'We will post robust double digit growth' : Disney UTV executive director and Disney kids network business head Vijay Subramaniam

The kids television market in India is a tough nut to crack. Disney UTV executive director and Disney kids network business head Vijay Subramaniam, however, believes that the brand-driven media conglomerate has got the right formula to break the nut.

Two of the channels have succeeded to penetrate the ratings. Disney Channel houses its global brands like MickeyMouse and is growing these franchises. Hungama is a fun-filled channel and works on Japanese anime content. TheWalt Disney Company India is now pulling its resources behind Disney XD to make the comedic action channel popular in the Hindi speaking markets.

The company‘s strategy is two-fold: offer a wide spread of content that entertains not just kids but also the family; support this with strong activation to connect directly with the TG through multiple touch points.

The challenge is to expand the advertising revenue which is pegged at Rs 2.5 billion. The genre is under indexed and the growth in audiences is not translating to a corresponding increase in advertising monies.

Disney is waiting for digitisation to develop other genres that will yield more subscription revenues. The company is determined to find potential in live action and has three shows in development stage. Local animation is another genre that it wants to explore actively. The superhero genre is also to be exploited as an opportunity.

In an interview with‘s Javed Farooqui, Subramaniam talks about the potential the kids genre has amid tough revenue challenges.


What is the challenge the kids broadcasting genre faces today?

Some of the challenges that existed earlier even prevail today. Distribution, for instance, was a hard game to play when we launched in 2007. That situation continues and India is still one of the most expensive markets to procure distribution. So that definitely is a challenge. But we hope things will better with digitisation.

Another challenge that has stuck around is that the kids market is highly under indexed. You can take a five year trend and you will find it is still under indexed, despite the fact that viewership on kids channels have grown overall. It’s a Rs 2.5-2.7 billion ad market. If you take the viewership, the total number of GRPs in 2007 was about 400-450 and currently it’s at about 700 GRPs. Every year this has been one genre that has added consistent growth, but it stays under indexed.

Is that because the genre is highly fragmented?

The question that advertisers need to ask is where the quality of viewership is and are they leveraging it. Going by the science of the marketplace, I don’t think advertisers have still realised the full potential of this audience.

What could be done to overcome this hurdle?

There are three things that we consistently do from a Disney kid’s networks standpoint and we believe it’s increasingly giving us returns. One is to have entertainment content that is completely family inclusive with the kid at the centre of it.

Two, every single marketing activity that we have undertaken as a network has driven a very strong engagement value building loyalty through several intangibles. These become the talking points for advertisers and, more importantly, it deepens the relationship between the consumer and the channel. Take Jet Set Go as an example. We got six million entries from across the country and the best thing is that the contest was completely driven through Disney channels without cricket and Bollywood.

Thirdly, we are constantly engaged in educating the advertising fraternity of the increase in value that the kids centric family brings. Yes, that’s a long journey to cover still. But the fact is that new categories of advertisers are walking in. Kids channels reach about 85 per cent of the genre’s universe.

We are the leading kids network with 43 per cent share and we bring the power of terrific story telling through our franchises. The activations that we do are pretty wholesome and these are things that can be easily leveraged for value by brands. Having said that, it is a very competitive marketplace. And I don’t see enough attention being given to this segment when people strategise.

So in an ideal situation what should be the size of the ad revenue market considering the audience delivery?

That would be a hard one to say. I am of the view that brands that invest in kids channels should have a long-term view of building partnerships. We in Disney believe in evolving with the consumer and it’s important that brands demonstrate similar partnerships and evolve with us as we evolve with consumers. To illustrate a point, the engagement that we brought with Jet Set Go is something that money can’t possibly buy. Just imagine 33 families coming together and nobody knowing each other as they set out to experience the whole thing together at Disneyland. So these kinds of opportunities can be created by us. It’s more of a strategy that is driving this investment as opposed to asking ‘Can you spend a little more’? It’s not just about how you spend; it’s about how much you are staying invested with this important target audience.

‘The segment that we are going to drive as an opportunity as well as a strategy is the superhero genre. We have got the Marvel Universe premiering on Disney XD. That’s our first foray and we have got Marvel as a part of Disney‘

Disney has been positioning itself as family entertainment channel. Do you think that works when you have to compete in the kids genre?

The kids channel label is what prevents us from looking at family as a unit. If you look at it from the lens of a television professional, then that’s a limitation. But if you look at consumers in general and brand Disney in particular, we are a family entertainment channel worldwide. There are enough adults who buy Disney merchandise and then there is Disneyland which will give you an indication of just how big the Disney brand is.

Agreed we are a young brand in India and we have not been here as long as the brand has been in other countries. But that said Disney stands for family entertainment. Secondly, if you look at consumers, they have at least one meal together and even as we live individualistic lives, the meaning of family is still very strong. We believe that Disney is a brand that provides the environment for families to come together. Yes, its kids centric but it’s something that is enjoyed by the family. And we believe that we have some of the best family comedy shows.

