Akili Kids!, COVID-19, and everything in between… an interview with CEO and cofounder, Jeff Schon
“Never Assume Anything…” ~ Richard Winkler
In July, Akili Network commissioned a survey from Geopoll and the research showed that since the launch of Akili Kids! in March, the channel has become the most-watched Children’s TV Channel in Kenya and is also second to Citizen TV as the most viewed channel in homes with children under 14 years.
Looking back, Jeff Schon – CEO and Co-Founder of Akili Network, takes some time to reflect on the recent channel’s success in a candid interview:
Having launched Akili Kids! In March and becoming the most-watched Children’s TV channel in Kenya, what lessons have you learned thus far?
Jeff: Persistence pays off.
We began working on this in 2012, and each year I thought we would find the funding to start the channel. Often what seems like a good idea at first can lose its appeal over time. In the case of Akili Kids! each year, my enthusiasm and belief in the project grew.
How do you feel about the Geopoll report?
Jeff: Absolutely great. Our viewership as measured by GeoPoll exceeded our wildest expectations. We had a feeling that people were watching, just based on running into people with children that said they loved the channel. But the viewership is double what we had projected it would be after 4 months on air!
What advice would you have for yourself if you could go back 8 years ago when the idea of Akili Kids! was conceptualized?
Jeff: Build it and they will come.
Take Kiswahili lessons, if I had only learned a word a day, I’d be a fluent five-year-old by now.
I believe in doing “my homework”, so my partner Jesse Soleil and I did an enormous amount of research and work over the years. That work paid off in that we were able to launch on schedule and be appealing to children and their parents. However, I think we could have spent more time building knowledge and relationships with foundations and non-profits doing work in Kenya.
What path did you take to get Akili Kids! to where it is today?
Jeff: A very, very long path. We wouldn’t have even set out on this path if Michael Onyango – Former Deputy Chairman of the Kenyan Content Task Force – hadn’t asked Jesse about ideas on how to grow the creative economy in Kenya.
One thing led to another, and it resulted in us having an opportunity to apply for a free-to-air commercial broadcast license. We also wouldn’t be here without the people that we were fortunate enough to build strong relationships with, and eventually be able to hire some as team members or work with others as advisors.
Broadcasting is a team effort and I can’t imagine a better group to work with to build Akili Kids!
What keeps you up at night?
Jeff: I’d like to say nothing; just wish I was sleeping more!
But on a more serious note, right now it is “Will we be able to grow revenues in the way we planned?” I also worry about members of our team getting COVID-19…and the unexpected.
We’ve had the benefit of the unexpected in Covid-19; we wouldn’t have grown our viewership as quickly as we have if children weren’t home from school and many parents were working from home. So yes, the unexpected where it’s not a plus, but a negative.
What energizes you the most about Akili Kids!
Jeff: The team we’ve assembled. A great, dedicated, smart group. Also, the posts on our Facebook page, love reading the comments, and hearing that we are having a positive impact on homes across Kenya.
Can you put into perspective how it is running a children’s television network in Kenya? What investment opportunities are there?
Jeff: As the first free-to-air children’s channel in Kenya, we’ve had terrific support from the Communications Authority of Kenya. Although there’s been a learning curve in how to do business here, everyone has been very supportive of what we are doing. The level of enthusiasm has been great.
In terms of investments, there will be opportunities for individuals and organizations to invest in Akili Network, or to invest in paying for the production of programs. And Akili Kids! will be commissioning a lot of original programs!
What is an important must-win partnership we need to establish for Akili Network this year?
Jeff: We must build stronger partnerships with the creative community in Kenya. We’re really looking to work closely with all the talent we see here, whether that’s acting talent, production talent, musicians, animators… our goal is to have 40% of our programming be locally produced in the next two years. That means we have a lot of partnerships we need to solidify and we’ve already begun that process with some wonderful local partners in production, creative services, animation, and more…
Jeff: I have done some great jobs over my years working in Television, Education, and Digital Media, but this one is turning out to be the best one of all.
Jeff, Hearty Congratulations to you and the amazing Akili Kids team on your most impressive and important success, noting that your team’s success is the success for Kenya and indeed all of Africa! I wish you every success for year 2 and beyond! Mutuma
Jeff, this is a fabulous achievement. Congratulations on the well earned success. Your tenacity has certainly paid off. It reminds me of another time when you could see the value and potential in Max’s Sandbox and worked hard towards its success. Love seeing the results of your influence. Stay well.
Congratulations, Jeff. Wishing you continued success! Best of all, the children of Kenya benefit from your programming!!
Jeff and the entire team of Akili Kids, all I can say is I put my hat down for you guys. You are truly doing a great job and we love this channel in my house. I met Jeff sometime back, such a gentle soul, with great determination! Looking forward to the locally produced content. Kudos!