Every child in Kenya was now at home, and their parents and caregivers with them. We knew the one thing that we could do to help ease anxiety during this period would be to push up the launch of our television channel as quickly as we could.
Our co-founders Jeff Schon and Jesse Soleil had been working on this project for close to eight years and were certain that we would launch in early 2020. What they were not sure of, was if it was actually going to possible to do it without our date slipping, with all the moving parts of setting up a TV channel. With so many pieces of the puzzle yet to fit, going live in March was a complete a stretch, but we actually became more determined in the face of the global pandemic. We needed to get on the air, and fast.
On March 31st 2020, Akili Kids!, Kenya’s first and only dedicated free-to-air children’s television channel, with entertaining, imaginative and educative content that parents can trust and children will benefit from, went live. It was not easy, and every second something new could have slowed us down but we didn’t let it, and our partners helped; our server came in three weeks late, our engineer flew out from Bulgaria to install the server, leaving literally the day before the borders were closed. We received on channel designation from PANG (105 in Nairobi on StarTimes boxes) in the morning on 31 March, and by 11am we were running our first official (test) broadcast. There were daily mishaps, files not working, the channel going down, hardware failure, and much more. Our team rose to the occasion and got us and kept us on the air. We were standing by to announce on Facebook, and weren’t sure if we’d receive a tsunami of support or chirping crickets.
It was quiet in the beginning, that first week of mishaps and problems, but slowly the notes started coming in… then suddenly our Facebook page was buzzing with activity. Kenyan Mums on the platform discovered us, were getting excited and telling us, and before we knew it our comments section was flooded with outpourings of love for our shows, for the channel, for the supplemental educative value that their children were getting and questions. Kids were engaged, parents were thankful, and we… well we were and still are, humbled. We’re still reeling, but our Mum’s biggest questions are “How do we find you on GOtv?” “Where are you in DStv?” “How can we watch you on Zuku?” – and being new, free-to-air, and aspiring to be available on any platform for every child across the country, we didn’t anticipate being held back from viewers. Our viewers are still asking – and we’re trying desperately to convince carriers to broadcast us, especially during these COVID-19 times.
We didn’t let this stop us either though. We went back to the drawing board and reprioritized a feature we weren’t going to add for several months: a livestream on our newly launched Website. In 2.5 weeks, April 22nd to be exact, we launched that livestream with the hopes that everyone could potentially stream Akili Kids! for their children on their mobile phones, tablets and/or computers. But data is still expensive, and while it helps, it’s not the silver bullet we would have loved it to be.
Now we’re a month old – and just getting started. We will do everything we can to be available to every one of the 20 million children and their families in Kenya. Check Akili Kids!’s kids and parents site at: https://akilikids.co.ke – and you will get a sense of what we’re trying to do. And DStv, GOtv or Zuku folks if you’re reading this: PLEASE make Akili Kids! available everywhere!