The words Kufungua Kituo, Kufunga Kituo may not make sense to a large number of people today but represent the rich history of Television in Kenya. Currently, Kenya has more than 20 television channels while the State-owned broadcaster KBC continues to expand reach across the country, as mandated by law, which offers that they should reach even the remotest of areas with their television content. It has not always been like this.
I am told back in the day, television was only available for no more than 3 hours a day, with the content limited to News. This then expanded to more than 18 hours a day, where the National Broadcaster KBC would open its studios at 6 am in the morning (Kufungua Kituo) and shut these studios at Midnight (Kufunga Kituo). In between, the broadcaster would offer content ranging from news, children program and infotainment.
..televisions were not that common across the country and this coupled with the lack of connection to the national grid..
Over time and with the opening up the market, satellite offerings started to become commonplace among consumers. Through the installation of a satellite dish, consumers would access hundreds of television channels from across the world. Content also diversified and users could now watch better and improved television content for longer. However, the satellite was not a mass consumer proposition. The installation costs were prohibitive and the monthly costs for the services locked out more users. Also, televisions were not that common across the country and this coupled with the lack of connection to the national grid, not many enjoyed the power of satellite television beyond select urban areas.
…Technology … allowed for the reduction in cost of setting up a television channel and improving access across the country…
Developments in technology, liberalization of the television market saw the entry of more players into television content space. Liberalization of the market allowed for anyone interested in applying for a T.V broadcast license and then go ahead and set up their own television channel. Technology on the other hand allowed for the reduction in overall cost of setting up a television channel and improving access across the country. It also allowed for the boosting of content production in terms of quality.
Television broadcasting in Kenya has for the last two decades enjoyed a smooth and unmatched run, with millions of people tuning in everyday for different programs. At the same time, local productions have found a home in some of these channels. Digital migration has also played an important role in the same, allowing for the opening up of the space to many more players.
Enter The Internet
..With speeds not exceeding 256 Kbps, streaming content was a massive challenge and users were at the time forced to download content..
The Internet is, however, coming for this crown and inadvertently disrupting how consumers in Kenya access content. While these developments may still be at a nascent stage, they are taking place at such a rapid pace forcing traditional media houses to rethink their entire business model in light of these developments and as such realign their propositions to meet the general demands of consumers.
The internet has always been there as a channel for the delivery of content. Internet speeds were, however, the biggest challenge in allowing for this access. With speeds not exceeding 256 Kbps, streaming content was a massive challenge and users were at the time forced to download content. The downloads were often accessed illegally through torrents and this gave rise to piracy, an issue that continues to affect content creators and television networks to date. The demand for this content illegally download also led to the rise of bootleggers, who loaded this content into disks and sold it to customers.
As internet speeds continued to improve, users started to stream content by the droves. Platforms such as YouTube played an important role in serving as a point of entry for users seeking to stream any kind of content from the internet. The challenge was no longer the internet but the content. Most of it, was not readily accessible in the Kenyan market and eager users seeking to watch the very latest episodes of their favourite shows resulted to VPNs to mask their IP address and as such access various content offerings available in select countries.
Permission-less innovation has played an important role in dealing with this challenge of Access. In early 2016, Netflix announced the expansion into over 180 countries around the world, while Amazon also announced its entry into over 200 countries across the globe including Kenya, without necessarily setting up infrastructure in these nations. Users can, therefore, stream content from whichever platform they deem suitable.
The battle lines in the streaming space in Kenya have now been drawn pitting ShowMax, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The real differentiator will revolve around price, content and ease of payments. On the Price, Showmax offers the cheapest propositions to consumers with a Kshs. 330 a month for ShowMax Select and Kshs. 880 a month for ShowMax Premium. Latest entrant Amazon Video Prime is charging users $2.99 (Kshs. 300) for their first month and then reverts to $5.99 (Kshs. 600) after that. Users are also getting a free 7-day trial once they sign-up. Netflix on the other hand charges users between $7.99 (800) and 12.99 (1300) for its packages. Access to content by many people means that providers can effectively charge lower fees for access while at the same time etch a profit.
Content is King on this space and having a large catalogue of television shows, movies and even original content is a real differentiator. As such, Netflix takes the pole position in this space for having thousands of hours in content, both new and old which users can get to watch. Amazon has also splurged a large chunk of its budget in the development of original content including shows such as Grand Tour for its platform, while at the same time signing deals with major studios to avail their films and television shows on its platform. ShowMax on the hand has an edge owing to its unique access to local television shows as well as movies. One can binge watch The Real House Wives of Kawangare, Hapa Kule News, Churchill Show or even Auntie Boss on ShowMax, while also browsing some of the most famous movies and TV shows.
On the payment end, Kenyans are still averse to online payments and especially where a card is involved. This may be a huge hindrance to both Netflix and Amazon which limit payment for the services to card payment only. ShowMax on the other hand, allows users to pay for their content through Safaricom’s mobile money platform M-Pesa which most local consumers are aware of, and have no problem using to pay for the service.
Other factors include quality of the content, where consumers such as myself would want to access content in 1080p or 4K formats, for an ultimate viewing experience. Amazon has one a remarkable job in availing content in 4K formats which makes it a joy to watch. Convenience is also an important aspect of the same, where the ability to watch content on mobile, web or even download it for later watch matters to most consumers.
So this holiday seasons, go right ahead. Stream as much!