The Content Business in Kenya

By ‘content’, this post refers to movies/videos, music, computer games and other similar media but NOT “text-based” content.*

Now, the question is: can a ‘content based’ business thrive survive in Kenya? The sad truth may very well be a big NO.

Case in point: Silverbird Kenya. This once vibrant cimena company looks like it is shutting down in Kenya! If you look at the image below, you will see that their website has been suspended adn their Twitter account (@silverbirdkenya) lies dormant. What could have happened? What may have caused this company’s downfall.

Silverbird Kenya Offline

Silverbird Kenya Offline

Well, there is this court case.

Additionally, I believe it is very difficult to run a content-based business successfully in Kenya. Here, piracy is rampant – you can get DVDs of brand new movies at Kshs 40/- in town!! How can you compete with that? Indeed there is a thread over at Skunkworks Kenya that makes this very point. It would seem that “competing” with piracy is one of the reasons of Silverbird’s failure in Kenya. How sad. 🙁

But can any other content based business survive in this market? Music and games are equally well-pirated in Kenya. I would estimate hardly anyone in Kenya ever buys an original game or music album. Although we must note that this is the case not just in Kenya but pretty much everywhere.

However, local music seems to be doing ‘okay’ and I would attribute that ‘success’ to the very strict attitude towards the piracy of local music. It is sad that this same attitude is not extended to cover other forms of content. I believe this shines some light on what needs to be done for ‘content’ businesses to thrive in Kenya. Very strict anti-piracy laws have to be introduced and enforced in this market or the producers and legitimate distributors of the content we consume so voraciously will continue to suffers.

However, even as we talk about anti-piracy measures, we must face the truth: it is much, much easier to get your hands on pirated stuff than to buy it legitimately. This means that the type of content that consumers will get will be the one that is easier to find i.e. the pirated stuff. This is not a “Kenyan thing”. It is the same everywhere. Even so, in the face of overwhelming piracy worldwide some content producers have found ways to survive and maybe even thrive. Surely we can learn from this?

The main idea here is that we’re in a new era – one in which it is easier to get pirated stuff than to get the legitimate content. This means that the old rules of the content business are changing or have changed. It is time for the players to change how they play. You can stand and shout all day waiting for the government to intervene to save your business but there are better ways to spend your energy – you can build your content business in a way that is is as immune to piracy as possible. It requires that you change they way you think about how to run a content business.

For example, a music band in the US realised that their album sales were plummeting because people could just download their music for free. What did they do? They started giving away their music for free online. More often than not, people who download your music actually like you and if you give them a way to access your content as easily as through piracy, they will pick the legitimate way. This particular music band’s strategy let them build a huge online fanbase. But how did they make their money? Well, now that they had so many fans, whenever they performed at concerts they almost always had the tickets sold out. I would call that “thinking outside the box”.

Another example is Netflix. In the USA, piracy also thrives. Netflix is a company that allows very easy access to legitimate (i.e. not pirated) movies. Well, guess what? Now that one can get movies easily and legitimately through Netflix, online movie piracy rates are going down in the USA. Interesting, eh?

While I believe that piracy is wrong, I also believe that it is not going away any time soon. Content producers should realise this. We’re in a new age that requires new ways of doing business.

The only way to decrease piracy is to compete with it and offer products that are superior to their pirated counterparts.

Something to ponder: the introduction of strict anti piracy law in Kenya will definitely lead to the immediate bankruptcy of hundreds of people who make their living by selling pirated content. Is this a good thing?

*In my view, the ‘textual content’ business is very different and deserves to be treated as such.

Additional Resources


  1. Online is about interaction because it is a reflection of the offline world. when you target the 2 per cent of Kenyans and expect to get the response of 4.8 per cent of Kenyans then, unless your product is a must have cool, you are betting against your odds. Kenya is a sachet country, secondly with online content is king and content is duplicable in micro seconds, so the aim aint to push content but to get tribes to push content, thats why giving away free stuff works best because it makes people become followers and when you have followers you don’t need advertising that badly.
    Corporates are too big to navigate corners fast as bootstrappers can

  2. I think locally the authorities have gone a long way in enhancing the scarcity of local content. You will hardly find any local TV shows being hawked for 50 bob on the streets, and nowadays hawkers are scared to death of selling local music due to frequent busts by MCSK. So the key is:
    1. To deal in local content, which is the only premium content around. Here is where our cinemas made a big mistake.
    2. To make original content so easily accessible that it is not worth it getting the pirated version. The best medium for doing this is online. Nothing can beat the internet in terms of ease of access. For now uptake is low, but if you can position yourself for what lies ahead, you will be set

    • I remember a while back being involved in a project that aimed to sell Kenyan music online. We wanted to sell a track for Kshs 75. Most artists thought this was a joke. How can we sell something they worked so hard for for just 75 bob?

      I believe this mentality still persists. How much would a local producer want his local film sold for?

      How do we combat this?

  3. the thing is, the price of original content is way beyond the purchasing power of the majority of Kenyans. so even if there were no pirates hawking the stuff the company still wouldn’t do very well. this reminds me of the 1990s when the only music CD’s were to be found in empty music stores in upmarket malls like sarit centre . most of us just listened to radio. therefore next time you start a business consider the size of your target market as a function of their purchasing power and the relative utility they will derive from the consumption of the good/service if its not worth spending their spare dimes on, they won’t buy it.

  4. I have always chosen to go the optimistic way no matter the circumstances. I believe that when you stick to optimism, you eventually get to see the possible way out, the alternative route and you win big in the end. So for me, I don’t believe that the content business, as you define it, cannot work in Kenya. Why? Well I think those of us who engage in the content business are stuck to the thinking that you must sell at premium cost in order to make money. That since you use some substantial amount of money to produce the music or movie, you must sell it at 500 in order to make money. Then what do we do? We take them to Nakumatt, Sarit centre etc and label them 500 or even 1000. Ok some few people will buy but then you end up not making a good profit, you get frustrated, you walk down river road or wherever and find your music selling for 50, you see lots of guys lining up to buy it, you cry and go home, then complain. Question is why can’t you also sell it for 50 bob and see how many you will sell, how much you will make. We are about 40 million people in Kenya, of which I believe at least 10 million can get at least 50 bob a month which they may be willing to spend on buying some good music, a thrilling local movie etc. As a musician/local movie maker, why can’t you find a way of mass producing your content, then aim at targeting at least even half of these 10 million per month. Sure, you may not get all of them, but come on that is how sales executives work. In other words I’m saying the content industry has a lot of room to grow if we want to be in it in the long term and if we are wiling to explore alternative routes. If your heart is in content, I will tell you to stick there and please explore new ways and platforms. Combine the internet with mass market targeting, brand your music as affordable and take it to the streets and drive the pirates out. You can make it brother/sister. Let’s be optimistic and make it happen.

  5. something else I forgot. Please please, I have always said I think on this website that we MUST NEVER use other people’s failures or successes to conclude that we will also fail or succeed because they did. Just because someone failed and closed shop, it doesn’t mean you cannot succeed. Just because someone succeeded and made millions, it does not mean you will also succeed. I personally believe that success is a personal decision which must be guided by wit, quick thinking, long term projection, commitment plus that rare burning desire to succeed. Sliverbird may have closed yes, but we don’t know why they closed and we do not know what they did or did not do so that the business failed. There is a lot that goes into a business..those who want to succeed badly will always succeed.

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