At a time when African film and television is in a remarkably interesting position, we sat down with Mafrik TV founder, Dan Akinlolu who is also fondly known as Filmmaker Dan. The entrepreneur shared some insights into his own career journey while taking a moment to make some bold prediction about the future of African film, television and content in general.
Moziak Magazine: Hello Dan, welcome to Moziak Magazine! It’s a pleasure to be speaking to you today.
Dan Akinlolu: Thank you for having me.
MM: There’s no better place to start than the very beginning. How did your journey in film/TV and music begin?
DA: Hmmm, It is fascinating when I am asked this kind of question because It is always interesting to start the end from the beginning. My journey into media, film and TV is literally intuitive, there is an immediate understanding between myself and the environment that I grew up in that I will always be a filmmaker and media executive. The truth is, I grew to love films and watching movies right from my childhood. It was the easiest and most fun-filled endeavour to create your own world of freedom where you always win and do whatever you want. I’ve always been entrapped in the world of movies from childhood. It was fascinating as a toddler that there is a world where anything can happen, where you are free to fly in the air like Superman or beat the bad guys like James Bond without getting hurt. My father on the other was very strict, I could remember vividly how frequently and consistently he kept us away from watching TV, he would rather make us study or get things done around the home. I remember how I do sneak to the neighbourhood and peeped through their windows to watch movies especially Indian and Chinese, they are special content in the early 80s. I can guarantee you that no one is surprised in my family that I turned out as a filmmaker and media practitioner, it was obvious that there is no other option. You’ve got a strong entrepreneurial track record including having founded a media buying company (Media Navigation) and your own content hub, Mafrik.
MM: Have you always been a self-starter?
DA: I remember I left M-Net to start Media Navigation and the truth is, there is art and there is the business side. And it was difficult to grow a media business that requires self-funding, capital and assets, especially in South Africa. It was hard no doubt, even up till date and trust me I have invested a lot of resources because I don’t know any other business and I don’t have any plan B, it is either I survive or I close down. I don’t do “celebrity status” or “show off entrepreneurs”, I work my butt off especially that clients sometimes want to work with me as an individual. I need all the revenue I can generate from any department especially that the company is not a big corporation. The smart part is, I have ferocious tenacity to self-motivate myself for growth. I have developed my capacity and assets in such a way that I have an expansive experience within the film and media industry; unfortunately, there is no end to such growth and very few people do have such artistic and entrepreneurial capacity like I do. I have been running media business for more than a decade and I have always separated my responsibilities as a two-sided portfolio, there is Dan the “filmmaker” which require investing in film gears and equipment for clients’ project and production and Dan the “Media executive” which deals with content acquisition, media strategies, and so on.I’ve learnt to define my capacity from those perspectives because they are honestly two different experiences that have generated revenue for me. In each of these portfolios, I still work myself to details either as a cinematographer, director or editor when I am a filmmaker or as consultant and strategist when I am running a media portfolio, it must be understood that we are not a big or a major company, I could hire more hands as and when it is necessary but essentially the nature of services is project-based.
MM: Tell us about the Mafrik journey so far – what would you consider some of the most important lessons you’ve learned so far?
DA: Mafrik TV is essentially a West African Music video channel, I launched it as an app on a business friend digital platform called Tulutulu, and I could remember when I was having a meeting with my business friend- Pierre Van Da Hoven. He had actually approached me to confirm my interest in launching a digital channel, I was like – sure why not. My area of interest has always been how I could be more supportive of an industry that is less visible or a particular niche content market that has not really enjoyed mainstream exposure, more so, i prefer short-format content. Mafrik TV was actually launched to support West African artistes that are struggling to get their music videos on mainstream channels like your MTV Base and Channel O. I also presumed it is advantageous to tap into the diaspora market for viewership because the Tuluntulu app is not subscription-based. Large viewership doesn’t necessarily translate to profit, it is supposed to generate revenue from advertising because there are several other channels on the app, I just choose music video channels because it is easier to retain audience on short content. I remember I used to call it a digital DSTV because it aggregated hundreds of hours of content under different channels. As of 2014, most social media platforms have not really started streaming except Youtube, Vimeo and DailyMotion, so I sort of try to see if I can have the advantage to see how the audience will relate to mobile phone channel MafrikTV as a supplement to youtube. Then
Facebook launched “Watch” in 2017, i knew immediately that our business module is not sustainable and the model has to change. Then I decided to let the content be more visible and accessible on Facebook Page especially that information, news and digital content is more saturated on social media platforms than ever before. It is an evolving business that requires consistency and proper support funding. Your other company Media Navigation was nominated for the West Africa Mobile Awards back in 2017.
MM: How does it feel to receive industry recognition on projects you have started up?
DA: The truth was the West Africa Mobile Awards is very good in a way that I wasn’t really looking out for. In all fairness and honesty, I am very critical of myself because I am conscious of how people perceive competition. I have never been so comfortable with limelight hence I have been accused several times of being modest about what I am capable of doing. In fact, I am more interested in getting more opportunities than seeking validation on social media for support and likes, I will rather you patronise me than to like and share my post, lol. Each project is very experimental and as such, they are always open to modification.
Look, you cannot be too comfortable with digital business, it is not stable, anyone can disrupt the industry at any time. WAMAs 2017 recognition is a fair chance for support and patronage. Don’t think all these things translate to money or financial rewards.
MM: Your work in the African film industry extends even beyond your own platforms. You were also appointed the director of Marketing and Communications at the Pan African Chamber of Commerce. What notable changes did you make during your tenure?
DA: It was an honorary position and more so I was really in the middle of some projects when I took it up hence I didn’t really want to hold on that position because the kind of change I want to bring to the chamber is not really ready for it. It was a very brief office and I’ve got so much on my personal desk at that time and their regulations and the demand was not really helping me because I was very busy. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tell people that I am busy because it always sounds like I am arrogant even up till now.
MM: What do you think about the state of African film and television at the moment?
DA: Things are changing and it is changing very fast, the only thing that’s stable at the moment is digital content production, in order words, anyone can be a digital content producer if you are willing to work very hard. The future of African film and TV is just to keep working on our narratives. At the moment I have been signed and tied to direct and produce two cinematic films by a client and I am working on my web series “Boju Boju” in partnership with King-Kong Productions. It is imperative to note that we must tell our African narratives in a way that is conducive and effective to various audiences. But distribution is where it has always been the challenge, whoever controls the distribution controls the revenue. That’s why filmmakers are broke but they are at the art and passion side of the chain, not the business side.
MM: What trends do you foresee in the industry in the next few years?
DA: There is nothing to foresee, it is happening already. There will be more digital entrepreneurs and billionaires, that is the fact. It is obvious. Our interest and commitment to content will definitely shift especially that COVID 19 has really knocked every business out.
Before COVID pandemic, no clients take you seriously or trust you with their projects if you tell them you are working from home, but now no one cares where you work from, It is more about quality and timely delivery. The truth and reality are obvious that information is cross-pollinating with technological innovations and infrastructure. More streaming capacity is enhanced by social media platforms, big corporations will rather do ad spend on social media than on traditional TV hence local TV stations are straining to generate revenue because of this mind shift. Look the truth, we see it coming but we didn’t pay attention. Netflix has taken over
Hollywood. They know how to predict the future and their business model is designed to evolve and accommodate technological growth as an OTT service. The truth is, the future is now and the best way to handle it is to build relevant network services that are related to your digital platforms.