Shweta Mulki

"'Kidults' are emerging as huge influencers": Anand Singh, Cartoon Network

Singh, the South Asia head of Cartoon Network Enterprises - talks to afaqs! about what currently drives the 5000 crore merchandising industry.

Following a DTR (direct-to-retail) deal with the Future Group to sell the Warner Brothers portfolio merchandise throughout formats and across product categories, Anand Singh, the South Asia head of Cartoon Network Enterprises (CNE, the merchandising wing of Turner International) has embarked on a road show to highlight the company's product range and plans.

Besides, the two-year deal with the Future Group, Singh also mentions a tie-up with Myntra for the sale of merchandise from the Hollywood blockbuster Suicide Squad, as well as the re-launch of the Powerpuff Girls franchise from the 1980s.

"'Kidults' are emerging as huge influencers": Anand Singh, Cartoon Network

CNE, that mainly does licensing for merchandise, has been in India since 2003, and works either through mass distribution (traditional shops) or modern trade (helping licensees on various product categories), with e-commerce as the new platform.

The kids (mainly character merchandise) market in India is almost close to Rs 5,000 crore, and growing in double digits. Singh says that though the business may not add huge numbers to the Network's top line, it's a highly profitable one. He adds that online retail boosted by Cash On Delivery is driving the business in B and C class towns. Earlier, fans in small towns had the propensity to pay, but had no access.

"In the last three years, the contribution of e-commerce has risen from 0-30 per cent, and in the period 2014-2016, our business has grown three times," he reveals.

Last year, CNE also started representing Warner Brothers, a portfolio that includes properties such as Tom and Jerry, Loony Tunes, Batman, and Superman, as well a movies and TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Friends.

Talking about popular characters, Singh says, "Since 2008, the character of Ben 10 has been the single biggest licensed character, and has even got us the Licensee of the Year Award by Franchise India for maximum products from one property."

But, according to Singh, the biggest problem in this unregulated industry is still the counterfeit market. "There is no industry body to regulate this. Infringers just pick up pictures from Google Images and start printing. Our legal bodies keep identifying and notifying top e-tailers to constantly de-list products," he says.

The unregulated business is estimated to be about seven times that of the legal business. "One can't pick on retailers as a hundred of them would be sourcing from someone who has imported everything from China. Currently though, we are taking on someone in Indore who is selling confectionery using our branding."

Speaking about the TG, Singh says, "The licensing business is driven by fans and 'kidults' (7-11 year olds) who are emerging as huge influencers. A fan can be addressed easily through e-commerce and is willing to pay the premium. Kidults, on the other hand influence their parents' purchase decisions in categories ranging from cars to quick-service restaurants."

"'Kidults' are emerging as huge influencers": Anand Singh, Cartoon Network

Elaborating on TG preferences, Singh says that Batman figurines are popular among grown-ups, too. Among the new categories deodorants, branded helmets and motorbikes (with graphics on them) are pretty popular. "The same character can work across ages, but young adults like logo-play and subtlety, while kids like imagery, that is, more action-driven stuff such as Superman flying," says Singh.

Working with more than 48 product categories now, CNE has been aiming for manufacturers here to enter the business. Singh explains, "Until three years ago licensed bicycles were only imported from China, but today, that entire market has shifted to Ludhiana. It's the same with school bags and kids' scooties. Seventy per cent of our back-to-school products are now sourced in India."

He adds that paper products such as tissues, foils (which can get kids excited to open their lunch boxes), and wall art are some new non-traditional categories. A deal with pharma giant Novartis has also seen Ben 10 appearing on its Calcium Sandoz tablets.

When asked about the popularity of Indian characters by other networks, Singh responds, "There are franchises and there are properties. A new launch can scale up suddenly, but can crash as suddenly. But, classics such as Tom and Jerry will always continue. Johnny Bravo T-shirts are doing well even today."

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