The Phenomenal Mo Abudu and her quest in Nigeria’s Entertainment Industry
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.“
Breaking glass ceilings is what this Queen of Media does best! Mo Abudu is a filmmaker, content producer, and philanthropist whose net worth is approximately $10.5 million.
But how did it all start?
“If you can think it, you can do it!“
Born on September 11th, 1964, in West London, United Kingdom, Mosunmola (Mo) Abudu is the eldest of three siblings. She completed her primary and secondary education in the United Kingdom and frequently talked about how she had to defend herself and stand up for her identity and culture in an ignorant environment. At the age of 11, two life-changing events occurred in her life; she lost her father , and she realized that she needed to be a brand ambassador for Nigeria.
After her secondary education, she attended Mid Kent College and West Kent College. And for her post-graduate degree, she attended the University of Westminster in London studying Human Resource Management. After graduation in 1987, she began work as a Human Resource Professional at the Atlas Recruitment Consultancy firm in the United Kingdom. She then moved to Starform Group, where she was tasked with designing and producing seminars and conferences.
In 1993 she moved back to Nigeria and got a job as the head of Human Resources in ExxonMobile. She frequently speaks about how her almost decade of experience at ExxonMobile taught her about corporate culture and discipline.
In 2000, Mo took a substantial financial and career risk by leaving ExxonMobile to start her Human Resource Consultancy firm, Vic Lawrence & Associates Limited, and also opened Protea Hotel Oakwood Park, where she has executive training programs.
Twenty-nine years after realizing that she needs to be the brand ambassador for Nigeria, Mo Abudu decided to take another risk.   She was tired of having to hear ‘ridiculous, ignorant and mind-boggling’ questions about Nigeria, tired of afro-pessimism. So she decided it was time to rewrite the African narrative in a new and exciting way. The year she turned 40 years old, Mo Abudu created a platform, Inspire Africa, a daily talk show dedicated to celebrating African culture, the achievements, and goals of the continent and its people. The Inspire Platform brand is what led to the birth of Moments with Mo, the talk show that catapulted the career and achievements of Mo Abudu.
“Never stop dreaming; it’s your one right nobody can take away, wherever you are.“
Now Mo Abudu is the CEO and owner of EbonyLife Media, which encompasses EbonyLife TV, EbonyLife Films, EbonyLife ON, EbonyLife Studios, EbonyLife Productions, and EbonyLife Place.
After creating the Inspire Africa platform, Mo knew she needed to get this on a Pan-African scale; she identified a gap in the market where no Pan-African talk shows existed to change Africa’s perception and to create a positive narrative. She approached DSTV with the proposal, and they turned her down, explaining they did not require such Pan-African shows. She did not give up!
“Always remember that people judge you based on their standards, so always look carefully at those judging you.“
In 2006, Mo, now 42 years old, was ready when DSTV put a call out for talk shows. She created five pilots and sent them, all but one were rejected, and she was informed that they would only be buying her content (at an agreed price) and she would need to find sponsors for the show, which she did.
The talk show, Moments with Mo is a voice for Africans by Africans, where topics such as lifestyle, politics, culture, health, entertainment, and relationships are discussed. The talk show now has over 37,000 followers on Twitter and 51,000 followers on Facebook.
After much success with Moments with Mo, Mo decided to take it a step further. Driven by her passion for being a brand ambassador for Nigeria, changing Africa’s perception and creating a positive narrative, Mo launched EbonyLife TV in 2013. EbonyLife TV is an entertainment and lifestyle network that airs on DSTV (her judges), StarTimes, and airs in more than 50 countries across Africa, the UK, and the Caribbean. In less than one year into operations, the network was ranked in the top 25% tier as one of the most-watched channels on DSTV.
In 2014, EbonyLife TV won the Nigerian Broadcasters Merit Award for Best TV Channel, and in 2016, they won the Nigerian Broadcasters Merit Award for TV Channel with the best imaging. There are over 33,000 followers of EbonyLife TV on Twitter, over 169,000 followers on Instagram, and over 95,000 followers on Facebook.
