ShowMax Interview Part 1. One on one Talk with Denise Mwende

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The Kenyan entertainment industry has really grown in the last few years.  But a lot of questions still remain unanswered concerning the current status and the future of the space. To help us understand the industry, had a sit down with two of the great minds behind the ShowMax in Kenya. In part one, here, we talk to the Head of Content Acquisition and Planning at Showmax Kenya, Denise Mwende, to discuss the dynamics of local content production and Kenyan trends.

Ms. Denise Mwende, photo courtesy of Allan Gichigi. – How much autonomy does the local unit in Kenya have to be able to make decisions on the ground?

Denise Mwende:-  We are given a lot of autonomy as different countries have different needs. What’s popular in Kenya might not be the same as what is popular in West Africa or South Africa. Trends are different, for example, Kenyans are quite keen on action movies and comedy content. We learn from what is happening in other regions and share the ideas.

K:-  What is Showmax Kenya’s role in finding local content?

DM:-  From the Kenyan perspective, we do do a lot of research to understand the local trends and we are in charge of content acquisition. The content we acquire is quite broad but definitely African. We have titles from Kenya, Uganda, West Africa and other areas. One thing we know for sure is that not all the content that works on linear TV works on SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand). We also meet with local content creators to enable them to present their content for review and for buying.

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K:- Can you tell us some more about what Kenyans like watching on SVOD?

DM:- What people watch on SVOD and what people watch on linear is different. We have local channels that invest in a lot of local content but when you go to the private piracy review you see a lot of international content being consumed. For Kenyans, it is a mix of local and international.

It is a good feeling to be able to give people a platform to get the content that they have not watched previously. In August when we launched Kati Kati, it really did well, and at the beginning of the year we launched Nairobi Half Life, which is still a hit.

To cater for different tastes we have created collections to make it easier to find content. For example, when we buy movies from a franchise, we group them, like the Transformers Collection and the Mission Impossible Collection. Under series, we usually group them by genre, like action, adventure, comedy.

We also have our First on Showmax category, which highlights the shows you won’t find anywhere else.

K:- Are you doing any in-house productions here in Kenya?

DM:- We have not started on that front. We first want to be sure about the genre to go into and the production company to use, and understand the scope of work. Our first original production is launching in South Africa in December. They are further along in the process. We are still in the research phase.

K: – Tell us about how you work with local content producers.

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DM:- We often meet producers through TV markets or film festivals that create a space for the producers and the content buyers to interact, such as Discop, held in South Africa recently. It is literally a huge room full of stands with different content buyers and creators.

The business also requires us to be alert. When we are watching a show, we watch the end credits and would see so-and-so has created the given programme. We simply Google from there and get more information.

K:- What other support does Showmax give local content creators?

DM:- We sponsored the Golden Dhow Award at the Zanzibar Film Festival, and gave a cash prize to the winning movie. This was driven by our interest and involvement with African stories.

K:- Tell us about Showmax Kenya’s approach to African-centered content.

DM:- One of the sections we have on the platform is African Film Library, which gives a platform to African award-winning titles from all over: Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt. It is important to mention that a lot of the content created for this section screens on the festival circuits abroad first, meaning we can’t get them immediately. Depending on the success of the film, it might take a long time. Kati Kati is one such example.

K:- What role does social media play in marketing Showmax Kenya?

DM:- It is huge. And a great way to gauge the response. When we put out the Nairobi Half Life Trailer on our social media pages, it brought a lot of excitement. As a digital product, it gives us access to the demographic that we are looking for. Many producers are now releasing their content through YouTube and using it as a sample to see the popularity of their content. We have a show called “This Is It”, initially created by a lady called Lola. The show is about a young married couple trying to get to know each other. She put it on YouTube last year to see if it was something people would be interested in. It was an instant hit and now it is in Season 2, which is being released on a weekly basis.

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K:- How is Kenya unique compared to other countries?

DM:- From the Kenyan perspective we have the local payment method M-Pesa, which is convenient. And there is great local content, which is clearly different from that of other countries.


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