Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How Nickelodeon Became India's Top Kids' Channel

It was a brave decision a decade ago when Nina Elavia Jaipuria quit Sony to join Viacom18 - a joint venture of Viacom Inc. and the Network18 Group - as the business head for its kid's channel, Nickelodeon India. It was especially so as they had to take on Cartoon Network and Pogo along with Disney (which had, back then, just acquired Hungama TV).

Nina Elavia Jaipuria
Business Head, Kids' Cluster, Viacom18

Ten years down the line, not only has Viacom18's children's channel Nickeleodeon blazed a path for itself, it would be no exaggeration to say that what Jaipuria did not know about children and the children's market is not worth knowing. Today, as the business head of the Kids' Cluster at Viacom18 looks back on an eminently satisfying 10 years, she remembers that the only experience she had with kids was limited to her interactions with her then three-year-old daughter.

Today, the kids' broadcast business in India is estimated to be around Rs 500 crore and Viacom18's Nickelodeon is a force to reckon with. Its channel, Nick, has remained number one in the category since three years. The media conglomerate competes with the likes of Turner, Disney in India, as well as Sony, who also made an entry in the category by launching a channel earlier this year.

In this interview with afaqs!, Jaipuria talks about the journey of a 'non-existent' channel to becoming No.1. Edited excerpts of an interview with the children's expert:

What were the immediate challenges you faced 10 years ago?

When I joined, Nick was an English language channel. So the first thing we did was dubbing the shows in Hindi and eventually in South Indian languages - we localised the channel. Then we sat down to understand kids and their entertainment needs. We found it was all about giving them content that they love, we went ahead and acquired Ninja Hattori. Our evergreen soldier is very strong even today. We continued to acquire content from across the world and give them a colloquial twist by dubbing them in regional languages.

While you continued your acquisition streak, was there any research that backed this strategy?

I believe there are two reasons why kids came to TV and there are many researches to backs that up. One was to get rid of the boredom syndrome. Kids have very tiny attention spans and get bored very quickly. Therefore, it is all about offering them content that they can engage with. Second is the pressure they go through in their daily life - parental pressure, pressure of performance in school, even in a hobby class there is pressure as they are expected to win a medal there, too. So, kids choose television as platform, which transports them from the real pressure-filled world to a fictional world, an imaginary world, where there is no pressure, which is their comfort zone. Here characters connect with them and become a part of their life.

I often see repeats on the channel, is that a deliberate move?

Kids love to watch the same thing over and over again, they love to hear the same story again and again. It gives them a sense of comfort, where they don't need to discover something new, they like to feel that they know it all. That is why; a lot of kids' content has a very high shelf life.

What keeps live action content away from the kids broadcasting space? We have seen Shaktimaan tasting considerable success. Why did you not think of doing something similar?

For kids broadcasting to work it is very important to take the kid into the imaginary world, and animation plays a vital role in that. I cannot imagine live action content doing that unless you make a Matrix every other day, which is not possible. More than 90 per cent of content in the category today is animation.

The other thing is that human superheroes become archaic, Superman has taken many avatars, James Bond took so many avatars that it becomes archaic, whereas animation is evergreen. We have had Ninja Hattori in our portfolio since 11 years and it continues to deliver high numbers for us, continuing to connect with the kids. They love Ninja, they want Ninja and that's the evergreen-ness of animation.

So, what drove you to creating original home-grown content?

Three things brought about this move. One, our competition was doing it. Turner was running Chhota Bheem on Pogo. Two, we were also looking at the available supply of content to acquire and how much we could localise and how much we couldn't. Three, we thought we must develop our own intellectual property because that enables us to nurture the franchise. In 2011, we decided to do local content and in 2012 we launched Motu Patlu.

Why did you decide to get into original content creation with Motu Patlu?

Motu Patlu connects with the kids and parents alike. Parents read about these characters in Lotpot comics, and so it often happens that the parents and kids both sit together and watch the series. What we did was to take characters from the comic and put them on TV. Of course, we styled the show and narrated it in a manner that today's kid would relate.

It was a big risk from the point of view that this is a children's show, targeted at the kids but with no child protagonist. The risk paid off - the revenue and viewership that we get from this IP can easily run an entire channel. We did not restrict Motu Patlu to TV episodes and TV movies. There are mobile games, merchandise and we took it to theatres and did a theatrical release, too, last year.

Now that you have multiple original shows, how important is it to differentiate one from the other? How has the original content creation phenomenon changed the industry?

It is very important to play across different genres in the kids' space. So, if you see our originals, 'Pakdam Pakdai' is a chase show, 'Shiva' is a good-over-evil action comedy show, 'Motu Patlu' is about Furfuri Nagar in the heartland of India, and the latest one from us - 'Gattu Battu' is a detective show with a blend of comedy. What the IP creation did is that it has enabled localisation to take over. Now we aren't dependent on the West any more for content and it has enabled us to create a sustainable ecosystem.

Is creating a show enough, how do you fuel the growth of that original show?

Creating a show is not enough. You need to enable the kids to touch and feel the characters. So we have mobile games involving our characters, we have the merchandise, we arrange meet and greet evets across shopping malls and other high footfall areas with all our characters. I will like to state a very recent incident - 'Why not,' we asked ourselves, 'consider Rakshabandhan as Surakshabandhan and tie a rakhi to everybody who protects us - from the nanny to the security guard in the building to the cops in the city?'

