WTV, one of the newest television stations in Kenya, has been shut, leaving close to 50 employees in the cold, including Johnson Mwakazi. The station, which started in June 2013 and known in full as Wholesome TV, went off air yesterday. Employees were told broadcasting had been suspended until further notice and production of programmes stopped. The station has been reeling under a string of financial difficulties that appear to have eventually ground its operations to a halt.
WTV is owned by a group of local investors under an outfit called Foundation Media Group. It has, evidently, been facing cashflow problems and leadership issues, with a high turnover of employees. People familiar with WTV operations say it has struggled to attract strategic investors who would pump in more money to improve programming and attract best talent in an industry where star performers come at a high price.
Without high quality content and relying on mainly on entrepreneur profiles and magazine-type programming, WTV could not attract premium advertising in a very competitive market that was flooded by more players after the digital migration last year. The little that came through sponsorships of programmes was often gulped by its operational expenses.
When it started, it appeared its financiers had deep pockets. It even hired some high-profile presenters like Nicholas Mudimba and Zawadi Mudibo, who later left when salaries delays started after the cash reserves had burnt out. Besides, there has been an exodus of journalists due to poor pay, being forced to rely on interns most of the time and thus compromising quality.
WTV, with the slogan Your Biashara Channel, had positioned itself as a business station, modelled on the likes of CNBC or Bloomberg, and focused on SMEs, entrepreneurship and general business. “We recognise that beyond entertainment, the viewer has an innate desire to grow themselves financially,” it says on its website. It has been featuring small to medium scale businesses and showcasing their successes.
The biggest casualty of the closure is Johnstone Mwakazi, who left Citizen TV at the peak of his career as a presenter two years ago to join the startup as CEO. This big hire gave the TV station a huge psychological boost. As he came in pioneering Managing Director Katwa Nzile resigned, while then CEO Bedan Mbugua, a veteran journalist, was reportedly laid off.
Mwakazi then embarked on what looked like house-cleaning by sacking the entire newsroom. It later emerged it was a cost-cutting move as the station had started running short of cash to run a full-fledged newsroom, which was to be run by a skeleton team of Elijah Mwangi as presenter and Macharia Muhoro as head of TV. Forewarned, Mwangi left a few weeks ago to join the Chamwada Report, a weekly current affairs programme produced by Alex Chamwada for KTN.
Also left jobless is one of the key presenters Linda Kroeger, who joined from Cosmopolitan TV, another struggling television station that’s staring at closure. On its website, WTV proclaims that it goal is to walk with viewers to their financial freedom by showcasing various businesses and taking them through the various stages of running a successful venture. But, it seems, WTV failed to follow its own advice.