India needs more storytellers: Nina Jaipuria

People say behind every successful man, there is a woman; but behind every smart child, is a dedicated mother. Such is the case for Viacom18 EVP and business head kids cluster Nina Elavia Jaipuria. For someone who started her career from advertising is now heading one of India?s largest kids channel, Nickelodeon,  Nick Jr. & Sonic. 

The soft-spoken Jaipuria has brought Nickelodeon from being one of the low ranking kids channel to one among the top players. And, even though this may not have been an easy task, she has made it appear like it is a child?s play. 

Jaipuria during her visit to office as the Guest Editor of the Day, spoke about the kids space, the need for storytellers, the growth of Indian animation industry and much more.


How do you differentiate the content between the channels you handle? How do you ensure that kids tune into your network?


There are a couple of things that keep kids glued to television. The first and foremost is storytelling and scriptwriting. Kids love repetition. While it may be boring to you as a story teller, it is fascinating for them. The second most important is the character, because it is the character at the end of the day that forms a bond, a relationship with the child, and that relationship and bond is what brings the child to the TV daily. So the character needs to be endearing and has to have the ability to create a bond with the child. And, third is the quality of the animation which is an important aspect


Kids come to our channel to get rid of their boredom and to de-stress. To me, the only medium that transports  them to the imaginary world, where they want to escape, so the quality of animation and how the content is delivered is really important.

Coming back on how we differentiate from other channels. Well, while at times, we differentiate with the way we tell the story, sometimes, we don?t need to differentiate. To be honest, comedy and humour is a very central part of kids? entertainment, and so a lot of other channels too have the same kind of programmes like we have. But, then there are different genres of comedy, that?s how you?d probably differentiate. So while a few show slapstick humour, a few will have silent humour, chase, slice of life, which is family based etc. So yes, while we do differentiate at a micro level, most of us deliver humour and comedy.

We have differentiated offerings like Sonic, where we identified that there was not much action being offered to children. So Sonic offers action and adventure like Kung Fu Panda,Ninja Turtles, Supa Strika and Idaten Jump.

So, differentiation from that perspective also happens, but, to me, the biggest differentiation is the character at the end of the day.

What?s the age group you target for different channels under the kids cluster?  

I would imagine that it?s not so much segmented on age as much as it is on gender. The kids category is very boys skewed to begin with. You generally see a lot more boys watching the category, while the younger girls, according to me are watching family drama, this is unfortunate, but true.

But, Sonic is further skewed. You?d probably have 80:20 ratio, where the segmentation is more on gender than it is on age. The kids category is watched mainly by kids in the age group of 4-14. Of course, we have a slice of 4-9 year olds, and 10-14 year olds as well, and that is how we pretty much see a lot of data that comes in the category. But, normally the sweet spot would be 7-9 year olds. Sonic could go a little older as well, based on the action that we offer. Nick Jr targets 2-6years old preschoolers while Teen Nick targets teens.


How do you keep pace with the kids?

While some of it comes with experience; some of it also comes from the fact that you have to be very predisposed to this category. You have to like kids. Every place you go to: be it birthday parties or movies, you need to study kids and that?s how you pick up some of the pieces.

 Of course, we also have a very formal way of keeping pace with them, and that?s when we conduct a whole lot of research. In fact, even Viacom International does a lot of research. The very recent one was called ?The kids of today and tomorrow.?

Social media also helps keep pace with what kids are doing today and then of course we interact with parents to get the feedback. 


Can you elaborate on ?The kids of today and tomorrow? research? 


This was actually an international research, of which India was a part of. The research, not only made me happy as a broadcaster, but also fortified the hypothesis on which we were working from both the content and marketing perspective.


The biggest highlight for me was that the children are very high on the happiness scale. They are extremely positive, and that?s where I devised the fact that humour and comedy is really important. The second big thing is that despite all the different options of entertainment that are available to them and the social media, screens and the gadgets, eventually they feel closest to their family. The third highlight is that kids love honesty and that?s what we do all the time on our channel: be honest with kids.


Lastly of course, the study also highlights the fact that kids today like to be connected. They really are screenagers and tech savvy. 


How do you implement that research on the channel?


Humour is pretty much the key to their relaxation and that?s what we do at Nickelodeon. In fact, the DNA of Nick is ?Funny Rules.? Anything that we do on the channel is about fun and humour. So every single show on the channel, whether it?s Motu Patlu or Pakdum Pakdai, Ninja Hattori or Shaun the Sheep, have various slices of various types of humour.


