The influx of game and trivia shows, polls, contests and other SMS-based events on leading Kenyan TV and radio stations tells an interesting story of how gaming has become an important source of income for many media houses, even as some question the ethics of such operations – comparing it to gambling and accusing stations of using their wide reach to mint profits from unsuspecting audiences.
Media houses in Kenya have strategies for raising money and building engagement through questions or polls of some kind during programs. Unknown to many, TV and radio stations often have clear revenue splits that involving mobile operators, specialized premium SMS service providers and the stations themselves.
Seemingly, Kenyan media latched onto the explosion of the betting and gambling industry in Kenya – which was marked by a meteoric rise in sports betting. A 2017 report from GeoPoll revealed that Kenya had the highest number of youth who had participated in gambling or betting in the past at 76%.
The big 4 of Kenyan mainstream media – Royal Media Services (RMS), Nation Media Group (NMG), Standard Group Plc and Radio Africa Group (RAG) – all make money via SMS-based gaming programming on their radio and TV stations. Being the most easily accessible media platform in Kenya with the widest national reach, radio is the most heavily targeted when it comes to making money off gaming, polls and trivia shows.
The promise of quick cash by answering some of the easiest questions on radio has led many Kenyans of all ages to try their luck, with each SMS sent in response often costing customers as much as Ksh10.
RMS unlocked new territory in the industry when it launched its fully-fledged gaming division Shabiki, running games and offering jackpots among other cash prizes to lucky winners.
TV stations are also getting in on the act. Over the past 6 months, KTN and NTV have both introduced prime-time gaming shows with big name hosts. KTN has The Big Quiz Show, a trivia program with SMS responses and cash prizes for winners, hosted by Betty Kyallo and Eric Omondi.
NTV‘s lottery show titled Omoka Rahisi (Get Rich Easy), on the other hand, literally leads with the promise of fast and easy money, and is hosted by Kiss FM morning show duo Jalang’o and Kamene Goro.
With mainstream media houses’ advertising revenues dwindling on changing media consumption habits and worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, it comes as no surprise that they are looking to make the most of emerging revenue streams.
And in a country where many have already become dyed-in-the-wool gamblers who would take a second look at any get-rich-quick opportunity, it makes even more sense. As others question ethics, the media bosses are looking at every possible way to save tanking stock prices and deliver value to shareholders, all while keeping audiences engaged and growing interactions.
NMG reported a 95% decline in net profit for the full year ended December 31, 2020 from Ksh856 million to Ksh48 million – citing reduced newspaper circulation and loss of advertising revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic among other factors.
Standard Group, on the other hand, posted a Ksh434 million pre-tax loss over the same period with the reasons more or less the same.