Anirban Roy Choudhury

"Kids remain an under-indexed genre on television": Leena Lele Dutta

The business head, Sony Pictures Networks India, Kids Genre, says it's too early to anticipate the impact of the TRAI tariff order.

Media conglomerate Sony Pictures Networks India's kids broadcast channel - Sony YAY! - completes two years in the business. When schools break for summer vacation, party time begins for Indian kid's channels. Sony's 'kidcaster' intends to add 100 hours of fresh content to entice the 2-14 (age group) audience to the platform. With this, Sony YAY!'s content bank will have 300 hours of content, 3X more than what it launched with.

As per industry estimates, the size of the kids' genre is estimated to be around Rs 600 crore. Disney, Viacom18 (Nickelodeon) and Turner are the leaders in this space. An episode of an animated show airing on a kids channel costs broadcasters around 50 lakh (FICCI EY report), much higher than the cost of an episode of regular fiction shows airing on general entertainment channels which are about 10 lakh for a 22-minute episode.

YAY! is the last entrant in the genre that depended on original intellectual properties from the very beginning to establish itself. Leena Lele Dutta, business head, Sony Pictures Networks India, Kids Genre has her eyes set on a pan-India leadership position that she wants to reach in two years. Here is an exclusive interview with Dutta:-

Edited Excerpts

Why are regional feeds important for you? What difference do they make?

Last year, we toyed with the idea of launching the Marathi feed, but then we thought of the significant Hindi overlap in Maharashtra and, therefore, it did not make sense. Eventually, we decided to take a calculated risk and do it. We said that in a worst-case-scenario we would remain where we are and best-case - we will move up in a high weightage market like Maharashtra which constitutes 14 per cent of total television viewership. Within four weeks of launch, from a ranking of 7 in Maharashtra, we are now at No. 3.

Since you entered late, what is your primary target? Toddlers who graduate to TV shows or existing viewers watching toons on other channels?

New kids are our primary target and that is why we want to extend our IPs to the digital platform. On digital, kids will become aware of our characters, will graduate to the television channel watching the content there and eventually, buy merchandise. Second, we want kids who have come from other channels to YAY! to stay tuned for longer and gradually change their habit of watching other platforms to watching YAY!

We have extended our 11-minute episodes to 22 minutes and rolled out television movies to do that... We also reduced breaks during core hours to keep kids on the channel for longer periods.

What are the 'core hours' during summer breaks and otherwise?

In summer, the core (prime) time starts when kids brush their teeth and it continues till 4.00 pm. Post that, we believe kids go out and play with their friends. Typically, peak time of the kid's genre would constitute morning, before they go to school and after they return home.

How has advertising in this genre grown over the years?

Kids remain an under-indexed category; there are certain brands like Mondelez that has an embargo and, therefore, does not advertise here at all. The advertising on Sony YAY! has doubled compared to last year in terms of ad volume and we have seen healthy growth in our ad rates too.

Are children the only audience that advertisers can target through kids' channels or are mothers also active viewers of the genre?

Mothers are the gatekeepers who decide what their kids should watch and, therefore, the secondary TG - female 15+ ABC. We are in the top five among this TG too.

We see a lot of brand integration on digital video; do you see opportunities for integration where characters drink Complan or Horlicks?

We have done integrations where our characters use products. For example, there are germs in teeth and the characters of our show 'Paapometer' clean them out using Dabur Toothpaste. Integrating inside an episode or creating an entire series for a brand... these are in the pipeline, but the economics and timeline do not make it a viable option.

At some stage would you like to experiment with live-action shows in the kids' space?

We did our research and kids were very clear that they want to watch their own shows in a format which is animation. The feedback we got was - "If we have to watch live-action, we will watch 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah' with our parents". That is why we decided not to get into the live-action zone and stick to the animated space.

What is Sony YAY!'s core market? What is it that you are targeting at this stage?

Core markets are those where we have attained a leadership position, like Maharashtra, Kerala, Bengal, and Gujarat. And in the last few weeks, we got good numbers from Delhi too. I am looking to attain a leadership position in the next two years and for that, I need to look at it from an all-India landscape so there won't be any market which is ignored, even if it is low weightage.

How does the investment in original content make economic sense, given it is an under-indexed genre and you being ad-dependent?

Advertising contributes 90 per cent of the overall revenue of the channel at this stage, but I believe that the ancillary revenue piece is something we cannot ignore. How we monetise our brands after they hit a certain tipping point in terms of eyeballs and perception, is critical to make economic sense.

Licensing and merchandising, brand integrations, extensions on-ground either through funfests, carnivals and workshops with the characters... all that will form a sizeable revenue stream once we hit that threshold and we are in a hurry to reach it.

There is a lot of scepticism; how do you see the new tariff order (NTO) impacting the genre?

More or less everyone is being watchful in terms of where it is going to settle, what it is going to do for the business, how channels are going to survive... right now it is too premature to anticipate. All of us are waiting and watching to see how and when the dust will settle.

How did the implementation of the NTO impact your summer plans?

We were very sure that NTO or not, we were going to go ahead aggressively with our summer plans. We were clear - if the channel is not available, make sure you create a demand through on-ground activation and all so that one asks for Sony YAY! But it has not reached that level; we stand tall in Kerala and Bengal; however, again, it is too early to say anything.

There are reports which suggest subscription revenue will grow because of the NTO while viewership might drop, has it started to harm your ad sales?

Will the NTO be good for our subscription revenue? We don't have the answer yet. As far as advertising revenue is concerned we haven't seen any signs of the NTO slowing down growth, in fact, we are very well placed for this summer.

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