Ethiopia: Moby Group launches free-to-air satellite station Kana TV in JV with local partners

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Dubai-based Moby Group is launching a new satellite entertainment channel in Ethiopia in a JV with local partners. For years the TV sector in Ethiopia was just Government channels but two satellite stations are now launching. Russell Southwood spoke to Elias Schulze, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Kana TV.

Headquartered in Dubai, Moby Group is a media and entertainment company with a focus on emerging and frontier markets extending from Central Asia to the Middle East and beyond. The group currently operates 16 businesses in six countries in broadcasting, production, publishing, music, and strategic communications. The group was founded in 2003 by the Mohseni family as a privately held company and  interestingly also has 21st Century Fox as a strategic minority shareholder. It is the Moby Group’s first African venture.

The Managing Director of Kana TV, Elias Schulze is no stranger to Africa as he was African CEO for Kaymu, an African Internet Group Company before becoming a principal in The Africa group, a boutique advisory and early stage venture capital firm focused on specialized opportunities across Africa.

According to Schulze, the idea for the station came up two years when of its co-founders was thinking about the market potential of Ethiopia:”I visited Ethiopia and fell in love with it. The Ethiopian market has a lot of latent demand. We did a study of the market and got the other two co-founders together. We approached the Moby Group and formed that partnership.”

Kana TV is joint venture between Moby Group and a group of entrepreneurs in Ethiopia including Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, Elias Schulze, Nazrawi Ghebreselasie and Addis Alemayehou. The local vehicle is BeMedia, a fully Ethiopian owned and operated entity led by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari as the GM and will be Kana TV’s exclusive media production company:”Moby Group is the technical and operating partner. BeMedia is an exclusive local production partner to Kana Television – this means BeMedia helps produce for and sells to Kana Television much of the content
which it airs on Kana via Nilesat.”

“The advantage of as satellite as a service is that we can also service the diaspora. The Government has drawn up plans to transition to digital and there are possible partnerships there. But right now, we’re focused on getting everything operational. The objective is to grow the market.”

So what’s the competition? The terrestrial state broadcaster EBC has 3 channels. The largest EBC1 has a 75-80% daily viewership and there are also regional and national satellite channels plus regional terrestrial broadcasters. There are no private terrestrial broadcasters. According to the survey it carried out, 77% get TV from satellite and 90% from channels on Nilesat, including EBS, an American entertainment channel from the Ethiopian diaspora. There is only limited penetration from pay TV provider DStv.

The market research survey is one of the first in the market and it intends to publish it on a regular basis:”We want to bring facts to the market. We’ll be an anchor investor in the Ipsos study and it will include spend in the market. There will be ratings to show who’s watching what. Others will benefit but we don’t because it will bring facts to the market. We want to get an association of broadcasters and advertisers also to chip in a little bit of money.”

Viewers will need a dis and a box and the whole set-up will cost US$80-100:”It’s not super-cheap but it’s do-able.”

In terms of what the viewers will see, it will offer dubbed content from around the world that has not been seen before in Ethiopia. From its focus groups it found that potential viewers were already watching Turkish and Arabic shows “and not understanding a whole lot of it. We will do a really good job dubbing. We tested different demographics and looked at 200 shows to choose the eight we will go with. The real goal is to build out quality and interesting entertainment in Amharic.”

So how will it all add up?:”To start with there will be 4-5 hours (of this kind) of fresh content with 70-80% dubbed. In 3-5 years time we will switch round the proportions from 1-2 locally produced shows to locally produced and managed shows.” The launch is planned for the end of March 2016.

The business model is to be a free-to-air advertising-based channel. In terms of advertisers, “it’s still in the early stages in terms of having different sectors but we will ride the wave and spur greater use of TV advertising. Generally people are very excited and think it is a relevant way to reach the consumer, especially business and consumer electronics.”

Meanwhile a Kenyan company Nahoo LLC, officially launched its Ethiopian channel Nahoo Satellite TV at the Golden Tulip Hotel on January 14, 2016. The TV channel will be piloted until February, said Kidus Dagnachew, CEO of Nahoo TV. The agreement with its Ethiopian partner, Tuba Multimedia, was signed on November 15, after each did its own feasibility study. This new Ethiopian channel has been developed based on Tuba's interest in exploiting its potential for journalism.

"For three and half years, we had studied the feasibility of operating a private frequency on satellite. However, when this opportunity presented itself, we took it. The private frequency, is now a long term project," the CEO told Fortune.

At this time the channel is working on 12 programmes with different structure and content. The programmes include psychology, law, music and drama.

Although Kidus and his colleagues have different educational and career backgrounds, this is not their first foray into the media.

Ethiopia is potentially a huge market for both telecoms and broadcasting. This opening up to satellite free-to-air channels should spur growth. But with Ethio Telecom being a monopoly, one of the most lucrative sectors of advertising will be missing from the market.

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