Kenya’s Kiss FM goes into TV with new Kiss TV channel

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Kenya’s Kiss media group started in radio and established a leading position for itself before branching out into newspapers with the Nairobi Star. No sooner was it challenging on that front than it announced that it was going to launch a Kiss TV channel. Russell Southwood caught up with one of the two Managing Directors of the company, Patrick Quarcoo in Nairobi.

Q: How come a Ghanaian like you finds himself running a media company in Kenya?

I was working in London for Reuters and was keen to come back home so I was sent to their offices in Nairobi, Johannesburg and Lagos. I was in the Nairobi for 4 years and then went out on my own. I worked as a consultant for banks for two years.

Then my business partner in Kiss, William Pike, asked me to do the launch of the first FM station in Uganda, Capital Radio, in 1993. At the time William was running the newspaper New Vision which he had started. He went to see the Minister of Information about starting the station who said:”Let me look into the law” and then came back and said there’s nothing preventing me, so here’s a licence. And this was the start of the radio revolution in Uganda.

We now own 2 stations in Uganda, Capital FM and Beat, a Luganda radio station that is number two in Kampala.

Q: So how did you get from Uganda to Kenya?

We had started by looking at the Ugandan market but by 1998 we were looking at whole series of countries, including West African countries through my old contacts there. Out of that process, we started coming to Kenya to try and get a licence.

We had someone we worked closely with who was a distant relative of President Moi and through him we were able to get our first licence. Someone then told Moi I was Museveni’s plant in Kenya. Moi then said cancel the licence but he was told he couldn’t do that so we were given a licence but no frequency so we couldn’t get on air for 8 months.

Then suddenly we were told that that we had to start within 3 weeks. This was Kiss 100 and it was hard to launch because we were the 13th radio station in the market. Our principal competitor was Capital. We invested US$1 million and went to number one within 6 months. Everyone said, it’s a short-term success, it won’t last, Then they said Steadman’s numbers (the main broadcast research company in Kenya) were cooked.

We were the first station in Kenya to use a researched music mix. We had something that appealed to the Kenyan psyche and we put on air the things Kenyans talked about but were not said publicly. I used to say, if you talk about anything, go on air and say it. We’ll deal with it. Discuss the politics of the country in a transparent manner. Also when we launched, we had an advertising campaign that really drew attention to us. It featured a sequence of ads with a women stripping off her clothes until she was naked looking back at you with a radio over her butt. The Nation refused it but the Standard ran it. Moi gave a one hour lecture in Parliament on how he would not allow his country to be ruined.

Kiss was very pushy about issues and it was just not done. Security guys kept calling us up and saying, we don’t like. Stop it! A few advertising agencies were bold enough to advertise but most did not book because we were too edgy. We talked about the things that concerned Kenyans.

We launched a political talk show at 6pm on Sundays and regular panel of politicians and myself dissected the country and the issues affecting it. The show made these guys massive and there were flaming arguments and brilliant debates. It was friends having fun. That show defined the station and gave it credibility.

In 2005, we launched Classic which played music of the 1970s and 1980s. The two stations have become our heritage stations and between them they cover about 50% of the market. In 2007 we moved to acquire East FM, a heritage Asian radio station. More recently, we’ve started the Nairobi Star and we’re printing 25,000 copies in order to have nationwide distribution.

Early this year, we launched two new radio stations, XFM, a 24 hour rock station and Radio Jambo, a talk sport station in Swahili with a mix of African music. They were only launched in January this year so in audience terms, it’s early days. Long term, I think Radio Jambo will do extremely well. It’s got 19 transmitters and one of its nearest competitors has only 13 transmitters. It’s got a great future.

Q: How did the idea for a TV channel come about?

I spoke to the Board about TV and said I never wanted to be in it. But radio in the Kenyan market is very fragmented, prices for advertising have been eroded and margins are being squeezed. Nevertheless we’ve built significant media resources in terms of human capacity. So we’re launching Kiss TV on 4 August. It will be about the Kenyan urban youth lifestyle. We’ll build it around things like music and fashion that drive the youth lifestyle.

There will be lots of Kenya music videos and lots that currently don’t get any showing. 50-60% of the channel will be devoted to Kenyan videos and more if we can find the quality. We also want to make it a socially engaged media with entertainment, drugs, politics and voting. It will be a campaigning media for social growth and development. We’re looking at what MTV does in Africa as a model but want to give it a truly Kenyan feel.

Q: What’s the current state of the advertising market?

Really interesting. Between January and March this year we had a drop in ad revenues. However, the figures from Steadman showed the market had grown but our volumes came down. So that quarter was pretty tough but things are beginning to recover for us.