From a screenager perspective, we want to stay ahead of the curve and our mission as an entertainer, is to be made available at a time, place, and screen that is convenient to the kids . We do have a very strong presence online with three websites, and a whole lot of games. The Nick World App which is on both iOS and Android, also takes us into that online world. In fact, these screens actually compliment the big screens.


Through these screens, kids get a chance to interact with the characters they love. It is here that the character steps out of his world and into the real world. Catering to the screenagers is number one priority for us.

You currently have the Nick App. Do you plan to launch more in the future?


Yes, in the future of course. Dreamstar Stardom Saga is another app we have which is actually based on fashion. Through this app, we talk to the tweens, where they can design their own clothes and choose to be film stars.


Investment in the digital strategy and assets will continue because I believe that?s where kids are going and that?s where we need to stay ahead of the curve. So, definitely, apps are here to stay, video games are here to stay. In fact, during the IPL season, we also had a game with Motu Patlu on Cricket.


How important is summer vacation for the channel?

As important as it is for children. In fact, they are waiting for it and so are we, because, we are a seasonal category, so to speak. Our channel viewership peaks in April, May, June- which is the time kids enjoy their summer vacation and then in October, November and December, which is Diwali and Christmas time. All these months are the busiest periods for all kid entertainers, because that?s the time when most kids are the most vella. And, that?s when that word ?boredom? is thrown far more often. The viewership grows by 15-20 per cent in these months.

Does every channel in the space look for new content in these months? What are the on-ground activations the network undertakes to woo kids? 


Of course. Everyone is working hyperactively or 24x7 to make sure that we get the eyeballs, but of course the best man wins eventually. While you?ll see a slew of new content that hits the channel, you will also see a lot of marketing campaign that goes around the content.


For example, this year, Nickelodeon was at the Phoenix Market City located at Kurla in Mumbai with Furfuri Nagar recreated for almost a month. There was a lot of engagement on ground where kids could engage with the characters. We also had van activation for our other properties, which went to about 30 odd cities in the country. That apart we had gaming championship on Sonic with Funcity.

Did IPL affect viewership of the kids genre?

No. In all the seasons that IPL has happened, and it?s quite a few now, the category sees no effect. That again comes from the perspective that there is no primetime or off-primetime in the kids category. We pretty much get ratings throughout the day. 60 per cent of our ratings come from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. So it?s pretty much throughout the day. Therefore, it?s so much more difficult for us because we have to keep the channel alive for almost 16-17 hours as compared to a GEC which only has 7-12 hours of original content.

Has the Indian animation industry evolved? What do you prefer- Indian or international content? 


Yes, it has. While we started off with a lot of international content on our channels, over the time, Indian animation has made its way into the category and whether that?s Motu Patlu orChhota Bheem or our own Pakdam Pakdai a lot of content has made its way through in the category. Evolving business models have made this possible.


But, this doesn?t mean that international content doesn?t work. Ninja Hattori is a Japanese show and it has been on the channel for the past 7-8 years and is doing very well. It still continues to be the super hero for a lot of kids. So, while Pakdam Pakdai and Motu Patlu have made their way through the channel, Ninja still rules the roost for us. So, there is no formula. While some of our competitors have only Indian toons, some of them have only international. So, it doesn?t matter where the character is from, because kids really know no geography. At the end, it?s about how endearing the character is.


Can India grow the next big toon character?


Dora is a large character all over the world. This is because she is far more generic in her sensibilities. It is an aspirational show that teaches English and is the pre-school heartthrob. If we look at creating such a character from India, there?s nothing that stops us. Now the animation industry has come of age and we have found our own business models to create that in India. We have enough investments coming in from not just broadcasters but other interested parties as well.


However, you have to create characters that will cross boundaries. You can?t have a mythological character and expect it to cross boundaries. But if we keep that as a brief, I?m sure we can create such characters. I mean what stops us from creating the next Spiderman?


What?s missing today is the scriptwriting ability. There is a large gap that exists so what we need to get in place is a lot more training and development for scriptwriters.

Do you think Teen Nick has the potential with its programming to have its own individual channel?


Absolutely, I think it does and it will probably be merited when we slowly and steadily move towards 100 per cent digitisation, and into VOD, SVOD and OTT.


Today, the content on that channel is very international, and appeals to English speaking audiences.

Are you looking at buying formats? 


There isn?t anyone in the kids space that buys formats. Because, most of those formats would be live-action and live-action isn?t really where we want to invest our money in. If we wanted to make that kind of investment, we would rather invest in animation. It is very difficult to create the animation pipeline from the perspective of scriptwriting which is the biggest challenge.


Then of course production cost is huge. An episode costs three-four times more than that of a live action show. So, we?re talking about big money here and to create that pipeline takes a lot of money.  I would rather continue with animation and let the GECs deal with live-action.


