Kids programming: The boy factor!

What are little girls made of? "Sugar and spice and all that‘s nice." And little boys? "Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs‘ tails."

Most of us would be familiar with the old nursery rhyme but ask any kid today to choose between "sugar..." and "frogs..." and like as not they would probably go for the latter - boys and girls, both. So much more cool it is, if you get the drift.

Still, keeping in mind the disparity in tastes of boys and girls, are kids channels catering to both the sexes on a fair and equal basis? Or is it that boys are being attended to more with giant action packed bubbles surfacing more from the kids channel programming pond?

Boys hook on to kids channels more than girls

It is a fact that boys hook on to kids channels more than girls. If the data for the last five months (January to May 2005) is taken as a reference, it is found that while 65 per cent of kids‘ channels viewership in all SECs comes from boys (4-14 years), only 35 per cent comes from girls (4-14 years). In a scenario like this, it would only be logical for the channels to cater more to boys than girls. This is the question that sought answers for.

But before getting the channels‘ perspective in, we did a small dipstick asking boys and girls of various ages their favourite cartoon character/show. This is what we found:

Favourite Cartoons
The Powerpuff Girls, Tom & Jerry, Sabrina, Pokemon
Tiny TV‘s Noddy, Bob the Builder, Oswald, Pokemon
Bob the Builder, Noddy, Oswald, Kipper, Hero, Beyblade, Superman, Spiderman and Batman
Pokemon, Beyblade, SonicX, Hero
Richie Rich, Pokemon, Scooby Doo, Teen Titans, Beyblade, Sabrina
Samurai Jack, Scooby Doo, Beyblade, Teen Titans, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Sabrina
Tom & Jerry, Richie Rich, M.A.D, Powerpuff Girls, The Flintstones, Dexter‘s Laboratory

About the only, insight one gets from this admittedly inadequate "survey" is that kids programming choices are not clearly gender-driven. Channel executives also stress on the fact that they are all vying for a share of the kids‘ pie - boys and girls alike!

Viewership by gender
Cartoon Network
Disney Channel
Hungama TV
Toon Disney
Any Channel
Kids channels
Market: All India, All SECs, Period: Week 02-22 (Jan - May ‘05), Age Group: 4-14 years. Source: Tam

Click here for age-wise breakup of viewership on kids‘ channels

Says Nick India business and operations head Pradeep Hejmadi, "When kids‘ shows are being developed, they are made with both boys and girls in mind. Once the show launches, it is tested in the market with regards to the local interest of kids."

And if one were to talk of gender-specific programming, at present, Nick and Disney are the only channels that have a special hour dedicated to girls. Nick has a slot called Hello Girls, which is aired at 4 pm daily and features shows where girls play lead roles. On the other hand, Disney‘s Princess Hour is aired at 10 am on Saturdays and Sundays, which features shows like Mermaid and Aladdin.

Speaking on his channels‘ content, Turner International India Pvt. Ltd. managing director Anshuman Misra says, "Both Cartoon Network and Pogo offer content relevant to young Indian viewers; targeting kids aged 4-14. In my opinion, the single most important ingredient is compelling programming content that appeals to our target audience - all kids - whether boys or girls."

While, kids‘ channels do try and cater to boys and girls alike through their programming, an interesting observation that came forth while speaking to the channel heads was that girls‘ preferences across different age groups vary highly. This may be one of the reasons that kids‘ broadcasters may dwell more on shows that boys can relate with. Says Hejmadi, "Girls‘ preferences across demographics are not homogenous and it varies as they mature and grow older. Whereas boys tend to stick to the programmes they have been watching for longer periods of time."

Concurs Walt Disney Television International (India) head of programming and production Nachiket Pantvaidya, "It is a fact that girls (4-14 years) tend to mature faster. By the time a girl reaches the age of nine, she tends to tune out of kids shows and tunes into other channels. On the other hand, boys (4-14 years) are a consistent lot as far as watching cartoon shows is concerned."

Sony Pictures Television International, Asia senior vice president and managing director Todd Miller has a different perspective to offer, which in actual fact only buttresses the point as to why channels tilt towards male-skewed programming. "In general, there is a higher tendency for girls willing to watch boy-skewed titles or action-oriented titles and not the other way round," Miller says.

