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Animax turns one; lines up Jackie Chan, Godzilla treat

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MUMBAI: The Japanese anime channel Animax is turning one in India on 5 July. While the channel has not quite made a mark in the kids' mind space as yet, it is hoping to do so now with a slew of new shows. The first to launch on 11 July will be Godzilla and also the action man with a funny bone Jackie Chan.

Touted as the 'Big 5', the channel will also launch three other shows in July -- Midori Days will launch on 9 July, Monkey Typhoon on 13 July and Escaflowne on 31 July.

Animax and AXN South Asia director sales and marketing Rohit Bhandari says, "It is our constant endeavour to live up to the expectations of our viewers. Animax has always been recognised for showcasing exciting animated series and keeping up with the promise, we are pleased to announce the 'Big 5" range of new exciting programmes this monsoon."

While Midori Days will be aired every Saturday at 8 pm, Monkey Typhoon will be telecast every Wednesday at 8 pm and Escaflowne every Sunday at 8 pm.

However, the highlight will be on the big ticket show - Godzilla - as the channel has lined up a range of promotional activities for the show. The channel will telecast the movie Godzilla on 10 July at 6 pm before the animated series goes on air the next day. The series will be aired every Mondays and Tuesdays at 6 pm.

As a part of the promotional activities, a life sized Godzilla will be doing the rounds of schools and malls in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. Also, radio ads, on air and on ground contests - 'The Great Godzilla Egg Hunt' have been weaved to build excitement among kids. Kids are required to count the number of times they spot the Godzilla egg while the first episode is being aired. The winners of the contest will receive a Sony Play Station 2, personal TV set, bicycles, cameras along with Animax goodies. The event is being sponsored by Britannia Tiger Biscuits.

Bhandari adds, "Godzilla - the motion picture - has proved to be a clear winner with kids and youth around the world and with Animax premiering this animated series, we look forward to enthralling the audience through the small screen."

Animax will be visiting 160 schools in the four metros from 28 June to 8 July. In the Crossroads mall in Mumbai, Godzilla will make his presence felt on 2 and 3 July. On 9 and 10 July Godzilla will be seen at MGF Mall in Gurgaon, Center Stage in Noida and R Mall in Mumbai, while in Kolkata the contest will take place through road shows.

"Our strategy over the last one year, in terms of the way we see the business growing, we were purely dedicated to showcasing the best of Japanese animation that was available. We are a channel which is not just meant for kids but for everyone. The quality of programming that we are going to be bringing over the next six months is probably some of the best," Bhandari says.

The channel will be concentrating more on the youth this year because in the latter half of 2004, it concentrated on the kids, informs Bhandari.

Speaking on one of the strongest properties of the channel - Astroboy, he says that although the show is very big in the world of anime, but in India it is still relatively new as a brand name. "What strengthens the franchise across the Asian and American region is the merchandising - be it pillows, towels, bedsheets or watches. Given that kind of phenomenon, our focus this year will be to see if there is an avenue for us to introduce merchandising in the country. It is not an easy process because the depth of India as a market for merchandising is still not known entirely. Some brands have been reasonably popular on this front, but we need to evaluate very closely how successful our brands will be in terms of getting the message across and adding to the popularity of our channel."

However the merchandising plans are at a very nascent planning stage as of now. "Currently the demand is very huge in the rest of Asia and also in the US but there still isn't a fair sense of idea in terms of where India stands as a market. Of course everyone loves to make more money but servicing a country like India would also mean very high investments because the numbers are much larger here. This is a brand new market for the Japanese so it is going to take some time," Bhandari rationalises.

The numbers for Animax however, are not that encouraging. As per Tam data, the channel had a share of 0.5 per cent during April - May 2005, which is far lower than the shares of Hungama TV (9.9 per cent) and the Disney Channel (6.0 per cent), which were launched a few months after Animax' launch. On the other hand, Nick had a channel share of 2.2 per cent and Toon Disney was at par with Animax in terms of channel share during the same period.

"I'll be very honest with you, the fact is that we have moved from a one channel syndrome to a seven channel syndrome in the kids space. If you look at the kids' audience, it is extremely fickle at the same time they are not very savvy with channel surfing. We have come in with a much wider proposition than our competitors and hence it is that much more difficult for us," he explains.

When queried as to where the hitch lay as far as Animax not picking up pace in the country was concerned, Bhandari explains, "My sense is that it a combination of everything from marketing to distribution to content. Acquisition of content is not something that can happen overnight in terms of the shows and their popularity. A lot of our brand names were new and in a crowded market place, it is difficult to establish new names. We never came in with a view to jump to the number one slot. Of course the ambition is to reach there but by just saying it, it doesn't happen. There is a whole lot of effort that needs to go in and that's where our energies will lie. Yes, we are slightly slow but we are going in the right direction."

Will the channel be looking at acquiring local animation content, which may help in forming a connect with Indian kids? To this, Bhandari says that Animax India's learning base was Animax Japan, which was launched in 1998. "So we almost have about five - six years of content that is available to us. Localisation is not cheap and those who get into it have to get it right. Going local is the key, I'm not denying that but from a hard investment perspective, it still is a very long shot," he says.

However, at a time when traditional and non traditional advertisers are scurrying to make a presence felt on kids' channels; Animax is one such channel which has just one advertiser - Britannia. Justifying the fact, Bhandari says, "We have not been out actively in the market because technically if you see the rates that are available in the market, it is not very exciting. If one has to sell the channel at a rate that is extremely low, we rather take the hit economically than have advertising on the channel. Our aim will be to make the channel's proposition and content more appealing, which will start will our new lineups and then go into the market with a pricing and activities that will attract advertisers."

"We don't want to be a part of the herd. We have to have some key differentiation from the rest. And we will definitely survive in this market," Bhandari emphasises.

The channel does seem to be in an upbeat mode now with a whole lot of new properties and initiatives that have been lined up for the next six months. From the sound of it, we'd say it's better late than never.

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