Kenya painfully switched from analog to digital TV during 2015. What followed was a period of court cases against the migration from some media houses, and people being left in the dark because it meant that they needed to acquire an additional device before they could watch TV.

Many people went without TV for some time until affordable decoders were in the market.

Even then, the number of Free to Air TV stations were very few, and thus there was little for people who were unwilling to pay for TV. For most people, TV had been a free service and it was hard for people to reconcile watching TV coupled with a monthly subscription. To date, the most-watched TV stations in Kenya are the ones that are aired for free.

Growth of  TV stations

Since then, the transformation has been remarkable.

From just slightly over 15 TV stations in 2014, Kenya now has about 65 TV stations. This means that viewers have a wide choice of what to watch. This should be a good thing in the days when people are being encouraged to stay at home due to COVID-19.

However, there is one area that digital TV has brought transformation to: opening up media space for people who use other languages other than English and Swahili.

The majority of Kenyans often learn Kiswahili and English as the second third languages, especially in rural areas. These people also communicate in their first language on a normal day to day activities, save for people in urban areas where Swahili and English are more common. These people were able to get a TV station that offers content in a language that they are most conversant with.

The eighth most-watched TV station in Kenya today broadcasts in Kikuyu, a group of people that accounts for 22% of the population. This shows that it is quite popular among the people who speak that language.

More talent available for TV shows in Kenya

It is not only about viewers.

Opening of new TV stations that use local languages has given some very talented people a platform where they can perform and shine in a language they are most comfortable in, as opposed to when they had to package their content in a second or third language and try fit into the existing programs. When these people tried to use the available English and Swahili platforms, they found that competition was higher, and they lost not based on their content, but the inability to communicate effectively in the standard language.

Currently, there many comedies in various TV stations, and I do not think the ones that are in English are any better than the ones done in local languages. However, many of the comedians who do the shows in local languages would not find any space in English and Swahili shows because that is not the language they are fluent in. With digital TV, these people now have a lifeline and can sustain a career.

Ten years from now, we will have many young adults who have grown up aware that a career in the media is possible, and the pool of talent will be deep and wide.

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