These two best friends founded the largest cinema chain in West Africa

Ben Ebuka July 13, 2023
Founders of Filmhouse Cinemas, Moses Babatope (left) and Kene Owkuosa (right). Photo credit: Content Nigeria

For the past 10 years, Kene Owkuosa and Moses Babatope have remained consistent in delivering world-class movie-going experiences in Africa.

Before the duo met each other at the Odeon Surrey Quays Cinema in London years ago, they could never imagine that they would form a strong bond that would birth the largest cinema platform in West Africa someday.

As of October 2002, Okwuosa was the HR Manager in charge of recruiting the new batch of employees intending to join Odeon Cinema, while Babatope, a student of Middlesex University, was actively searching for a part-time job.

“We had two or three stages in the recruitment process where you speak to a full auditorium and play out an emergency situation. If you do well, then you go to the interview and after your interview, you were told whether you were successful or not,” said Babatope.

“I didn’t have a good session when it came to the scenario part of the interview, so I was going to walk myself out when a gentleman called me and said I should do better next time and I am okay to proceed to the next phase. That gentleman was Kene.”

That unexpected meeting kickstarted the bond that culminated in Filmhouse Cinemas, Nigeria, and grew stronger when the pals went on to marry two sisters from the same family.

“The vision started in Nigeria. When we came, we joined a new cinema at the time called Genesis, which didn’t go as planned. Our vision was not aligned and we ended up parting ways,” Owkuosa Explained. “But we knew we had to build this thing one way or the other. We were so passionate about cinema and so passionate about film that not figuring it out was not an option. It was an opportunity to step back and say we can do this on our own.”

Today, Filmhouse Cinemas have over 54 cinema screens across Nigeria, Ghana, and some other West African nations; remaining the largest cinema chain in West Africa and the third largest in Africa.

“We identified an under-reached market in Nigeria and an opportunity in people’s craving for entertainment, and so, we sought to meet these demands with a quality offering. The era of modern cinemas had just returned to the country and there were very few players – less than five cinemas serving an entire country with a population of over 150 million people at the time. So, we saw an opportunity and went for it.”

Filmhouse Cinemas offers film exhibitions with a style that incorporates multifarious features, including state-of-the-art cinema technologies and luxurious dine-in cinema services managed by a team of professionals.

Kene Okwuosa – the Group Deputy CEO, and Moses Babatope – the Group Deputy CEO, never imagined their entrepreneurial journey unfolding the way it is now. They initially experimented with the cinema business; offering Nigerian moviemakers the space to premier Nollywood films in the UK.

“That was a game-changer. We got real insights about people’s experiences and how they felt during the cinema experience. In all of that, we never thought to ourselves that we can find capital and start our own,” said Babatope. “Our scenario was, ‘let’s go show our experience and see what happens,” he added.

The brief success recorded in the UK emboldened the duo to pursue their vision. However, a paucity of funds can bring a dream to a halt.

“We understood that we did not have the last names that would open doors in Nigeria for us to get investment, but we were convinced that if we could just get started and figure it out, we would learn and figure it out on the way,” said. Okwuosa.

“At this time, we just came from London and we assumed we would fill out a form and wait for the call. We did that and no one called us back. We got as far as being invited to pitch properly for a loan of one million dollars. They were impressed. We had no security or collateral but they were taken by the passion and management expertise we had to set up cinemas,” he added.

The friends never gave up on their vision, despite not having the capital to start the business. They moved around, seeking investors who could buy into their mission and vision. Luckily, for them, in 2011, the administration of His Excellency, Goodluck Ebere Jonathan, the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, floated a fund for the creative industry through the Bank of Industry in Nigeria (BOI).

Okwuosa and Babatope were the first to access the fund, which helped them to establish a three-seat cinema called Filmhouse Cinemas, in December 2012 in Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria.

However, the company’s business was seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which adversely impacted the entertainment industry; stakeholders estimated that the pandemic cost the industry a loss of about $ 1,286,173.60.

However, when the lockdown ended, luck came their way in the form of multimillion blockbuster releases from Nollywood and the highest-grossing film then – Spider-Man: No Way Home.

The company also survived through the help of global streaming platforms that were desperate for quality Nollywood movies.

“Back then everything was going to streaming so the catalogue we had built over the years, we were able to monetize that and that was able to help sustain things while the cinema revenue took a hit. As the largest supplier of content to our streaming partners, Netflix and Amazon, everyone wanted content so we were able to boost supply and through that, we also strengthened our studio relationships as well,” said Okwuosa.

Today, Filmhouse Cinemas has expanded its business by establishing FilmOne – an independent entertainment company focused on producing and distributing filmed content globally.

“Currently, we are the exclusive theatrical licensees to The Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Empire Entertainment in Anglophone West Africa. We also maintain strategic alliances and relationships, enabling us to distribute a wide range of local and international mainstream, commercial and/or niche content worldwide.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: July 13, 2023


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