And while the amount of ‘evil-bashing‘ that goes on on kids channels may be the cause of concern of many a parents as the action sequences and fights may have a negative effect on kids, Miller points out that there is an important distinction between violence and action and the channel does keep that in mind before putting a show on air.

Stresses Misra, "As a responsible broadcaster, we have very stringent S&Ps, and air programming that has been approved and cleared for KID viewing. Also, we do not air any programming that is mean spirited and culturally insensitive. Additionally, we strongly advocate parental supervision and discretion during television viewing."

Pantvaidya, too, emphasises that Disney does not show violence but focusses on action. "More often than not, we show good v/s evil where good always triumphs. Guns are never fired and there is no injury shown," he says.

Hejmadi says that when J Bole To Jadoo, the plot of which revolves around magic, was launched on Nick; a Synovate study showed that both boys and girls wanted action and thrilling moments to be a part of the show.

Channels stress on the fact that their aim is to appeal to both boys and girls. "We try and produce shows that are made with elements that cater to both boys and girls. Our research has indicated that there are a whole lot of interesting meeting points between the preferences of girls and boys. We will be inculcating these findings in our programming strategies," says Hejmadi.

Speaking on the anime channel Animax, Miller says, "A lot of our titles are quite gender neutral and appeal to both boys and girls, e.g., Astro Boy, Conan Boy from the future, Arjuna, Cardcaptor Sakura, Baby B-chan, UFO Baby, Twin Spica, etc. For boy-skewed titles, I will name Mobile Suit Gundam, Getbackers, Captain Tsubasa, Samurai X, etc. Girls skewed titles are Little Women, Princess Sarah, Princess Comet, Princess Tutu, Ultra Maniac, Nobody‘s Girl."

Asserting on the universal appeal of most of the shows on Cartoon Network and Pogo, Misra says, "We have franchises such as Toonami that are action-packed, and therefore give the perception that such franchises may appeal to only boys, but interestingly, research has revealed that even if Pokemon is followed by Sabrina and The Winx Club, we do not see a dip in audiences. The Winx Club, which follows the adventures of teenage magical fairies, is popular with both girls and boys. Further, our New Generations 2004 survey (Cartoon Network‘s annual patented lifestyle survey) has shown that our characters resonate with both girls and boys in India."

Also, some shows that may have female protagonists like The Powerpuff Girls are more popular with boys that with girls belying popular misconception. "The Powerpuff Girls rate equally well with both girls and boys. In fact as per New Generations 2004, The Powerpuff Girls rate higher with boys than with girls," adds Misra.

While channel officials solemnly vouch for the fact that they cater to boys and girls equally, it cannot be ruled out that in five-seven years from now, there may be different kids‘ channels catering to girls and boys. As UTV programming head Zareena Mehta had pointed out at FICCI Frames this year, "By 2010, there is a possibility that there would be 20 dedicated kids‘ channels catering to individual age groups and also girls and boys separately."

However, a lot of it depends on whether addressability in cable systems comes into effect and the penetration of direct-to-home (DTH) television increases in Indian homes. "Separate kids channels catering to boys and girls coming in depends on the viability and feasibility of the same. At present, for commercial reasons it is going to be very difficult to make it viable as this will mean splitting revenues on both by half. Advertisers will not be very happy with this situation now. Also cable operators and multi-system operators (MSOs) will be instrumental in creating the viability of separate channels catering to boys and girls," says Hejmadi.

Pantvaidya says, "I don‘t see it happening as of now. It largely depends on how the market grows. Segmenting within a niche will not get the market excited. Also when DTH penetration increases, you can charge for your niche. But right now, it doesn‘t seem a viable proposition."

For the present though, kids channel fare will remain all about high-energy excitement, outrageous humor, good versus evil, action adventure and excitement. And there is really no getting away from the truth that the programming is ever so subtly boy-skewed. Whatever the channels may claim to the contrary. But hey, the girls aren‘t complaining. Cross my heart... the channel guys would with some justification tell you.

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