Kana TV has taken Addis Ababa by storm. Wherever you go it seems there is a TV screen nearby on which South American or Korean soap stars in the throes of the latest diabolic crisis are proclaiming in impassioned Amharic. Even for non-Amharic speakers, it’s hard not to be drawn in.
Broadcast exclusively in the lingua franca of Ethiopia, Kana TV marks a breakthrough in a country where until recently the main alternatives to the drab state-owned terrestrial channels were foreign satellite broadcasters. This new free-to-air, private satellite TV channel, bringing international standard programming to Ethiopia’s estimated 4m TV households has seized a 40–50% prime time market share.
Kana translates as something between taste and flavour – the “proverbial special sauce,” according to cofounder Elias Schulze. “It’s a crazy operation,” Schulze says. “At the beginning it took up to 50 man hours to dub one hour and we had to produce 200 man hours of content every day.”
So far Kana has dubbed 1,200 hours of content since launching in April 2016, and has recently rented a 1,000-metre-square warehouse for original productions (previously, filming had to be done in places such as the front room of Schulze’s home).
Kana is also a truly Ethiopian endeavour – Schulze points out he is the only foreigner in the building – though it is powered by international partners Moby Group. The latter started out in Afghanistan, where it has established Tolo TV as the number one network.