But isn’t it still animation that works for kids channels?

Agreed that animation is the staple diet for all kids channels. But it does not for a minute mean that the two cannot co-exist. In fact, there should be a healthy balance of the two.

We will continue to invest on live action and we are very clear that we want to make it work. Ok, let me change the perspective and ask the same question about Satyamev Jayate. When you bring in a new format in a new slot, you will have people who will be very enthusiastic and supportive and there will be people who will be at the fence. As leaders, it is important to bring these new formats to the country. We have to drive it in a manner that Indian audiences find it most entertaining and relevant. We started with live action two years ago with Ishaan and we have three shows under development stage now. We genuinely believe that this is an added dimension for both kids and their families.

Live action is fun but it is harder to do. We are fortunate that we have the repertoire of successful stories that have been scripted and aired successfully internationally.

What is the ratio between live action and animation on Disney Channel?

It’s between 15-19 per cent with just two shows - Suite Life of Karan and Kabir and Best of Luck Nikki.

What is your content strategy for the three channels? Any specific genres that you are planning to experiment with?

One segment that we have identified clearly is live action. It’s very rich and is something to which we are committed strategically and financially; we are going to drive that to build significant volume for us.

We see huge opportunity in preschool content and have ambitious plans for it. Frankly, it’s a function of right timing because it can’t be driven using the ad sales model. This is a far younger audience and requires a lot more responsibility in managing it. This is one genre we would like to explore once we see where this digitisation piece is moving.

The third genre that we want to play a role in is local animation. Indian animation has come a long way and we believe that there are lots of dimensions that are still to be explored. A day in the life of a kid is also an opportunity to explore much more; it doesn’t necessarily need to be mythology. So that’s the piece we are keen on.

Musicals is something which is at the heart of everything we do. It is another interesting genre, but the challenge is how do we do so because development in some of these things is very difficult to do in an environment that is not necessarily seen as an opportunity through the eyes of the kid.

Comedic action and adventure is an interesting genre that we are going to contribute significantly in.

Lastly, the segment that we are going to drive as an opportunity as well as a strategy is the superhero genre. We have got the Marvel Universe premiering on Disney XD with Spiderman and Iron Man-Armored adventures on Saturday. That’s our first foray and we have got Marvel as a part of Disney. There are interesting stories to be built around them.

How are Disney Channel, Hungama and Disney XD positioned?

Disney Channel is the home of Disney brand and everything it stands for. All the Disney franchises are housed under this channel. Micky Mouse Clubhouse, Winny the Pooh and Phineas and Ferbs will be championed by Disney Channel as will the live action production that I spoke of - Suite Life of Karan and Kabir, Best of Luck Nikki and Art Attack (an art and craft show).

Hungama is a brand aimed at the 4-14-year-olds. It is a total unbridled fun channel, so Japanese anime is the content expression there.

Disney XD is an action and comedic brand channel targeting boys in the age group of 8-14 years.

Hasn’t Disney XD been the weak link in your network?

I would say Disney XD required the maximum amount of work among the three channels that we have in India. We have got Disney Channel and Hungama sitting pretty but our work is not finished yet. We have to stay on top of the live action game, something that I keep emphasising on. It has to be truly entertaining because that is what differentiates Disney from other entertainment products. Hungama is going to stay fun and enjoyable.

With Disney XD, we are sure we will be able to take it to the position the other two are in. That’s really the game plan.

What direction are you going to give Disney XD?

Disney XD is a channel that has traditionally done well in the South and HSM (Hindi Speaking Market) was not a focus area. We are at a stage where we are going to focus a lot of our resources on Disney XD to make it strong in the HSM. We have made encouraging beginnings but we have a long way to go. We are pretty confident of reaching there. Prior to January, we were 30 odd GRPs, which is really nothing. But currently we hold about 60 GRPs on an average and are confident that it will be a 100+ GRP channel in the coming months, given that we have a whole lot of initiatives planned to give it the push.

What are the growth projections for Disney network?

I am not at liberty to share financials, but they are robust double digit numbers. The growth will be delivered by consistency of performance due to high quality programming and a discerning advertiser who is placing a premium on both brand value as well as consistency. As far as break-up of revenues is concerned, its 50-50 for us between distribution and ad revenue. Licensing and merchandising is a separate business altogether.

How important is new media in the scheme of things?

New media in most media companies is an extension of the linear product. But for us it’s a full-fledged digital universe onto itself. Disney is a unique brand that tells great stories and then disseminates them through as many platforms and environments as possible.

We have Disney Interactive Media Group. Like DisneyConsumer Products, it is a separate company altogether that works across the length and breadth of the digital universe. When we did the Princess movie festival on the channel, we also built a game on mobile and they then fed it to over 7-8 million consumers. So that’s the scale we can build for our stories across platforms.

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