For children's channels, both in the fray and those waiting to join in, this was one big opportunity - there are over 330 million kids (ages 4-14) in India, increasing at the rate of 8 million per year - to be tapped. Thus were born channels with focussed targets (Nick Jr and Disney Jr for preschool kids, Sonic and Disney XD for boys between ages 4 and 14 or Zee Q with its academics-related shows, targeted at the 10-16-year-olds).
Though the ad revenue for children's channels is not proportionate to viewership, the genre is breathing fresh air. Viewership share went up from 6.23 per cent, in 2011 to 7.03 per cent, in 2012, despite the shutting down of an important player like CBeebies (from BBC).
Apart from making it a level playing field (in an analogue environment, the distribution capacity was restricted and segmented with a prime band, a hyper band and an S band, where the operator decided the placement of a channel), digitisation will help balance advertising and subscription revenues. Ad rates for kids' channels are low and there isn't substantial contribution from subscriptions either. That will change. Thirdly, since markets will be segregated and viewership ratings will define market boundaries more clearly, the channels will know where to go and why.
The national kids' TV market has expanded from an eight-channel bouquet to a 11-channel one. Four new entrants, Zee Q, Disney Jr, Nick Jr and Discovery Kids jumped into the fray in quick succession, while CBeebies dropped out.
After the launch of Cartoon Network from Turner International (with international content) in 1995, it took four years for the next player, Nick, to enter the game. Once these two gained substantial momentum, five more channels saw the light of day in 2005, namely Hungama (UTV's property, then), Pogo (Turner's second venture), Disney Channel and Disney XD (then Toon Disney) and Animax (Sony Entertainment - now an English GEC).
There were channels coming up in the regional markets while regional feeds were being launched by the oldies.
Initially, the content and the production was imported, since the industry was battling with issues like sustenance and revenues. Today, local content is pulling its weight too.
Shaktimaan or Superman?
Ten years ago, it was all about Tom and Jerry or Charlie Chaplin. Today, the Indian kid wants to associate with the characters that she is watching. The industry believes that for content to be engaging and appealing, it has to be relevant and the relevance only grows if the character looks familiar, talks in a language they are speaking and is in an environment that the child can relate to.
Children's content can be broken up into two broad categories - animation and live action. Animated content makes it more global and is more popular with children. Explains Krishna Desai, director, content, South Asia, Turner International India, "While kids love Chhota Bheem and Ben 10 equally (both speak Hindi, of course), Chhota Bheem looks Indian and Ben 10 doesn't. But that's the USP of animation, it can cross borders." Having said that, and realising the necessity of Indian content, nobody would want to replace international content completely. Some like Oggy and the Cockroaches, Looney Toons, Power Rangers, Pokemon and Doraemon have been bread earners for channels for years.
Some observers feel that more than Indianising content, storytelling is the important part. Though popular live action shows like Best Of Luck Nikki (Disney), Sunaina (Pogo), or Hero (Hungama TV) are making their mark, Rajiv Bakshi, vice president, marketing, South Asia, Discovery Network Asia Pacific feels that language and availability of various regionalised feeds is needed. Global live action shows like Power Rangers (Nick), Pair of Kings (Disney XD) and Are You Afraid of the Dark (Sonic), seem to be way ahead in the popularity stakes.
It is estimated that live action's contribution to the mix of children's content, will not be more than 15 per cent at present. Nina Elavia Jaipuria, executive vice president, and business head, kids cluster, Viacom 18 (the parent company of Nick) explains the psyche of the kids vis-a-vis animation. "Kids, today, are going through a lot of stress, from parental and peer pressure to homework and even hobby classes for that matter. Animation takes a kid to another world of fantasy and imagination, which is relaxing and recreational. They don't mind watching it again and again."
The repeat value of animation is higher than that of live action content. Animation costs for local productions depend largely on the complexity of animation and the special effects involved.
Channels mostly co-produce these shows with the studios (thus sharing the telecast rights too). On an average, for a single episode of the show, the channel has to shell out about Rs. 10-15 lakh.
Another hassle with animation is that a pipeline has to be built and growing this library takes long. The number of episodes that can be produced in a year depends on the studio and its capacity. Some can deliver 26 episodes a year, while others up to 50 episodes.
On an average, a channel telecasts one original animated show a day and repeats it over various time bands. For the record, it needs 2-3 years for a channel to build a stable library for any new animated local production.
Reality is not a reality for kids
While most of the GECs enjoy spikes in viewership because they have had kids in reality shows, it is not so in the children's arena. One reason is that, enough of it is available on other genres. Plus, producing a sleek reality show with glitzy sets, that can attract audiences, comes at a huge cost and is something children's channels cannot dream of spending on. Moreover, they cannot charge advertisers too much to cover costs. For example, a GEC airing a reality show can charge 10-15 times more than a kids channel.
