'Motu Patlu- King of Kings' is Viacom18’s calculated risk

MUMBAI: At a time when major studios are either washing their hands off the Hindi film market or threatening to do so, jilted by the low box-office collections, Viacom18 has announced its maiden animation theatrical, ‘Motu Patlu King of Kings’.

Produced by the popular studio Maya, the film is slated to release on 14 October 2016, in Hindi and Tamil. This isn’t the first movie that highly rated toon characters Motu and Patlu have to their name. Nickelodeon had aired 10 ‘made for TV’ films, which did extremely well in television viewership.

Not belittling the craze the young ones in India have for the toons, the obvious question still stands ‘Why would Viacom18 bet so high on the already struggling animation feature film market in India?’ Not if the core objective isn’t about gain or loss at the box office but to augmenting an already popular franchise to become a premium brand for the network.

“Motu Patlu is already a very successful Intellectual Property (IP). Media business is fundamentally about widening the base of existing IPs. Cult franchises have been built on this principle across the globe. When you have characters like Motu and Patlu under your own home network, it is only right to invest in them by treating them to a film screen. Even if the film fails, we would have had marketed these characters well and grown brand Motu Patlu. Therefore, even on a bad day when collections aren’t that great, this film is still a good business decision,” Viacom18 Motion Pictures COO Ajit Andhare shed some light on the strategy.

Referring to the studios shutting down, he frankly stated, “I think when you bank on a film too much, you run the risk of ending up that way. The key approach is to have a diversified portfolio. One film might not work but it is unlikely that a well-thought-of portfolio will crash.”

“Your chances of succeeding as an aggregate are far greater due to diversification," he said.

Viacom18 isn’t completely giving up on the theatre footfalls. From releasing the movie to leveraging its strength to market it, the media behemoth isn’t leaving any stone unturned.

“We are releasing the film in a calibrated fashion: The film’s launch date has been carefully decided upon so that it won't be completely walked over by the Rs 100-crore magnum opuses. We locked in a holiday period that roots out potential competition".

Viacom 18 group CEO Sudhanshu Vats further laid down the marketing plans for the run-up to the release in the next six weeks.

“We will strongly use the combined strength of our network to reach far and wide for the promotion of the film. Besides, we plan to use all the right media vehicles that fits our objective of reaching the right audience. Cross network promotion on relevant channels like movie and entertainment will also be part of the marketing initiatives. We will be heavily present on print and out-of-home spaces,” he said. The network also plans to use its FTA channels to spread the word in the tier II and tier II markets.

“We will add engaging brand alliances as part of the marketing mix with experiential being a key focus to popularise the characters,” he shared. The pre-festive season ties up with Nickelodeon’s already planned out marketing blitz for the year.

From a distribution standpoint, the film will be released in approximately 700 screens across the country. While it is significant number in the animated feature film category, to put some context, Disney's The Jungle Book was released in India in around 1,640 screens.

Explaining why a smaller screen strength won’t deter the movie's overall visibility, Andhare added, “Screen numbers don’t necessarily make a film big or small. Unlike a ‘star geared’ film, when it comes to a movie like this, what counts more is the show time. What will be a convenient time for the kids to go and watch, will the parents be able to accompany them? -- become the deciding questions. So when we say 700 screens, we mean a wide release with proper show timings that can tackle such a specific audience.”

Given the track history of home-grown animated feature films on the Indian box office, Andhare was quizzed how he plans to recover the cost of production, when animated films are expensive to produce.

“I wouldn’t have agreed to do this film if I weren't confident that we will be profitable. But, the onus is not just on theatre footfalls. It will be through a combination of all the monetization avenues available to us, whether it's selling satellite rights, digital rights, or merchandising and brand integration deals.” Also, animated content has longer shelf life and are a lucrative property for syndication to other markets as well.

Speaking of brand integration, Viacom18 kids entertainment, business head Nine Elavia Jaipuria assured that the network is in talks with several brands to partner for the film’s promotion. Marketing alliances with more than 20 brands across categories such as Confectionery, Toys, FMCG, Milk supplement products, et al, are being tapped.

“The movie is unadulterated, meaning, there is no in-movie tie-up with a brand," she said.

Adding her insight on how this film adds value to brand Motu Patlu, Jaipuria said, “From Tv-dom to stardom would draw us a premium on the IP".

Jaipura also stressed on the ancillary revenue that the IP generates from the various merchandising deals it lends itself to, be it apparels, toys, stationery, back-to-school products, etc, which is further strengthened by its presence on various e-commerce platforms.

From the content standpoint, Motu Patlu King of Kings is a story about a runaway circus lion, a king trying to protect his kingdom, a greedy poacher and Motu Patlu caught up in the final battle to save the life of the jungle. Motu Patlu King of Kings, releasing on October 14, is sure to capture the imagination of the children and adults.

Maya Digital Studios chairman Ketan Mehta said, “This is a film that will be driven by children, but one that will be equally enjoyed by adults.”

Some of the leading names were roped in for the movie. The film is directed by Suhas Kadav and the celebrated poet Gulzar has penned the lyrics of the title track.

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