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Barney brings smile to kids and new business opp

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MUMBAI: If you forget for a while this is business, just think: two dozen hardened scribes armed with tough questions laughed in glee and clapped heartily… Barney & Friends are here, for the first time in India.

There is business, of course, but the short sneak peek for the media saw what Kavita Bedi said come true. Barney does indeed touch the child in everyone of us. Bedi's company Just Because It's Children has brought the world famous show to India.

The huge Tyrannosaurus rex and his two friends danced and sang with amazing agility, despite their fluffy costumes, and gave a preview of the pure, innocent entertainment that is now a billion dollar industry the world over, as Nik Larkin, officially designated Chief Dreamer at MEI Entertainment of Australia (MEIEA) told indiantelevision.com after the press preview.

The show is to be held at the Siri Fort Auditorium on 17 and 18 February, and Bedi was forthcoming: "I need the media's help to make this programme a success."

Bedi told this correspondent that as a marketing person, she feels there is a huge business in this sector of live edutainment, where entertainment is not just educative but has parental approval as well. "We shall talk money if this programme is successful. Let's see," she said.

Part of this business outlook was evident with sponsors ranging from Lilliput, Sunfest Pasta Treat, HT I Love Delhi, Hotel Intercontinental, Eros, Whirlpool, LIC, Berger Kidz, Singapore Airlines and others.

Tickets range from Rs 1,500 down to Rs 300, "so that a wide range of children and their parents will be able to see the show," Bedi says. But she added that 50 disadvantaged children - to be selected by the various NGOs her company works with - will be given free tickets.

This show is the outcome of an exclusive tie-up between JBC and MEIEA, which is the official licensee of Barney Big Funtime, along with Turner International's kids channel Pogo.

Monica Tata, Turner vice president, advertising sales and networks (India and South Asia) said that this is a big business but did not want to talk about any new business model.

Asked whether there seems to be a new business direction emerging at Turner's with two programmes with outside companies and NGOs coming in rapid succession (Turner is also promoting the Galli Galli Sim Sim kids programmes to be taken to slums through TV on push carts), she said: "There is no business model. Galli Galli is a different project with a different philosophy and aim… this programme is different."

She explained that this is in keeping with Turner's policy of staying ahead in the business of kids entertainment. "We had introduced Barney and Friends to India in 2004, in our pre-school block, Tiny TV. Likewise, it was natural for us to pioneer this kind of stage shows for children and we are the media partners in the project."

Bedi admitted that this is a hugely costly project. Apart from the cost of bringing in the team, there was research. She said her company is trying to bring in something radically new in children's education and entertainment.

Asked why she thought children here would relate to things so distinctly foreign, she said that she had followed the programme elsewhere as part of her research, and "whether they are Malaysians or Chinese, children have accepted this as their programme," she averred.

But she would not disclose the cost, and though the programme has several sponsors at various levels, she did not want to discuss business issues.

MEI has been working in the field of edutainment for the past 20 years and have created some major live family entertainment programmes in Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Middle East.

Currently it is doing these live character shows using licensed characters from major entertainment property owners, such as Cartoon Network, HIT Entertainment, and others, and some of their programmes - whether originally created by them or licensed - have played in other languages like Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic.

Barney, a character created in 1987 by Sheryl Leach, has already won the BEANIE License of the Year in 1993, from the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association, and played live at Bill Clinton's inauguration as US president.

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