Launching early in January of this year, Battabox has quickly become a household name in Nigeria. Bringing a new and different approach to News and Entertainment, Battabox aims to give Nigerians a chance to have an input in how their news and stories are being shared. Their tagline is ‘Nigeria like you’ve never seen before’ and that is exactly what they show you. From important news features to silly everyday activities, Battabox covers it all; giving the viewers, as well as those involved, a different perspective on things going on in Nigeria. We had the opportunity of speaking with the founder, who happens to be the ex-CNN correspondent to West Africa, Christian Purefoy, who gave us insight to what Battabox is about.
Rise Africa: I see you studied International politics and International History in University, was there anything in particular that attracted you to Journalism?
Christian Purefoy: I got into Journalism because I enjoy writing. That was the main thing; studying international politics obviously helped. I enjoy it because for me, it’s a big part of what makes the world go round. I had an opportunity to go to Nigeria so I followed that through. Funnily enough I got into it because of the writing but I ended up in video and enjoyed that even more.
RA: How did you end up going to work in Nigeria?
CP: I had absolutely no idea about Nigeria; I went there completely blind to the country itself. I really didn’t know much but I had the opportunity of accommodation out there and I wanted to be a journalist, well try my hand at journalism. It was really tying together various opportunities and since then I never really looked back. My time in Nigeria has changed my life.
RA: Are you permanently based there, or do you commute between Nigeria and the UK?
CP: I travel back and forth because my family is in the UK and my business is in Nigeria, so I move back and forth between them.
RA: Is it hard?
No, thankfully not because everyone who works at Battabox is based in Nigeria, because everyone who works for Battabox is Nigerian. It is a really great team, they really pull together and they get everything rolling. And because it is an internet based company, I can help run it from the UK, so I can spend time with family and friends. It also helps being in the UK, there are all sorts of resources I can draw on when I’m here.
RA: Why did you decide to stay in Nigeria after leaving CNN?
CP: There are several levels to that question. First is that I saw what I hope, is a big opportunity with Battabox, and also through that I would like to think I’m keeping my ties there. Nigeria gave so much to me; maybe I could give something back. I enjoy Nigeria. I didn’t just want to pack up and leave. I’m very passionate about Nigeria so I didn’t just want to say “ok, that’s it, I’ve done my time and never go back.”
RA: How long were you there for?
CP: 8 years
RA: Is there a meaning behind the name Battabox?
CP: Yes there is. The Batta is the big talking drum in Nigeria. It’s a way of communication, a traditional way of communication and the box is the television angle of it. You know watching a box. So yeah, it’s a play on those two words
RA: What is the concept of Battabox?
CP: Battabox is essentially a video channel for Nigerian news and entertainment, that is what we would like it to be. It’s all online. We concentrate predominantly on video and we’d like to think that we will be THE video channel for news and entertainment in Nigeria. What we’re finding is that there is a market and a massive demand for it.
RA: The first time I heard of Battabox was during the OccupyNigeria protests earlier this year. Could you tell me a little bit about how you got started?
CP: We actually launched earlier than expected when that happened. We saw the opportunity and we realized that this was an extremely big moment for Battabox and Nigeria. We basically just went out onto the street and streamed live; there was nothing else we really could do. Obviously you need massive logistics for that, with just getting the internet out on the street and then the issue of security and all that. But the reception we got from the people on the street, the audience was enormous, and again it just showed that there is a massive demand and appetite for people on the ground to get their voices heard and for people watching to know what’s going on.
RA: What impact do you think Battabox has made in Nigeria?
CP: Well I’d hope other people might be able to tell you that. First of all, it’s a business so the difference it has made in some people’s lives including mine, is that it’s work. That is important for everyone especially in Nigeria with so many unemployed. We do employ students and give them opportunities. We have a partnership going with one of the local universities; we have a training program for some of the mass communication students. Hopefully we can train them and make a difference as well as give them more experience. The main thing for all of this is to give people a voice and the real thing with Battabox is to allow people to say what they want, within reason of course. We’re not going to have anything outrageous said, but it gives people that voice that the internet can afford, that’s a big thing and I hope it makes a difference.
RA:People are encouraged to upload their content to the website. Are there certain guidelines that need to be followed in terms of what kind of content is posted?
CP: People can upload anything; we really want to encourage that. It does go through a screening process and we will let people know if their video is suitable or not. We don’t put anything that’s outrageous. The real guideline we have is that first of all it fits into the Battabox theme of news and entertainment and secondly we don’t want to release anything that is offensive.
RA: How many people are involved and what are their various roles?
