nearly N100m through Box office takings alone. Premiere Sponsorship/Partnerships; Private screenings; a first-of-its-kind deal with Internet streaming provider, Netflix; In-flight entertainment deals and Video-on-Demand (VOD) are amongst the other revenue streams.
What exactly is unique about this? Cinema run, paid for premiere (by a bank), private screenings paid for by your buddies, Netflix, In-flight entertainment (IFE) and VOD…is that it? Is this what you claim have never been previously explored in the Nigerian film industry? Surely you jest, Ms. Abudu.
The claims of a N400m return on investment by Ms. Abudu and Ebony Life films cannot be taken seriously if they have previously never stated explicitly how much it cost to produce the film. As this Investopedia link explains, “ROI measures the amount of return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost. To calculate ROI, the benefit (or return) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment, and the result is expressed as a percentage or a ratio. The question to then ask is: What percentage of the investment in Fifty does N400m represent as ROI?
The questions are important because if the claim is true, and unconfirmed rumours that the producers have hinted that the film cost $2m to produce, and if the dollar exchanged for around N200 to $1 at the time the film was produced, what Ms. Abudu and EbonyLife Films are telling us is that Fifty has returned 100% of its investment in four months since it premiered in December, 2015.
That would be a very interesting claim.
Let us attempt a quick breakdown of the N400m return on investment claim, using the ‘unique and previously unexplored strategies’, as contained in the press release. Nearly N100m was made from the cinema box office. Normally, EbonyLife films would share that with FilmOne Distribution and pay taxes. The producers will be lucky to walk away with N45-50m. The highest figure airlines pay for Inflight Entertainment is around $90, 000, research shows. Nollywood practitioners spoken to say the figure EbonyLife Films is likely to get will be around $3, 000. The premiere, rumoured to have been paid for by a bank, cannot be counted as return on investment…or can it? Ms. Abudu once ran a consulting firm, Vic Lawrence and Associates, and obviously has friends in high places: You do not raise around N2billion to start a TV channel in Nigeria if you don’t. So, a few private screenings were held. Let’s assume three to five of them were and, from senior industry sources told TNS, the producers may have pulled in around N20m per screening. EbonyLife Films have not announced how much Netflix paid for Fifty. Again, we have heard figures between $250, 000 and $600, 000. Many of the people TNS spoke with under condition of anonymity have also doubted that Netflix will pay anything close to those figures for a Nigerian film.
So, who is fooling who?
What these figures show clearly is that N400m is a long shot, even for a film with all the weight of a Mo Abudu behind it.
The intention here is not to knock Ms. Abudu hustle. In weeks leading up to the premiere of Fifty in December, Ms. Abudu put up a steller performance in film promotion. She was on radio station multiple times a day, she was at the cinemas with the movie’s stars, she was in the papers and on television…she was everywhere. Unlike many who take their films to the cinema and then sit back and hope magic happens, Ms. Abudu indeed put the work in to sell her movie.
However, Nollywood is a data-deprived industry, and if you chose to make claims of success of this magnitude, it must then be your prerogative to provide data that point to how this success was made, especially as the tone of the press release suggests that this success story contains lessons for the industry. To leave things at the level of mere, unsubstantiated claims is to suggest that the industry is pedestrian and therefore any success bone thrown at it will be unquestionably grabbed and licked clean by practitioners and an uncritical media.
Ultimately, what we all desire for Nollywood is an industry that grows beyond being a mere phenomenon and achieves its true potentials through processes and procedures that are verifiable…and claims that people will be accountable for.