COVID 19 has affected how we do things; from socializing to spending time with friends and family and most of all how we do business.
With that understanding, for many companies launching a product amidst a pandemic is a risk that the management would not want to undertake.
However, with the widespread of school closures and stay-at-home and social distancing emphasis from the Government and other health entities, there has never been a greater need for quality children’s programming, thus presenting a unique opportunity for Akili Network, the first commercial digital content network distributing educational entertainment.
Barely a week after the first COVID 19 Case was reported in the country, Akili Network launched Akili Kids! a 24/7 kids learning channel that has since moved to be loved by many including parents and caregivers as the content is designed for enjoyable co-viewing for the entire family.
So where did it all start? In an interview with Jesse Soleil, President and Co-Founder of Akili Network, Jesse said that the idea of starting Akili Kids was a culmination of almost 8 years of conceptualization and hard work that saw Akili Network venture into the vibrant Kenyan broadcast industry that has more than 64 free-to-air TV Stations.
However, despite the number of channels, there was again a unique opportunity that had not been explored by Kenyan Broadcasters. Kenya’s population currently stands at just under 48 million.
Out of the 48 million people, 20 million are children below the age of 15. All through there was no TV channel that was entirely catering for Kenyan children, who form almost 50% of Kenya’s Population.
Additionally, Kenya is a region for the kids entertainment industry to watch with a growing middle class and improving economy. Its TV market, specifically, is predicted to climb to US$416 million in revenue by 2023, up from an estimated US$360 million this year, according to market research firm Statista.
Therefore, presenting an opportunity to start a channel that will fully cater for these children through educational yet entertaining content, an opportunity Jesse and his partner Jeff Schon were openly willing to tap into.
Jesse’s wife is also Kenyan and has been coming to Kenya with his family many times a year for the last 18 years. He saw a huge opportunity for children on television, and that no one was focusing on children and learning outcomes.
Jesse had spent many years at Scholastic, the largest children’s publisher in the world that holds US publishing rights to children’s books series’ like the Harry Potter and Hunger Games. He led educational technology developing products for schools as well as the company’s research and development group, and eventually led eScholastic, the company’s online division.
So, while setting up Akili Kids with his partner, Schon, they had a clear idea of what they wanted, a well-established children’s educational television platform.
This saw the team go back to the drawing board of their market research a couple of times despite working with leading research firms in the country just to get it right.
“I remember during the period, we had to put in so much research work to understand our main target audience, who are below the age of 15 years. At some point, we had to go back to the drawing board and carry out the research by ourselves but 8 years on we are quite glad that we started this journey,” said Jesse.
Akili Kids! is Kenya’s first and only dedicated free-to-air children’s learning channel with imaginative and educative content that parents can trust, and that children will benefit from. The channel aspires to be the most trusted Kenyan brand in children and family entertainment.
As a 24-hour channel, Akili Kids launched with around 600 half hours of programming that repeats across four six-hour blocks. The channel is also adding another 500 half hours of programming over the coming months, to include shows like Sesame Workshop’s Esme and Roy and Nickelodeon’s Team Umizoomi.
On what was the Akili Network’s greatest achievement so far Jesse explained that it was the launch of Akili Kids! that happened on March 31st 2020, just a few days after the country reported the first case of COVID 19, forcing many institutions to close down.
”We planned on launching sometime in early 2020, but with schools closed and children and parents at home we knew we had to speed things up and launch by 31st March. We had to accelerate in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, so that families across the country could have access to free, inspiring, and educative content,” he said.
During the period Jesse also explained that the launch was faced with a fair share of challenges especially being that the same week they were to go live, international borders were closing, and they were yet to be issued with a channel designation from PANG.
“Our server came in three weeks late, our engineer flew out from Bulgaria to install the server, leaving literally the day before the borders were closed. We received our channel designation from PANG (105 in Nairobi on StarTimes boxes) in the morning on 31 March, and by 11 am we were running our first official (test) broadcast. There were daily mishaps, files not working, the channel going down, hardware failure, and much more but currently things are falling in place.”
However, after the launch, the reception of the channel has been quite impressive especially across Social Media Pages wherein less than four months after the launch, the channel has a record number of viewers: 5.2 million children and 4.3 million parents per week, as reported by Geopoll, one of the most trusted research firms in Kenya.
Their Facebook Page has gained over 64K followers in the same four months.
The TV channel targets about 40% of its programming to be locally produced over the next three years with every program featuring clear learning outcomes.
The network hosts well-established children’s educational shows as well as original and locally developed content. Currently, the channel airs some terrific local programmes including Boom na Wabi and many others in development.
Advertising is one of the major sources of revenue for many TV channels, however, Jesse explained that their biggest differentiator in the broadcast space is their advertising policy.
“Akili Network was created to bring learning and inspiration to the children of Kenya. We are a for-profit double-bottom-line entity, with the goal of creating value and positive social impact for children, their families,” he said.
“Our strategy is to provide access to the most positive, relevant programming available, and to produce shows that Kenyan children see themselves in, promoting content that models positive academic outcomes, values social-emotional awareness, introduces and supports gender equality, and advances health, wellness, job awareness, community and the creative arts, and this extends to our advertising policy as well.” added Jesse
In line with this Jesse explained that they had to put in place an advertising policy to ensure that any advertising around this content is appropriate, takes children’s health and well being into consideration, and does not encourage children to undertake harmful activities.
In determining what advertising is appropriate around children’s content, the age of the target audience is being considered. For the purpose of the guidelines, children should be taken to mean all children and young people under the age of 15.
Jesse further explained that in most TV Channels advertising is designed primarily for parents and caregivers and based on product or service type; however, all channel advertising must also be suitable for children under the age of 15 and must not contain any products or services that would not be suitable for an unsupervised child to see or use. It also means Akili Kids! will never advertise products with high sugar or salt, or that could undermine children’s nutritional standards.
This has seen the team also put together an internal Advertising Standards Council for Akili Kids! TV that reviews that can approve or reject advertising, based on products, content, and age appropriateness.
“Some products that may be appropriate for older audiences may be approved for viewing at later times during the day but may not be approved for hours designated for preschool viewing,” he explained.
Akili Kids! is a free-to-air channel, available on StarTimes/PANG Channel 105, GOtv in the 800s, and is free-to-view on digital TVs and some OTT set-top boxes.
On April 22nd, Akili Network also availed a live stream for Akili Kids with the hopes that everyone could potentially stream Akili Kids! Programmes for their children on their mobile phones, tablets and/or computer via the website at https://akilikids.co.ke/watch (in Kenya).