What learning?s have you acquired from your audiences over the years?

You need a central character that keeps kids glued to you as a preferred entertainment brand. They have short attention spans, so we have to keep our channel alive. Therefore channel packaging and channel interactivity is very important. From Nickelodeon?s perspective we celebrate every special occasion with children: be it Mother?s Day, Fathers? Day, Friendship Day or Raksha Bandhan and this is a key for keeping the interaction going. So on Valentine Day we came up with ?Kaun Banega Valentoon? and we declared Ninja Hattori as the winner.


We have also learnt that the minute you open out to kids, they open out to you. Also touch, feel and play is very important to children and while we do a lot of stuff that is mass media, we also do  BTL activities, only from the perspective of tangibilizing the brand. So you see meet and greets in malls and other outlets. It?s all about engagement beyond television.


Every year we do 500 to 800 school contact programmes. I know it is a small amount in terms of number but every year when you do so many schools, you are touching kids as a captive audience.


We?ve learnt the hard way as well. We always thought that the carrot stick approach works well. We have sent kids to watch the football game in Manchester or to the World Cup. And, we realised that when we do that there?s only one kid who gets to go versus 13 million who are viewing our channel. 


Also, while we earlier had live action, we don?t have them anymore.


The same goes for advertisements. As a responsible broadcaster, we will not advertise any cola brand on our channel and it?s also vice versa. No cola company will come to us either.

Doesn?t this restrict you from advertisers?


No it doesn?t. What does is the 12 minutes ad cap. While we have a genre that has nine per cent of total viewership, but we still get ad sales less than two per cent. So, we are hugely under indexed as a business. When I took over, the industry was only one per cent and now it has grown to two per cent. A part of that is the baggage that we carry from being given for free to now becoming a sizeable category to reckon with and make sure we get what we deserve.


The usual suspects are the kid advertisers like milk food brands: Complan, Horlicks, Bournvita, ITC foods, Britannia, Kellogs, ice cream and juices. But you also have a segment which is non-kids and that is close to 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the total advertisers. These are FMCG, consumer non-durables, insurance, etc. So we really aren?t missing the cola but even if we did, I can tell you from a responsibility perspective, we won?t air it on the channel.


What do you keep in mind while planning your marketing strategies? 


It can be noted that gaining the gatekeeper?s trust is extremely important from a responsible broadcaster?s perceptive. Parents are always cautious of what their kids watch. Having said that we don?t always plan our marketing strategies keeping parents in mind. We draw our marketing plans depending on preferences too. For instance, we use social media extensively for Nick Jr to target young parents.


While most of our investments are on consumer marketing we do have specific budget for adults. We constantly come up with interesting concepts to cater them as well.   

Are there any challenges that the kids cluster faces in terms of distribution?  

We have gained the most from digitisation. So while we have got the distribution parity with all the neighbourhood problems being solved, ease of navigation has also happened. This has helped kids to watch content with just a click of button.


There is so much more to see today. All this has grown viewership. With digitisation, micro segmentation in the category has happened even further.


Viewership has grown over the past five years, at the CAR of 13 per cent and so has the ad sales.

Any new shows you started recently?


Well, we started Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) on Sonic, and now looking forward to the movie in August, which will be a worldwide release. The way we look at Nickelodeon, we have our three stalwarts, which are the three musketeers: Ninja Hattori, Motu Patlu and Pakdam Pakdai. Kids want to see more of their favourite characters, but in new stories. From a Sonic perspective, we have just launched Idaten Jump, which is a biking show and then there?s Power Rangers: Mega Force. From a Nick Jr. perspective, we have Peter Rabbit and Tickety Toc and House of Anubis on Teen Nick.

2D or 3D animation, what receives more traction?


It doesn?t matter to kids. They don?t know the difference between 2D and 3D. The only thing that matters to them is the story, the characters and how it looks. The quality of animation should be good, whether through 3D, 2D, or flash, it is of no relevance to children. Look at Ninja Hattori, it is such an old show and still gets us about 50 per cent of the ratings. Also Motu Patlu, which is a new show gets an equal amount of rating.


Will we see some of the old library content like Kenan & Kel, Drake & Josh on Nick soon?


Well, if the Indian sensibilities change, then we might. But, they were on the grid about eight years ago and nothing came out of it. So, it really depends if the Indian psyche goes through a full circle and back to that requirement. From an entertainment perspective if it touches their hearts and chords, then yes.


But, since our library content is an asset, we can do a lot of that with VOD, SVOD and OTT to those who might want to consume it.

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