Summertime - Are kids tooned in?

It?s the Toon Match all over again; only this time it?s Rugrats pitched in fierce battle against Tintin and Amanda Bynes pitting her wit against the Pandavas. The gold at the end of the rainbow is the elusive TRP and the medium is the kid on vacation next door, as children?s channels in India battle it out for the seasonal high in viewership figures.

While Cartoon Network continues to reign in the absence of serious competition, Nickelodeon is gearing up to give the Network a run for its money this summer. There are two new series debuting on Nick this summer, even as it tightens its distribution network in the metros. Best of Amanda and Action League Now have kicked off on the channel, while a Mother?s Day special was aired on 12 May and a Saturday Night Slumber party is scheduled for 25 May. Nick now claims to reach 9.8 million homes in India, a quantum jump since its launch two years ago, when it barely reached four million homes.

Cartoon Network is not resting on its laurels either. June 2002 will see the premiere of two series of Jackie Chan Adventures, 52 episodes based on the real-life Jackie Chan, it combines martial arts and comedy. The channel is also scheduling the Indian TV premieres of two Warner Brother productions, Justice League and X-Men Evolution. In the coming months, Cartoon Theatre will screen, Pandavas, Tintin and the Mystery at Shark Lane, Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, Batman: Mask of Phantom, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and Tom & Jerry: The Movie.

Even as schools prepare to open in June, Cartoon Theatre aims to hold its audience captive with the television premiere of Alibaba and the Forty Thieves, the locally produced 3D animation by Chennai-based Pentamedia, an adaptation from the popular folklore tales of the Arabian Nights adventures. Splash, the 24-hour kids channel from the Pentamedia stable, is yet to make a splash, but has reportedly decided to beef up its distribution network north of the Vindhyas.

The innovative programming ploy employed by those in the reckoning is however paying off. Apart from regulars Pepsi, McDonalds, Act II Popcorn, Van Melle Confectioneries and Action Shoes, other brands like Nestle, Kelloggs and Colgate have associated themselves with Nickelodeon this summer.

The channel is not leaving success to chance and the holiday mood. Nick?s toons will soon be out on the streets in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, and later in Chennai and Hyderabad. Localisation, says the channel, will hold the key to driving viewership.

Cartoon Network too has its share of non-traditional advertisers, including Intel and the National Egg Coordination Committee that have joined the channel this summer. "Traditionally, the second quarter is a more active period due to the summer vacations when kids spend more time at home, as well as the start of a new fiscal year," says Ian Diamond. During May-July 2001, claims Diamond, Cartoon Network jumped up seven notches to become the second most watched channel, in kids? primetime (i.e. 4:00-8:00 p.m.), among 4-14 year-olds in C&S homes (jumped from number 9 in Oct-Dec 2000 to number 2 position in May-July 2001). This was as a result of a phenomenal 109 per cent growth over Oct-Dec 2000 (channel share up to 6.9 per cent in May-July 2001 from 3.3 in Oct-Dec 2000).

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