In 2014, a year after EbonyLife TV’s launch, Mo Abudu launched EbonyLife Films, a production company to help amplify Africans’ voices and narratives. Since its launch, almost every year, EbonyLife Films produces another blockbuster that breaks records.
In 2015, they produced a film Fifty, which became the highest-grossing drama and number #1 film in Nigeria 2015 and was selected to screen at the 59th BFI London Film Festival. The film was acquired by the global streaming entertainment service provider Netflix in 2015.
In 2016, they produced the film Wedding Party, which went on to be the highest-grossing film ever in the Nigerian box office and was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015.
In 2017, Wedding Party 2: Destination Dubai was produced and did even better than the Wedding party and took over as the highest-grossing film in the Nigerian box office. In the same year, they produced the Royal Hibiscus Hotel, which was one of 3 African features to be selected amongst the 48 best new films in the world. Royal Hibiscus also screened at Toronto International Film Festival and was licensed by Amazon Prime.
In 2018, EbonyLife Films hit us with Chief Daddy, the number #1 Nollywood film of 2018 and the third-highest-grossing Nigerian film.
In 2019, they came out with Your Excellency, which grossed over 17 million Naira in 2 days and became the fourth highest-grossing Nollywood film for 2019.
On October 2nd, 2020, EbonyLife Films stays winning, with their new film, Oluture; based on past performance and reviews, it is evident that this film will break more records as the reviews are not out yet.
One of Mo’s success secrets is her ability to build strong partnerships that have helped amplify African voices and stories outside of the continent. Since 2015, Netflix has been purchasing the license to her productions and showing them globally.
In 2018, Mo partnered with Sony Pictures Television, an American production and distribution studio; they signed a 3-year deal that included EbonyLife Film to co-produce The Dahomey Warriors, a film about legendary female Amazons who took on French colonialists in West Africa.
In 2019, AMC Networks, an American production and distribution company, announced a partnership with EbonyLife Films to produce an afro-futurist crime drama. And the most significant and impactful collaboration is the one she signed in 2020 with Netflix to produce multiple branded films and two original series.
Another record was broken, and history is being made again with EbonyLife Films as this is the first multiple deal partnership Netflix has signed with an African production company. EbonyLife Films has over 89,000 followers on Instagram, 62,000 Facebook likes, 6,000 followers on Twitter.
In 2018, Mo launched EbonyLife ON, a subscription-based video on demand platform where users can access the app or website to EbonyLife and non EbonyLife African content – movies, series, documentaries, and TV shows. Subscription is offered monthly for $2.99 as well as annually for $24.99.
This platform is intended to make it easier for people to access African content from across the continent. Mo has also announced that as of July 2020, the network EbonyLife TV will no longer be on DSTV but will be housed on the EbonyLife ON platform, so users can access content whenever and not programmed scheduling as it was on DSTV.
There are currently 7,454 followers of EbonyLife ON on Instagram and 883 followers on Twitter. EbonyLife TV’s transfer from DSTV to EbonyLife ON, the EbonyLife ON platform, might increase users and followership. EbonyLife ON competes with Irokotv, which has the first movers advantage and other independent platforms like LindaIkeji TV. In terms of content and exclusivity, Ebony Life ON is not as strong as the other competitors. Almost all original content on EbonyLife ON, except the talk shows, can be found on Netflix; other non-original content can be found on Irokotv and/or Youtube. When you juxtapose with Irokotv, it is clear that Irokotv has more programming (5,000 movies & TV shows) and Linda Ikeji TV differentiates itself by providing reality-TV content.
EbonyLife Studios is where the magic happens. The recording and production of the over 5,000 hours of programming and seven feature films for EbonyLife happen.
EbonyLife Productions (UK)
EbonyLife Productions (UK) was registered in 2018 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Although the company is currently active, we have not heard nor seen any productions from them, which hints at something being cooked up for the future.
