He is a man with a mission – to bring a smile on children’s faces and Disney India executive director, kids channels and franchise marketing Bikram Duggal, has been going about it with grace and alacrity for nearly four years now.
Through a raft of channels including the Disney channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior and Hungama, Duggal has woven magic into the lives of kids and their families day after day. As someone who leads from the front, he has channelled generous amounts of creativity, optimism, trust and quality into the organisation. In an exclusive interview with Disha Shah of indiantelevision.com, Duggal recalls some of Disney’s defining moments while sharing a few tricks of the trade…
What is Brand Disney’s India story?
Disney is a brand which has story telling in its DNA. It is our legacy. Our promise is special entertainment with a heart. And that translates very strongly for Disney in India. There are various factors that have made Disney a strong brand. The key Disney values are “express yourself, believe in yourself, follow your dreams and celebrate family”. We try to see to it that we stay true to them and they permeate through everything that we do.
Disney channel is not just a kid-centric channel, but a family-focused channel as well. It is with shows like Best of Luck Nikki or Shake It Up and also with Oye Jassi that we plan to differentiate ourselves not only in the kid’s entertainment space but also in the entire television spectrum of the country in the coming months.
Story telling is our legacy and a large part of it is when we entertain through our classic movies like Snow White and Cinderella. Be it classic Disney princesses or Mickey, the engagement with and affinity to these characters is still very high. Even with Disney Pixar films like Finding Nemo or Cars, the characters are still a major pod of engagement for our channel.
What about animation?
Yes, animation is also responsible for the success of Disney channel over the years. Animation is the bedrock of the network. We are trying to collaborate with local studios for live action productions. Be it acquired series like Doreamon or Disney Channel originals like Phineas and Ferb, we have characters and stories that resonate with Indian families day in and day out. That is what has led to the core philosophy of bringing magical properties and permeating them with the core values of families.
How do you differentiate Disney’s target audiences?
As I said, Disney channel is both kid-centric and family-inclusive because it not only has animation, but also live action original productions which appeal to the entire family. For Disney Junior, it is all about the special entertainment that we provide for kids aged two to seven years. The entertainment is curated for the youngest members of the family. It has a lot of in-built learning. Hungama appeals to kids in the age group of four-14 and the way it is positioned is it fills kid’s lives with enthusiasm and laughter. Plus, there is a lot of Indian local animation on the channel. Disney XD super serves the boys and their passions like sports, action, and humor are manifest in a strong way.
Are you planning to tap into new genres?
Some of the live action original productions that we have are re-versions or adaptations of popular story telling that we have internationally. Like Best of Luck Nikki, The Suite Life of Karan and Kabir which we have re-versioned as they are timeless stories that can be told anywhere in the world. The whole idea is to see how to take this story telling cushioned in Indian values to another level where our target audience in India will find it truly engaging.
There must have been both highs and lows. What is the life span of a programme on Disney?
To be honest, there is so much happening around us; we have been continuously connecting with the consumers. Research and feedback have shown us that the channel is a happy place to be for people. I don’t think there is any low point because the television industry in India is doing phenomenally well and we are growing in double digits.
Talking about other Disney properties and the high points, Disney Junior that we launched a couple of months ago has the philosophy of engaging with kids (2-7 years) and then their parents, especially mothers. We believe that there is an opportunity to connect with kids and stimulate their imagination with magical storytelling, which is our forte. Series like Sofia, the First, Jake and the Never Land Pirates and Doc McStuffins stand true to the core value of Disney which is magical story-telling and we plan to air more of these in the next few months.
On the other hand, Hungama is all about an unapologetic sense of mischief bringing enthusiasm and laughter in kids’ lives. We are collaborating with local animation studios for in-house animated productions like Chor Police and Ninja Warrior and a few more to increase the primary focus on anime for children and teens.
What about the level of engagement with consumers?
There are a lot of consumer engagements we have been doing; whether they are through content or on-ground activities. We just did Disney Princess Academy where we got girls from all across the country to come and learn to be a princess as that is something they desire to be. When they see our films and the great story telling, they want to engage at the same level. Mothers and daughters came together in eight cities and lakhs of people submitted their entries. Content which is based on our core philosophy and engagement points across consumers’ lives is something we are trying to do on a regular basis.
Tell us about your biggest marketing campaign – ‘Jet Set Go 3’?
