Monday, August 11, 2014

Swahili, and how the East African language is fueling the African continent's latest, and brand-new TV arms race.

Sometimes the viewer wins, and currently no single viewership or cultural group on African soil is suddenly more sought-after and more courted that the Swahili speaking people of East Africa - suddenly finding themselves in the midst of a red-hot courtship from not one, not two, but three African pay-TV operators desperately looking for Swahili love - and eyeballs.

A veritable viewership arms race is suddenly fully underway for Swahili viewership across East African countries - stretching and including from Kenya and Tanzania, to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and even Mozambique as the pan-African Zuku TV, M-Net and MultiChoice and China's StarTimes are going full throttle and are all ramping up Swahili programming and output for dedicated Swahili TV channels.

As Zuku TV, M-Net and MultiChoice and StarTimes are suddenly in a mad dash to all produce and broadcast their own Swahili language content and to create, fine-tune and populate Swahili centred TV brands, the big winner is the viewer.

The combined result of these television industry market forces can be nothing else but the creation of a "Swahiliwood" for Kenya and East Africa.

Already China's StarTimes Media announced - just last month the creation and building of a massive new Africa headquarters and studio complex to produce and churn out countless hours of Swahili specific TV content over the coming years.

StarTimes Media is ready to sink a massive US$78.8 million into this project covering 20 000 square metres.

Kenya's Zuku TV, branching out further and further across East African territories, is in the process of commissioning films specifically in Swahili to broadcast on Zuku Swahili Movies (with English subtitles).

Zuku Swahili Movies when it launched on Zuku TV in March 2013, was the first of its kind in the region, and Africa in general.

Now both StarTimes and M-Net have been muscling in on the action, with a feverish, frantic viewership courtship that include brand realignments, ramping up Swahili local content production and the creation of TV channels specifically going after sought after Swahili viewership.

China's pay-TV operator StarTimes gobbling up African TV real estate, is not sitting idle and has now, dramatically, unveiled its self-packaged and produced Star Swahili TV channel in a bid to lure Swahili TV viewers, as StarTimes revamps its offering for Kenyan StarTimes subscribers as well as in other countries.

With Star Swahili StarTimes promises more local content on the TV channels which it is making available as a basic tier TV channel on all StarTimes bouquets, positioning it to grab and retain as many Swahili viewers as possible.

Star Swahili has gone live immediately on StarTimes last week following a sudden announcement, with a mix of Kiswahili movies, series, drama, comedy, documentaries, celebrity lifestyle and talk shows.

"As a company, we are committed to quality content acquisition and development for this and more channels to come key and progressively enriching the television viewing experience for our subscribers," says StarTimes in a statement.

Then there's M-Net, whose announcement about a dramatic alignment to create a Swahili language brand and Swahili TV channels for East Africa came last week in the exact same week as StarTimes' equally dramatic announcement.

M-Net is suddenly launching Maisha Magic as a new brand in East Africa and is changing the name of AfricaMagic Swahili to Maisha Magic Swahili from 24 September on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform.

"There is definitely great potential for a customised East Africa television brand," said Michael Ndetei, M-Net East Africa regional director last week, announcing the changes.

What he was really saying of course is that M-Net has taken cognisance of the rapid growth of Swahili viewers demanding TV programming in their language, and that there's a lot more money to be made by creating and funneling content to these viewers where they know that they can get it and are able to access it.