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Kids broadcasters gear up to play in India's digital era

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Grappling with an under-indexed ad market and audience fragmentation due to entry of new players, kids TV broadcasters found hope in cable TV digitisation towards the end of 2012. Particularly encouraging was the launch of preschool channels, a segment that existed only as programming blocks and was looked upon as commercially unviable in India.

Out of the four channel launches, two were in the preschool segment. The launch of Disney Junior and Nick Jr, in fact, marked the beginning of segmentation in the hyper-competitive kids TV genre.

The other two launches were equally significant as it marked the entry of both Discovery and Zee. Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel) plans to invest Rs 1 billion in the edutainment channel, ZeeQ, over a period of five years.

For Discovery Kids, ZeeQ and the other two new channels, subscription is going to be the main business model. The existing kids channels, in contrast, are heavily dependent on ad sales where subscription revenue is still very small and licensing and merchandising negligible.

Of the four, three excluding Discovery Kids have been launched only for digital platforms. The launch of ZeeQ, which has been positioned as an edutainment channel, has completed Zeel’s bouquet that virtually covers every genre.

Digitisation is expected to bring down carriage fees that has been a bane for a lot of broadcasters and bring in the much needed transparency of the subscriber base declared by the cable TV operators. Broadcasters expect their affiliate revenues to jump in the medium-to-long term.

“Digitisation will allow us to try focussed segmentation which we could not have done in analogue cable TV environment. Today in digital, we can segment as much as we can. Carriage payouts will no longer be a deterrent and pay revenues can only grow. So we are all riding the wave of digital right now and hoping that while we cater to need gaps, we also make business sense,” Viacom18 EVP & business head – Kids Cluster Nina Elavia Jaipuria had told Indiantelevision.com in an earlier interview.

Agrees Disney UTV executive director and Disney kid’s network business head Vijay Subramaniam, “The timing (of Disney Junior’s launch) was an important consideration as digitisation is a very effective way to bring such a high-quality channel to be made available in market to the consumers.”

Subramaniam feels that with digitisation segmentation will only become clearer as it already existed in different forms. “If you look at the landscape segmentation already exists with digitisation it will become clearer and quality of reception will become a constant,” he explains.

Despite the right noises made about digitisation and the possible benefits that it would bring for the industry, British pubcaster BBC surprisingly shut its kids channel Cbeebies.

In an interview to Indiantelevision.com, BBC Worldwide Channels, Asia senior VP, GM, Mark Whitehead had cited “the uniquely challenging pay TV market in India and the delays to digitisation” as the prime reasons for shutting Cbeebies along with BBC Entertainment.

Whitehead had also confessed that running an ad free channel like Cbeebies is unviable as advertising is currently a major source of revenue for pay TV channels in India.

The difficulty faced by BBC in running an ad-free channel is not lost on Indian kids broadcasters. Though ad-free in the initial stage, both Disney Junior and Nick Jr. will have ads going forward. They will, however, be selective about the ads that they carry on their respective channels.

“We may consider hybrid sponsorship model in stage two from 12-24 months from now,” avers Subramaniam.

Even ZeeQ, which is a bi-lingual channel targeted at 4-14 kids, has a strict ad policy to avoid ads that promote unhealthy lifestyle.

This will mean that broadcasters will not be at the mercy of ad revenue, which is currently the mainstay for most children channels. With the kind of pester power that these channels enjoy, the broadcasters sense an opportunity to exploit in a digital era when brand loyalty will come into play.

Apart from the business model correction that is expected to happen with digitisation, the kids channels will also get enough headroom to experiment with content by trying their hands at new genres. Developing locally relevant content will be foremost on the minds of most broadcasters.

Viewership and ad scenario

While the genre grew at 4 per cent to reach 616 GRPs till week 40 of 2012, it still bettered the previous year’s performance of two per cent growth. In 2010, the genre grew at a whopping 13 per cent which remains the best year for kids broadcasters over a five-year period since 2008.

The ad market for the genre is Rs 2.5 billion and has room for fast growth as the market is under-indexed. It is expected to grow at 10 per cent year-on-year as new advertisers make efforts to reach out to kids.

“While the kids genre contributes 8 per cent viewership share of the CS4+, it accounts for a mere 2 per cent ad revenue share. Hence there is a huge potential for growth and this has to get corrected over a period of time through rate revisions and non FCT partnerships,” avers Jaipuria.

Localisation push and movie airings

Kids broadcasters continued their push towards localisation with Nick taking the rights of Reliance Animation’s animated show Shaktimaan while Pogo continued to build its favourite property Chhota Bheem.

In continuation of its strategy to push local live action series, Disney aired new seasons of Best of Luck Nikki and The Suite Life of Karan and Kabir. The channel is betting big on live action notwithstanding the skepticism surrounding it.

Discovery Kids launched its first local production, Mystery Hunters India, as part of its localisation strategy for the channel.

ZeeQ, whose content is being looked after by Zee Learn, has several local shows under its belt including Teenovation, Wordmatch, and Brain Café. Additionally, it had also acquired the rights for 26 episodes of Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) from Ideas Box Entertainment.

The year saw the theatrical debut of Nick India’s local character Keymon with Keymon Ache & Nani in Space Adventure movie.

Disney Channel premiered its first made-for-television live action film Luck Luck Ki Baat and is planning to air more such made-for-tv films in future.

Pogo continued to treat its viewers with Chhota Bheem movies like Chhota Bheem aur Hanuman, Chhota Bheem: Dholakpur to Kathmandu, Chhota Bheem & the Curse of Damyaan, Chhota Bheem: Master of Shaolin and Chhota Bheem: Mayanagri.

The channel also premiered its first live action movie Bhootraja Aur Ronnie followed by another one called ‘Chatpat Jhatpat’.

“Earlier, kids used to consume five or six shows. Kids viewing habit has changed now as they are consuming one, two or three shows on a channel. Across channels you will find that two-three shows are driving viewership,” says Turner International India South Asia Director-Content Krishna Desai.

According to Desai, kids also prefer humour content as opposed to action and adventure. “The thing with live action is that you are competing with 100 other channels which may not be targeted at kids but they still get watched. So if it’s a good live action show, they will watch it for a few times. But since they are kids channels, they thrive on repeats also,” Desai says.

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