We started that and took it to the extreme and reached Wagah Border to celebrate Surakshaandhan and tie rakhis to the jawans. Now the incident I want to narrate is, we thought we will take 'Dora' to the border, because she is the explorer who likes to travel. We got a formal request from the jawans who wanted us to send Shiva along. That was music to my ears and we said sure. That shows Shiva's value in the society. These characters have donned a new celebrity status, which I thought was only privy to Bollywood stars.

From a marketing point of view, who is the target? Are parents also an important stakeholder to communicate with?

There are kids, there are parents and there is the advertising community. The challenge for us is to reach out to all of them. We've often had to create different marketing campaigns for different targets. As a broadcaster, it is very important for me to have the gatekeeper's permission and trust. If not, I could get written off very easily. So, if you see the kind of things we do, when we launched 'Gattu Battu' we painted two local trains in Mumbai and we did 3D floor paintings in high footfall areas. Recently, there was a strawberry festival in Bandra and my marketing team came and told me that Dora would be there exploring the festival. When I asked how that would help, they replied that there will be a lot of kids coming with their parents and we can interact with them both.

You deal with expensive content and an under-indexed industry. Is it profitable for you?

We are a profitable business now and we contribute to Viacom18's revenue significantly. That's because we always made sure that we keep the cash bell ringing. Ten years back, the kids' category was 1 per cent of the total ad-pie. Today, it is between Rs 500 and Rs 600 crore - that is about 3 per cent of the total advertising pie. We are still under-indexed because we are about 6 per cent in terms of viewership.

How do you make money?

Our ad sales are growing at 20 per cent year-on-year and that has happened not only because of increase in slot rates but also because of the kind of integrations and partnerships we do. We integrate brands in our stories where the characters use them.

You will see Motu Patlu having Horlicks, so we innovate continuously to find out different ways of monetisation. We sell at a premium rate throughout the day, there is no non-prime time rate in my channel because kids watch content at any point of time. We are taking baby steps in merchandising and licensing and soon that will be a significant contributor in the mix.

What kind of brands advertise on your kids business? Are these always targeting the kids?

Today, kids play a vital role in decision making at every house, you want to buy a phone, you discuss with your kids; you want to buy toothpaste they have their say... So, we see a lot of non-kids brand associating with us, brands like Dabur, Samsonite, VIP, Amazon, Flipkart are a few examples.

Where do you think the industry needs to invest at this point of time?

I think the industry needs to invest on quality content creation. We get a lot of pitches that we say no to simply because they do not match the standards we want put on our channels. We need to invest there, organise workshops and jam about content creation so that we can offer kids quality content.

We have recently seen Star launching a free-to-air (FTA) sports channel, are you also planning to launch an FTA kids channel?

Forty per cent of our ratings come from rural cities, so we have our presence there already. The problem with an FTA kids channel is - as I told you earlier - that kids content has a huge shelf life and hence it is very difficult for me to put content that is running on a pay channel on FTA as well. If I have to do FTA with original FTA-only content then I will face a challenge to monetise it because the cost of content is very high. If monetisation becomes as lucrative as it is today in pay channel we might evaluate an FTA launch.

Let's end it with a typical question, what would you like to see happening in the kids broadcasting space in near future?

I would like to see more of quality content. I would like to see subscription revenue growing significantly. I would like to see the industry grow further and a really sweet spot would be to have a 7 per cent ad spend share for the 7 per cent market share. I am happy with the growth of merchandising. Peppa Pig stock in Hamleys, for instance, sold out in only 10 days, I think soon we will be in a scenario where 15 to 20 per cent of the total revenue comes from merchandising.

A Note From the Editor of afaqs!:

A grouse most pediatricians share has to do with the fact that their patients can't articulate details about their aches and pains as well as adults can. So a lot of the time, this breed of doctors relies on secondary information received from parents and guardians. They then do a fair bit of intelligent guesswork to arrive at the right diagnosis and treatment plan. But what's that got to do with a cover story in a business magazine about the Indian media industry? A lot, actually.

When it comes to the mysterious world of kids programming, television executives have to be a great deal smarter, sharper and more instinctive than their counterparts in other genres. What do kids want to watch? Other than official ratings, where will the popularity of a kids show be reflected? How best can these programming executives engage with their core viewers to really understand what they think and feel about the shows they put out there? When it comes to these little viewers, what really drives loyalty towards a show or a character?

This issue, we interviewed the smartest, sharpest and perhaps the most instinctive mind in the space - Nina Elavia Jaipuria, the lady who understands kids programming better than any of her peers... and whose efforts placed Nick, Viacom18's kids channel, at the No.1 position in its segment - a position the channel has held for three years now.

Nina entered the broadcast industry around 14 years back and has worked in the kids space for over a decade now, over which time the genre has undergone a sea of change on several fronts - content, language, and most importantly, the viewers' habits and psychology.

Looking back, she calls her move, from Sony, into the kids genre a "brave" one because it entailed taking on the likes of Turner and Disney. Having a toddler at the time, whom she has "experimented on" over the years, helped.


More Nick: Nickelodeon India Celebrates 'Surakshabandhan' With Border Security Force!

Additional source: WARC; H/T: ToonZone Forums /@animegamer.
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