Disney’s core philosophy is giving magical experiences to kids and families. These experiences go beyond entertainment for us. It is holistic entertainment that touches consumers’ lives. And from that perspective, we knew that summer is a very good period for kids and families and they want to be entertained in a special way. We thought we would definitely want to bring in an event or marquee property which becomes that talking point of what summer holidays mean to kids.
Speaking of magical experiences, there can be no place like Disneyland. We knew Disneyland was special to a lot of people, but we wanted to bring it closer to Indian kids and families and tell them a little more about it. We wanted to do something special, so we thought why not send a plane full of people to Disneyland.
In the first year, which is three years ago, we chose one kid who was the hero because he was taking his family. He was the centre point of gratification. The same way, we choose one kid every day for 30 days. That was the best part: it was not one, two or three but 30 families who went together: 150 people going together and enjoying themselves in Disneyland and coming back with long memories. We got so many emails from them saying it was the best time they ever had in their entire life. It was a fantastic programme and we received millions of entries.
Needless to say, we repeated the exercise the next year only to find it was a bigger success. We brought in designers Shantanu and Nikhil to create a new line with Disney characters for kids who did a fashion show at the airplane hangar when the plane took off. This year, we decided to send people to all Disneylands of the world. So, one family will go to each of the Disneylands in California, Florida, Paris and Hong Kong. The response has been just amazing and Disneyland brings a smile to everyone’s faces.
‘Jet Set Go 3’ has been a hugely successful brand initiative which is running for three years. We get millions of entries and it has become a marquee property for the kids’ category so much so we look forward to doing it many times over. The other new thing this time is we will be shooting each family in Disneyland and airing that episode on Disney channel in August.
How do you market this property? What are the criteria for selecting families?
The good part is that Disney India reaches out to its entire audience in a month’s time. If we have a dedicated promotional plan, which we do have on our network, we are able to reach out to all our audiences on television. In the first year, we went outside our network as well, but the property has now become almost like a social currency when kids meet up. After the first year, we didn’t have to do anything more because kids were already aware of it and we just needed to announce it on our network to get millions of entries.
The great thing about this initiative is that not only people from Mumbai and Delhi are participating, but others from smaller towns, TL2 and TL3 towns are participating as well. It is very heartening that people have warmed up to this concept. In the backdrop of India’s economic growth and people’s desire to grow, it shows that they really want to explore such activities.
Replying to the second part of your question, the criteria for selection is largely kids and families who have scored maximum points per day.
Has social media played a big role?
Yes, a major role. In fact, a lot of these people, who were selected, have put their experiences on Facebook and Twitter. And that has gone viral. The fact that common people from small cities win, has been well received. Not only are there people who are going to Disneyland for the first time, there are also people going abroad for the first time. So, stories like a foreman from a mill in Jalandhar winning, has gone viral. Be it the people who’ve put it up with the help of the younger generation or with our help, the stories of these people are in fact, truly being heard on social media.
How much is the total marketing expenditure? Is it more this year as compared to previous years?
The total marketing expenditure is fairly big as the property takes about 20-25 per cent of the total annual budget. Yes, this year the expenditure is more, mainly because we are aiming to shoot these episodes in Disneyland, and all across the world.
Are there any special shows as it is summer time?
Yes, absolutely. There is a new animation series called Arjun launching on Disney channel on 1 June and we are really looking forward to it. It is our number one promotion on the channel and we are really looking forward to how it fares.
We are also re-launching Pokemon in a big way to appeal to kids on Hungama. From a Disney Junior perspective, in the last few months, the reach of the channel has increased tremendously since it was launched on key DTH platforms like Tata Sky, Airtel and more. A lot of promotions are happening on those platforms and we are keen to build that property.
Post summer, what is the plan?
The shows which I spoke about are not only restricted to summer. We are banking heavily on them and we think that is the kind of story telling that the channel has and we are going to move it forward. But those marquee properties will see a lot of support in the months even after summer. And you will see it going right up to October.
There are a lot of properties which are going to come up from a marketing perspective and you will hear about them soon. But what I can tell you confidently is the fact that this whole proposition of family-inclusive is very important for us. I think there is an opportunity to tell a unique story and how there are timeless stories which resonate across the world. We want to keep telling those stories and in times to come, you will see we would have been doing much more in that area on Disney channel.