EbonyLife Place is the newest member of the EbonyLife Family; the multi-billion naira luxury and entertainment resort in the heart of Victoria Island was opened on December 8th, 2019, during the premiere of the film Your Excellency. It features a 20 room boutique hotel (The White Orchid), three restaurants (Popina, Turaka Rooftop, Wrap Pool Bar & Restaurant), an event hall (The Victoria Hall), and five luxury screening rooms. There are currently 6,472 followers of EbonyLife Place on Instagram and 226 followers on Twitter.
Unfortunately, soon after its launch, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the global lockdowns causing a drastic reduction in revenue in the entertainment and hospitality industries worldwide, including Nigeria, the growth of EbonyLife place was less than expected. The target market for EbonyLife Place is also more niche than the mass market for EbonyLife Flims, and it operates in a more competitive market requiring more concerted efforts to capture market share post-pandemic.
“Share your recipe of success with others; we all have our unique blueprint.“
Do not get it twisted; EbonyLife ON and EbonyLife Place might not be as commercially successful yet; Still, Mo Abudu is a successful woman who has made strides in the industry felt around the world. She has received accolades both internationally and locally. In 2013, she was listed in Hollywood Reporter’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television and was listed again in 2017.
In 2014, she received an Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) from Babcock University, and in 2018, she also received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts from the University of Westminster.
In 2018, the International Academy of Television Arts and Science appointed her as a Director. She joins a list of moguls tasked with ‘recognizing excellence in television produced outside the United States. In the same year, Powerful Media named her amongst its power list of the United Kingdom’s top 100 most influential people of African and Caribbean heritage. She was also nominated to serve as a member of the Advisory Group on Technology and Creativity in Nigeria.
In 2019, she was appointed the chairperson for the 47th International Emmy Awards Gala. At the 2019 Marche International des Programmes de Television in Cannes, she was awarded the Médailles d’Honneur (Medal of Honour).
In 2020, she wrote to the Academy Awards (Oscars) to allow Nigerian movies with broken English (Pidgin) a chance to be nominated in the International Feature Film category at the Oscars. The Academy approved her justifications and granted her request, a big win for Mo and a more significant victory for the industry.
Mo Abudu attributes her success to
- Having a clear vision
- A great team.
- Attending global industry events
- Continually pitching your ideas globally (being determined)
- Never taking no for an answer (persevering)
- Having faith
Our very own Oprah Winfrey is also a sort after speaker who has been asked to speak at Ivy League schools across the world; Wharton School of Business, Cambridge University Judge School of Business, and Harvard University.
With the empire and all the accolades, Mo still finds the time to raise funds for the administration of transformational initiatives. She founded ‘The Inspire Africa Foundation’, where they organize charity concerts and partner with other NGOs to raise funds for street children. Under EbonyLife TV, she also organizes the Sisterhood Awards, which was launched in 2014 to empower African women in the industry. The ceremony praises the excellency of women in the industry who have made an impact and stride but are easily overlooked.
Is Mo Abudu doing too much? Can this be sustainable?
Mo Abudu is rewriting the African narrative in a contemporary way and ensuring it is distributed globally – her initial goal. And she is taking control of the entire value chain! First off, she is very involved in writing the narrative. She is learning about African history and stories by actually speaking to Africans and discussing their experiences (Moments with Mo). Then she is producing these stories to international standards, so they are distributed on a global scale. She is doing this through EbonyLife Studios and EbonyLife Films – Sony Pictures Television, AMC Network, and Netflix have proved she is doing something right. She has even decided to take distribution into her own hands with EbonyLife ON, although slight adjustments might be required in its positioning, strategy, and execution. And with her latest initiative, EbonyLife Place, she is attempting to market (again, there needs to be a rethink of positioning, strategy, and execution) her efforts and creating a tangible brand behind EbonyLife. And we know a tangible brand provides functional and emotional benefits, making it more sustainable and scalable.