Nairobi-based Kukua launched its first series, Super Sema, on its dedicated YouTube channel this week. Backed by the platform’s US$100-million original kids content fund, eight eps of the 20 x five-minute first season are already up, and the rest will continue rolling out from now until April.
Super Sema is produced in 2D-animation and follows a super-powered African girl who boasts real-world abilities like creativity, determination and STEM skills.
A second season of 10-minute episodes is already in the works, and Kukua has uploaded 40 eps from its spinoff live-action series Sema’s Lab on the channel as well. The prodco also has plans in the works for books, STEM kits and toys.
“We had a franchise in mind from the get-go, so everything we embedded in the season was to give it the potential to expand into toys or live shows,” says Kukua CEO Lucrezia Bisignani. “Our goal has always been to translate anything that happens on screen into the real world.”
All of this is no small feat for a brand-new studio on the scene. New production companies are usually looking for a high-grossing deal to be able to fund additional projects and keep the company running. But Bisignani says that wasn’t really what Kukua was looking for because the company is backed by venture capital. Instead, the team behind Super Sema wanted to know how to maximize its kid audience as fast as possible, and YouTube seemed like the way to do that.
“YouTube is one of the biggest digital platforms and putting content there meets kids where they are,” says Bisignani. “The content is free and accessible to everyone, and having YouTube Originals on board allows us to have the creative freedom to continually make content without being locked in by big corporations and broadcasters.”
Kukua COO Vanessa Ford first reached out to YouTube last summer, and the series has already premiered. Even though that’s an incredibly fast turnaround in the world of animation, both Bisignani and Ford say it wasn’t fast enough for their liking. They come from the VC world, where things move incredibly quickly.
In Africa, YouTube hasn’t broken through in the same way, and so Kukua has signed broadcast deals across the continent. The company isn’t able to announce any details yet, but they’re all “major linear TV channels” in Africa.
“Africa was carved out of the YouTube deal because TV penetration on the continent is much bigger,” says Bisignani. “Africa has 1.2 billion people, so we wanted to make sure there was simultaneous wide access there.”
This freshman company is dreaming big as well. Case in point: Ford reached out to Lupita Nyong’o since working with the Oscar-winning actress was a personal goal of hers. Not only did Nyong’o say yes to being part of the project, she also asked to come on board as an executive producer on the show and an investor in the company.
“It’s really important for her to power the African continent and support Kenyan creatives, so the talent being 100% Kenyan was really inspiring to her,” says Ford. “She didn’t just want to be a voice talent or promote it. She wanted to come on board as a shareholder and be a part of the entire thing, and that’s really exciting for us.”
Kukua is headquartered in Kenya and employs mainly domestic talent—the entire voice cast for Super Sema is Kenyan, as is a big portion of the crew. The Kukua team is all female, and they intend to keep building up talent in the region. Ford and Bisignani made sure that when making the show they paired experienced kids TV execs with newbies from Nairobi. Their mission is to provide more opportunities for domestic talent beyond this first show, and they also want to show the rest of the industry how much talent and creativity there is in Africa.
“The potential is extraordinary,” says Bisignani. “The creativity here is fantastic, but not many people have had the chance to work on big productions or the backing of people who believe in them.”
While it can handle all of the content on its own, Kukua is looking for toy and licensing partners to grow Super Sema into a full-blown brand.
“We want this to become the biggest franchise from Africa in the world,” says Bisignani.