A Journey with Abol TV
DStv's Impact on the Ethiopian Film Industry
In the early days of the Ethiopian film industry, 25 years back, when it was just taking its first steps, a significant milestone was achieved. The South African entertainment giant, MultiChoice, unveiled a feature international film titled " አባትየው - Abatyew." Financed by M-Net and produced in Ethiopia with a local context, this event marked the beginning of a deep-rooted connection between the Ethiopian film industry and MultiChoice.
This captivating journey of collaboration and transformation over the past twenty-three years has now resulted in 3 channels, Abol, Abol Duka and Maaddii Abol, that have reshaped and are reshaping the landscape of Ethiopian entertainment. Since the launch of `Abol Tv` in mid-2021, the channel has made substantial contributions to the local film and entertainment industry, altering the way Ethiopians consume content.
A Cultural Fusion
DStv current flagship telenovela “Afaf” Producer and Director Mickael Million, who has been part of this transformation, describes it as a cultural fusion. He recalls that, before the advent of Abol TV, Ethiopian entertainment primarily relied on free-to-air Televisions and digital platforms like YouTube. Cable TV and pay TV, commonplace in other parts of the world, were unfamiliar to Ethiopian audiences. DStv (Abol TV) introduced this culture, turning a new leaf in the Ethiopian entertainment scene.
The growth and development of the entertainment and art industry in Ethiopia faced several challenges, with one of the most prominent being financial constraints. Director Eden Tesfaye shares her experience, saying that without adequate funding, pursuing her dreams was almost impossible. In the early days, saving money and self-financing were the norms, creating significant hurdles for artists and filmmakers.
M-NET's Innovative Approach
M-Net recognised these challenges and embarked on a journey to find innovative solutions within Abol TV. This transformative endeavour did not just benefit M-Net but also uplifted local content stakeholders and the broader Ethiopian film industry.
Film expert Minilik Merid emphasizes the impact of this approach. He notes that talented artists and filmmakers with ambitious dreams now had an incredible opportunity to be part of the series medium through commissioning and licensing. The financial support provided through Abol TV gave them the ability to create content that was both artistically and financially rewarding.
The financial support allowed producers to focus solely on quality, unburdened by the concerns of financing. Abenezer Fikadu, a producer of Abol TV Telenovela “Derash’’, elaborates on the advantages, highlighting that a strong financial foundation is critical for large-scale productions.
M-Net, the leading provider of premium video entertainment in the continent, has commissioned and licensed over 138 Ethiopian films and TV shows within two years. This includes 35 commissioned contracts and 103 licensed contracts. And currently 11 commissioning shows and 8 licenses are under contracting. Of the licensed content, 5 are in Afan Oromo language for Maaddii Abol channel, and of the commissioned content, 7 are telenovelas for Abol Amharic channel.
“This commitment to local content is a key part of Ethiopia's strategy to provide its customers with the most relevant and engaging entertainment. MultiChoice’s M-Net believes that local content is essential to reflecting the diversity and richness of Ethiopian culture, and to telling stories that resonate with Ethiopian audiences” said Gelila G.Michael, Managing Director of MultiChoice Ethiopia.
Gelila added, “investment on local content has a positive impact on the Ethiopian film and TV industry. MultiChoice Ethiopia is also supporting the creation of new jobs, developing local talent, and helping grow the industry as a whole”.
A Game-Changing System
In addition to providing financial support to local production companies, Abol TV has focused on capacity building. This system was not only embraced by the local entertainment industry but also inspired other Ethiopian channels to follow suit. Professionals within the industry welcomed this approach.
Mickael Million elaborates on this concept, emphasizing that individuals with creative visions were given opportunities to bring their ideas to life. With the confirmation of their commitment, deals were made, enabling them to function effectively within an industry model. This support system acted as a game-changer for the industry.
Raising the Bar in Quality
With financial constraints alleviated, Abol TV also played a pivotal role in enhancing the quality of local productions. Their support allowed Ethiopian productions to compete with other M-Net channels in terms of quality.
Sewmehon Yismaw, a renowned Abol’s telenovela “Adey” producer, reflects on their journey, which began with challenges but ultimately led to a significant transformation. They significantly increased their daily shooting schedule to an impressive 36 scenes per day. Quality became a hallmark of their work, and they began to deliver content that exceeded telenovela expectations.
