Prachi Srivastava

"We have lots of boxes to tick before getting into the Hindi GEC space": Siddharth Jain, Turner

Turner International India, a leading network in the kids' space, recently launched a third kids' channel, Toonami, positioned as an action adventure channel. It will have superhero content as well as anime content from Japan.

The network's existing portfolio includes kids' entertainment channels Cartoon Network and Pogo, English movies HBO, HBO Hits, HBO Defined, WB and news channels CNN International and CNN-IBN (a JV with TV18).

We spoke to Siddharth Jain, MD, South Asia, Turner International India, to understand the rationale behind launching a third channel for kids.

Also present was Krishna Desai, executive director and network head, Kids, Turner International India.

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What prompted the launch of Toonami? What need gap is Turner trying to fill here?

Jain: We have been working on this project for over a year now. Not that there was something missing in the other two channels (Cartoon Network and Pogo); they cater to the full 4-14 years segment, but we wanted a more specific bull's eye for Toonami.

The target audience for Toonami is more male-skewed, as it showcases more action anime. We also wanted to leverage digitisation. With digitisation, one now has over 250 channels he can choose from.

We have faith in the content. Krishna (Desai) and his team have worked hard to make sure we understand the audiences and the way they respond. Kids, especially, have very fickle minds.

How is Toonami different from Cartoon Network and Pogo?
"We have lots of boxes to tick before getting into the Hindi GEC space": Siddharth Jain, Turner
CN and Pogo are slightly skewed towards younger kids. Both have entertainment content rooted in humour. CN is slightly naughtier of the two. Pogo is little 'younger'.

Toonami is in the action and adventure space - it is for the older kids, young adults. With Toonami, we are trying to attract the under-served audiences - kids above eight years.

The kids' channel segment already has around 12 players. With Toonami, and Da Vinci Learning, the number rises to 14. Is there enough scope for new channels to survive?

Jain: Da Vinci Learning is more education-based while Toonami is a kids' entertainment channel.

The cost of launching a channel has definitely not gone down despite digitisation; the cost of content is always spiralling up and the cost of creating animated content is really high - you need deep pockets, knowledge and relationships on the ground, with agencies, with advertisers, with people who produce such content. We have an edge, because we have been in the business for a long time now. We are like the first port of call for anybody who wants to do anything in the kids' space.

Though the third most viewed genre, the kids' segment doesn't get its due share of revenue...

Jain: Yes, despite having seven per cent viewership, we attract only about three per cent of advertising in the genre, but things are changing. It's an evolution. I don't think it's the death knell. It will take some time. We are now targeting mothers and have started seeing advertising on that front too.

Research has shown that kids at home influence the decisions made and advertisers are also waking up to the fact that it's not just the adults they have to reach out to, but also the kids.

At the moment, there are going to be no advertisers on Toonami. We are looking at a subscription-model to start with. We want to get to a critical mass first, before we look at advertisers. May be in a few months' time, or may be in a year.

What kind of investment has gone into this launch? When do you expect to break-even?

Jain: We will invest heavily into content and are positive that in another 12-24 months, we will be breaking even.

How are you distributing Toonami? How are you pricing it?

Jain: We are selling Toonami for Rs 17.7. We have started seeding it only in the digital network. The strategy is to cover all the digital networks first, then move on to analog.

BARC is coming up next month, and it is going to throw up a whole new paradigm of data. One has to digest and evaluate that. Digitised markets will not change whether it's TAM or BARC. With expansion of digitisation, the analog market will shrink further.

This is another reason why we didn't want to start with advertising from day one. Typically, if you want to start with advertising, you have to carpet-bomb, cover all the networks, and then 60 days down the line, you realise that the market is different because the data is different. BARC will have more depth and width. It will be more updated in terms of technology. There will be some teething problems, because, to start with, they have only 20,000 meters (barometers). But, by July, they will increase the number to 40,000-50,000 meters.

We'll have full data coming in July onwards. We are looking forward to it.

Toonami will launch with international content, but will it add local content and local characters eventually? Will the content be dubbed in local languages?

Desai: As and when we get critical mass, ratings and a sense of trends, we may or may not introduce local content.

Currently, it's in English, and we are not looking at dubbing the content in local languages anytime in the near future.

All big networks are present in the Hindi GEC space - in which you have failed to succeed twice (Real TV, Imagine TV). Do you still see an opportunity here? Is a Hindi GEC on the cards for Turner?

Jain: The Hindi GEC genre gives you scale. We have tried it twice in the past; both times it didn't work for different reasons.

We are always interested in adding more genres, channels to the portfolio. At the moment, do we have any concrete plans? Yes and no. We will look at it, but there is nothing in the offing for the next couple of months.

Does the absence of a Hindi GEC pose a challenge to the strength of a network?

Jain: Yes and no.

The Hindi GEC space today is very competitive. The cost of entry goes up every year. The last successful launch was Colors (in 2008) and the cost is probably 15 times more today.

We have learnt lessons twice and have lots of internal boxes to tick before we even get into the Hindi GEC space.

We are open to it; the genre is not closed for us. If there is an opportunity to do it, we'll do it.

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