The street that welcomes kids

By Raushni Bhagia , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | March 26, 2014
Galli Galli Sim Sim, one of the oldest shows, and arguably the only muppet show in India, is struggling to get its share in the Indian television market. A quick look at where the property stands.

Galli Galli Sim Sim, one of the oldest shows, and arguably the only muppet show in India, is struggling to get its share in the Indian television market. A quick look at where the property stands.

Galli Galli Sim Sim (GGSS), a muppet show for pre-schoolers in India, has entered its sixth season on Doordarshan.

Galli Galli Sim Sim promo

A still from GGSS season 6

Sashwati Banerjee

Sesame Workshop, the company that owns the property, has also ventured into a chain of pre-schools in India in 2013. Having opened 15 operational schools in less than a year, the company plans to touch the 350 school mark in next five years.

The company looks at these schools as an alternative revenue stream; the TV show 'Galli Galli Sim Sim' is its main product. According to market reports, the show, an Indian adaptation of Sesame Street, isn't very popular in India, but commands a robust fan following in other markets.

Sesame Workshop MD Sashwati Banerjee feels It's not fair to compare GGSS with Sesame Street as it's not the popularity that GGSS lacks, but the staying power. "We have very little money to market. So we are dependent on the broadcaster for the promotions of the TV property. It's not that we lack popularity, but the sustenance power. Getting a long-term broadcast partner is critical to our mission objective," she says.

Talking about the performance of GGSS, Banerjee adds, "You will also find it interesting to note that as the only children's education TV program in India, we are doing fairly well. In a recent multi country study on Sesame Street around the world (10 countries were part of it), it was found that GGSS is ahead of Dora and other such shows in India."

As per the data provided by Sesame, Galli Galli Sim Sim has solid households awareness in India which is 55 per cent. Chota Bheem leads at 93 per cent, followed by Hanuman at 81 per cent and Tom & Jerry at 79 per cent.

The show, at present, airs every Saturday at 9 am on Doordarshan. According to Banerjee, Sesame has got strong and strict advertising guidelines. "Children learn by doing, by emulating. Which is why we don't allow particular product advertisements that are detrimental to children's health, don't portray negativity, do not support gender inclusion, and disallow violence."

She goes on to add, "In India there is very little awareness amongst parents on what their children should watch, what is a safe space for them on TV as well as the net. So children end up watching adult programming and non-facilitated viewing. Majority of broadcasters in India do not put any guidelines before the program - to let parents know whether the program is suitable and child appropriate. International broadcasters have fairly strict self regulated guidelines - like BBC or Fox - you will typically see statements that say "not suitable for children under 12" or "parental guidance is needed" etc."

Launched in 1969, Sesame Street is adapted in various formats in over 150 countries focusing on country specific needs. Internationally, while the show was telecast on a public service broadcasting platform, for the Indian version, Sesame Workshop partnered with a commercial channel, Turner International. Doordarshan, India's national broadcaster, also supports telecast of the programme. While the partnership with a PSB is always critical because of reach, as per sources, the deal is not believed to be commercially as viable as compared to that with a private channel. GGSS has been broadcast on DD year on year since its debut in 2006.

Over seven years, Galli Galli Sim Sim has reached approximately 80 million children in 4-14 years age bracket and many more below 4 years which is not mapped by TAM. GGSS, the television series, has been watched by 10 million children each year since its debut in 2006 on national cable channels- Pogo and Cartoon Network and national public broadcaster-Doordarshan. Its educational messages are extended through a radio program aired on All India Radio and community radio stations, extensive community outreach, and applications on new and emerging media such as cell phones and internet. Recently they have entered the school education space through the launch of Sesame Street Preschools, whose curriculum and methodology integrates hands-on project-based learning, with creative approaches to foster critical thinking and problem solving, laying a strong foundation to promote lifelong learning.

Talking about how the outreach programme works, Banerjee says, "IDFC foundation has generously supported us for aprogramme in Uttarakhand which will cover 6000 anganwadis and will start in April, 2014. As an organisation our objective is to improve the quality education and towards this we partner with the government. Metlife foundation supported us for a pilot project in Gujarat for healthy habits for life. They also supported in producing a radio programme that was broadcast nationally on AIR.HSBC's CSR arm has supported us."

The company also has a radio program Galli Galli Sim Sim which is broadcast on community radios in media dark areas. It is also made available via mobile phones - the program is called Radiophone. "The educational needs of disenfranchised children are being addressed through a convergence of technologies, through the localized GGSS educational radio program aired on community radio stations. GGSS is providing educational content and interaction with the radio program through telephone and Internet interfaces, and encouraging community-level advocacy to promote policy changes to improve access to health and education services," she adds.

The number of episodes per season varies depending on funding raised by Sesame Workshop In Season 6, which is currently running on DD, the company has 52 episodes that run for 22 minutes each.

GGSS has not yet reached a break-even point as yet. Banerjee mentions, "Doordarshan keeps their ad revenue and Turner keeps theirs. Turner invests in our production so it's fine for them to keep the advertising monies. All GGSS production require enormous resources and funding and we have to make sure that we raise the same, be it through philanthropic grants or funding."

In the kids' genre, a player gets a new profile of viewers almost every year, as kids outgrow and enter the TG bracket. This could be one reason the numbers for GGSS have stayed the same over time.

Co-viewership is another aspect. Banerjee says, "In the current season, we are experiencing a lot of co-viewership; as many as 75,000 people from 25-44 years per episode."

Note that in recent times, many established broadcasters have entered the pre-school arena, for instance, Disney Junior, Nick Junior and ZeeQ. Besides GGSS, which is a muppet based children's TV programme, the only other show that uses muppets in India is Gustakhi Maaf on NDTV.

The company works on a hybrid model. It is highly dependent on philanthropic funding (80 per cent of its revenue). The rest comes from the newly launched Sesame Street Preschools and they look forward to enter the merchandising and licensing zone in the near future.

Donor programs have been pre-dominant and will play a significant role in the coming years, to help the company to fund production, outreach and pilot innovative projects.

Licensing and merchandising is at a nascent stage in India and the company is in talks with several people but is very conscious of who it partner with and the brands it works with as safety of children is paramount. According to Banerjee, "the copyright laws and piracy laws also make it very difficult for the us. We also have to wait for the retail space to become more mature. But that's not our core area of our business, which you know is education."

"So, we now have a franchisee pre-school business in place and we have 13 operational schools since last year. There is a dearth of quality pre school education in India in the private sector so to make sure that education is age, developmentally and culturally appropriate we follow a unique curriculum. Target is of 350 schools in next five years; it can be one of the substantial revenue streams for us in the next five years," she concludes.

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