CP: Well there are two directors; myself and my Nigerian partner, there are then two main producers and a lot of camera people. There are probably 10-15 of us. The numbers sort of go up and down but it’s a good solid team and everyone pulls together. Everyone works really hard.
RA: Are you guys funded?
CP: No. I fund it all myself. Currently Battabox does not make any profit because we haven’t rolled out our advertising platform yet. We want to give it a little bit of time, gain a little bit of traction and not bombard people with advertising just yet. That is coming, we’re just giving it a little time, getting the word out on Battabox and allowing people to enjoy the experience. We also want to see how people use it and what they want from it.
RA: Is Battabox open to suggestions?
CP: Yes definitely. We get suggestions all the time, we love to get more. We really want people to get involved with Battabox. The concept of Battabox is for the community to get involved; we don’t want it to be a sort of top down approach but more of a bottom up approach to news. We want people to be uploading their own stories; whether you’re in Obalende or Oshodi or in a village somewhere, we really want you to upload more local stories. That’s what we think people are interested in. People speak to me on Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter and we do have a contact form on the site, so people can get in touch.
RA: What has the response been like since you started?
CP: We’re extremely happy, we’re overwhelmed actually by the response. The viewers continue to climb which is the most important thing. People are getting involved and making comments. The feedback is appreciation as well as criticism and we welcome both because we are just starting and we want to know what people think. We’re very happy with the response; the figures are going in the right direction.
RA: What challenges have been faced with making the concept work?
CP: We are an internet company and the biggest challenge has been the internet in Nigeria; that is just simply the infrastructure. We obviously overcome those challenges but cost and reliability are still major issues. The costs are still too high and the reliability too low. That is changing though and it will change even more, as more fibre optic cabling come into Nigeria. The challenge is also an opportunity for us, if the internet was amazing then there would be a lot more competition for us.
RA: What are your hopes for Battabox?
CP: My first hope is for our audience to continue to increase and that we would be able to get people’s voices heard and give them a platform to be seen, to be heard and that it would make a difference for them. The only way I feel like that can be done is as a business, so that will obviously go hand in hand with growing Battabox as a business and employing more people, as well as improving the state of video and journalism and the internet in Nigeria. Once all that comes together, we would like to have Battabox as the premier news and video site in Nigeria. Obviously there are all the other domestic news stations like NTA, Channels news and the rest. There are, from what we’ve seen, problems with the old model and we hope that Battabox will create a more transparent, more open and more equal news and video site. The other big opportunity we see is that the internet and mobile has just come to Nigeria and unlike the rest of the world which are stuck with the old, sort of big ways of doing things, like the big television stations and broadcasting stations, Battabox is not anchored with any of these problems, all that infrastructure, all that money. People are watching it all on their mobiles these days and they’re watching it on the internet. Battabox could be a leading light for other companies. Teach them how to manage the internet, video, news and all of these things. We would like to see Battabox help lead the way for all of this.
RA: What advice would you give to people who are trying to get into the field of journalism?
CP: In general, you’ve got to find a story you’re passionate about and you’ve got to keep working at it. It does take time. It took me many years but I enjoyed it from the beginning and so I stayed and followed through with it. It’s tough and it is getting tougher; more people want to be journalists and there are fewer jobs out there. You’ve got to be passionate and keep working at it and opportunities will present themselves. You can also make opportunities for yourself. For example with Battabox, we have people coming to us saying “this is a really great concept, we really like it, is there anything we can do?” They send us videos for free because at the moment we can’t keep paying everybody, but once this takes off we will be able to pay them all and we will bring them onboard. They’ve created these opportunities for themselves and the reason they are doing it is because they are passionate about it. That’s what Battabox is there for; to be their publisher, give them advice and help them to get experience.
For those in Nigeria, I would give them the same advice but I would warn that there are big challenges; and it’s the same all over with corruption, transparency and accountability. Journalists have to keep the politicians accountable and force transparency; the only way to do that is to stop corruption in the journalist house themselves. At Battabox we do hope to roll out a transparency section, and we think that the internet provides that opportunity where you can get away from this old system and start afresh.
RA: If you had to pick something as being your favourite about Nigeria, what would it be?
CP: The people. They are optimistic beyond expectation. Whatever happens, whatever is thrown at them, they would always have a smile on their faces. Suya would be the second.
RA: What does the phrase Africa is done suffering mean to you?
CP:-Make no mistake- mobile phones and the internet is a revolution for Nigeria and the continent. There is an unprecedented opportunity for change- for the better- to give people the opportunity like never before to take their politics, business, their future and lives into their own hands. Battabox wants to give the opportunity for Nigerians to make their story, their narrative- their own. If seized with both hands, this profound change can only make things better.
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