A Focus on Professional Development
Before officially launching Abol TV, M-Net initiated training programs for Ethiopian professionals in various aspects of production. In addition, through the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF), an initiative aimed at training the next generation of storytellers, offered young professionals one-year scholarships, workshops and training through the Masterclass series – on aspects of filmmaking and improving the quality of productions. This investment in professional development enabled local content to not only meet but often exceed the quality of other African productions. Enhanced picture quality, sound, and storytelling became the new industry standard, raising the bar significantly.
Sewmehon Yismaw reflects on his journey, highlighting the benefits of learning how to manage finances efficiently, ensuring professionals received fair compensation, and how to reinvest profits into future projects. This holistic approach to the industry had a direct impact on the satisfaction of viewers.
Incorporating History and Culture
Abol TV introduced the concept of weaving history into productions, leading to a greater emphasis on cultural authenticity and quality. This approach added depth to storytelling by involving historians in the creative process. As a result, the cause-and-effect relationships within stories became crucial, ensuring that the narratives were not only engaging but also made sense.
A Diverse Range of Genres
Abol TV did not shy away from experimenting with new and diverse genres. Different shows, from “Agafari”, a comedy with profound life and death themes, to “Adey”, a record-breaking series featuring young artists, have found success. The financial support provided by Abol TV has enabled these artists to excel, and their work continues to receive critical acclaim.
Adapting and Promoting Culture
The adaptation of scripts was not limited to just translation; it involved a more profound understanding of the local culture, values, and lifestyle. Culture was at the forefront of the creative process, and strong character development was prioritized in each show.
Promoting Ethiopia to the World
In addition to maintaining cultural authenticity, Abol TV has played a significant role in showcasing Ethiopia to other African countries and black people worldwide. Historical dramas like "Gebriye," which explores the reign of King Tewodros and his contributions to Ethiopian history, are just one example of their efforts.
Yonas Gorfe, a producer of Gebriye, and Dereje Mindaye, a lead story writer of Afaf, explains, the incorporation of history in productions has raised the quality standards for storytelling. Viewers now expect a higher level of coherence and authenticity in the narratives.
Musical Dramas and Technical Advancements
Abol TV boldly ventured into new territory by introducing musical dramas. Not only did this offer viewers an opportunity to enjoy a unique genre with a local flavour, but it also spurred technical advancements in the industry. The introduction of sound design, colour grading, and visual effects was made possible through Abol's support.
Yonas Gorfe, a producer of Gebriye, highlights how the integration of visual effects, previously only seen in advertisements, was challenging but crucial for their productions. This investment in new technology and training created a wealth of opportunities for the industry.
DStv: A Rich Bouquet of Channels for Ethiopians
Abol TV, along with its sisters’ channel Abol Duka and Maaddii Abol (dedicated to Affan Oromo language), is not the only addition to DStv's bouquet in Ethiopia. Disney Jr, for Amharic dubbed
kids content, Trace Muzika, for streaming local Ethiopian music, and ZEE Alem, offering Amharic and Affan Oromo-dubbed movies, now cater to various entertainment needs. The demand for sports content is also addressed through SuperSport Liyu 1 and Liyu 2 channels.
A Bright Future for Ethiopian Entertainment
As Abol TV continues to evolve, the content it offers to viewers will only improve in terms of quality and diversity. This transformation has opened the door for professionals to realize their creative dreams and contribute to Ethiopia's rich cultural heritage.
In the words of Dereje, "If Abol can function in such a way, I believe it can benefit a great deal. I believe the station can grow bigger with it." The future of Ethiopian entertainment looks incredibly promising, and MultiChoice /M-Net/ is playing a pivotal role in shaping this transformation.
With the relentless support of M-Net, the Ethiopian film and entertainment industry is poised to shine brighter than ever before, captivating audiences at home and around the world with its rich and diverse content.
Gelila G.Michael, Managing Director of MultiChoice Ethiopia, has said, "The Ethiopian film industry continues to evolve, and MultiChoice's commitment to supporting local content and culture is a driving force, ushering in a new era of entertainment for Ethiopia." This quote serves as the pillar of this article, highlighting the importance of local content and culture in the Ethiopian film industry, and encapsulating DStv's content delivery philosophy.