Magazine article Variety

Kenyans Lack Coin to Capitalize on Local Boom

Magazine article Variety

Kenyans Lack Coin to Capitalize on Local Boom

Article excerpt

The growing TV biz in Kenya could be entering a golden age for créatives, as increased competition between local webs and pay TV operators is spurring a boom in content. But locating coin to pay for projects is a challenge as producers work to find a pan-regional or even global hit that can break out of East Africa's biggest market.

In a nation of 43 million, 3.7 million Kenyans own TV sets, according to market research firm Ipsos - a number that has climbed rapidly since the 2009 census found that only 2.4 million homeowners had TVs. Most Kenyans do not access content on smartphones or tablets, with low penetration of mobile devices in the territory.

Driving growth has been a vibrant pay TV sector, with the virtual monopoly long held by DStv, owned by South Africa's MultiChoice, now complemented by offerings from Zuku, owned by Kenya's Wananchi Group; China's StarTimes; and GoTV, also owned by MultiChoice. The competition has created a variety of affordable bouquets for consumers, with entry-level monthly subscription rates starting at around $10 for DStv, $9 for Zuku, $7 for GoTV and $6 for Star Times. Subscriber numbers are harder to come by; most services are tight-lipped about that information, and there are no outside measuring firms to tabulate it. However, Zuku maintains it has more than 150,000 subs, and all the pay TV entities are upbeat about adding consumers to their rolls.

"We're scratching the surface of that market," says Hannelie Bekker, managing director of Wananchi Programming.

Wananchi's Zuku has made a name for itself by establishing a strong local brand, creating original series like the musical drama "Groove Theory" and the "West Wing"-style drama "State House." The company offers nine branded Zuku channels on its pay TV platforms, and produces 10 original shows.

Zuku's limitations, though, reflect the challenges of working in what is still a relatively small local market. The American model of winnowing down hundreds of scripts to produce dozens of pilots that may or may not yield a hit show - a strategy perplexing many in the U.S., as well - is unthinkable in Kenya. "If you commission something, you better make it work," Bekker says.

Even as demand for local content grows, the high cost of producing it is a major factor holding back the industry, with Kenyan broadcasters still relying heavily on syndicated U.S. series and Latin American telenovelas to pad out the schedule. …

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