The audience too matters. Children don't care much about watching other children compete on screen. In GECs, many adults like watching reality shows with children in them. However, non-fiction is accepted. MAD, an art show on Pogo, Disney Q, a quiz show on Disney and Nick Amazing Kids Awards on Nick, are popular.
A recent addition to the content mix on children's channels - apart from live action and animation - is locally produced movies. Films are a big draw and many channels are producing their own films. Earlier, channels would source movies from Bollywood or Hollywood.
Who is my Target?
The media planners, buyers and owners interviewed, agree that digitisation has given a good opportunity to the players - big or small, niche or non-niche. Age bands are getting more specific for children's channels. While TAM divides the genre into 4-9 and 10-14 year olds, channels are segregating it further into 2-6, 7-9 and 10+ with specific content being scheduled through the day, accordingly. Though there are two dedicated pre-school focussed channels, almost all channels have their own pre-school programming blocks in place. Cartoon Network created the first ever pre-school block called Tiny TV in 2002. Apart from all this, there can be gender or SEC-based segregation too. And spillovers.
Though channels are targeting the 4-14 segment, viewership from the parents and older siblings (15+) is increasing. Says Devika Prabhu, director, programming, Disney India, "Disney caters to adults too. Disney Q, for instance, has been tweaked to involve families. The basic motto is to engage the kids but involve the families." The latter now, contributes to about 40 per cent of the total viewing that happens on the genre, especially because in single-TV households, it is difficult - though not impossible - to fight off children, when it is their time to watch.
It must be noted that the kids' market is worth close to Rs. 20,000 crore (buying capacity) which includes the FMCG brands mainly, toys and stationery, amongst few other products. Advertisers are also aware of the fact that the kids (read 8+ year olds) are influencers even for the bigger buys in the families. According to Bikram Duggal, director, marketing, Disney, business through merchandising and other on-ground activities is experiencing double-digit growth.
Though the genre that garners close to 7 per cent of total viewership gets only 3 per cent (Rs. 300 crore - of which nearly 30 per cent comes from non-kids brands) of the ad revenue pie, revenues grew by 10-15 per cent annually, till 2011. Last year, that figure went up to 20 per cent.
It is not just money. Channels have policies while selling slots. While Turner doesn't allow colas, Discovery Kids does not entertain any non-kids brands. Brands too have their own policies. Many international brands choose not to advertise on shows which garner over 50 per cent viewership on the particular channel. This policy is extended to their Indian counterparts in some cases. So outdoor and BTL become attractive options.
Edutainment has a large scope in the market, though strategising this kind of content is a little tricky. While the parents don't want kids to watch this content during their study time (since it is not related to academics), kids don't want any preachy stuff during recreation time. But channels are not ignoring it.
Zee Q, for example, is working with the CBSE and ICSE boards to create content that is academically oriented and entertaining. Aparna Bhosle, programming head, Zee Q says, that besides the regular animation, which the older children in the 10-14-year-old category will enjoy, the main focus of the channel is to produce content locally. "We have four locally produced shows, keeping the national syllabus in mind," she adds. So how easy is it to stay in this market?
For advertisers, the growth has been encouraging. Everyone understands that the young ones are big influencers. Monica Tata, former general manager, Entertainment Networks, South Asia, Turner International India, mentions that the year ahead (2013) is a volatile one. "Apart from digitisation, the expected availability of an all new currency - BARC - will be a big change." BARC, which many reckon will take off in six months, will offer an option other than TAM.
Despite the action that is unfolding, it will become challenging to stay in the space from the sustainability point of view, despite the low cost of entry, helped by digitisation. The impact of lowered carriage fees will bear fruit only after a year or so. For players who are set to ride out the weather, it promises to be exciting.
A Note From the Editor
There are two ways of looking at the explosion of interest in the children's genre on television:
Reaction One: Is there place for so many channels?
Reaction Two: How come this didn't happen earlier?
It seems to me that considering the several hundred million children in India, the number of channels trying to tempt them will only grow. Digitisation has made a number of special interest genres viable in business terms and the children's slot is among the most interesting.
The share of the children's genre inched up in 2012 and as the content offering keep widening, we can expect that trend to continue for at least the next couple of years. This might tempt brands that are aimed at grown-ups to advertise on children's channels more often (though, of course, some channels permit only brands targeted at children). Within the wider genre, each channel has a special way of looking at kids and segmentation is already developing pretty sharply.
The entry of new players will lead inevitably to the demand for more programming. This brings us to the question of which of the two types will do well: animation or live action. Broadly speaking, animation appeals to younger children's desire to disappear into another world while live action works better with older children.
When children's channels first appeared on Indian television sets, the programming was entirely foreign animation. Over time, some live action has appeared but animation dominates. It took a long time for Indian animated characters to make their entry but now that they have, they are gaining ground. Several investors have placed their bets on creating Indian superhero characters, for example. However, animation is a notoriously slow and expensive business to build so all this will take time.
Many things are still unclear but what one can still say with certainty is that Indian children are going to get spoilt for choice.