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Kids' OTT content in India set for significant investment and potential shake up

Indian streamers have adopted varying models in kids' segment

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MUMBAI: Earlier this month, Netflix did something it rarely does. The streaming giant made an acquisition, only the third in its history, of a children’s media brand called StoryBots. Though the details of the deal weren’t disclosed, it’s safe to assume it didn’t cost the Reed Hastings-led company a fortune. While Netflix may not have broken the bank for its newest asset, its move is rather important because it points to what the world's most famous streaming service sees as a key growth area.

Indian kids of every age group today spend more time on digital mediums than ever before. The trend isn’t lost on the country's leading streaming platforms, which are now quickly building up a content library for this segment. While some OTT companies continue to shy away from the genre, investment in kids’ content is likely to increase significantly in the next couple of years, Indiantelevision.com has learnt.

According to Netflix original animation director Aram Yacoubian, kids and family are important segments globally for the company. Yacoubian highlighted the fact that Netflix is expanding its content across genres and formats with great storytelling at the core of all its actions. Citing the example of Mighty Little Bheem, he added that the company’s vision for kids’ content is centred on collaborating with amazing storytellers.

“Great stories and storytellers come from all over the world and cut across genres, formats and animation styles. We are focused on creating content for every kid to connect with and see themselves in as well as content and stories from areas far away. We want to give audiences in India the best of our kids content from all over the world and also invest in stories from India or about Indian culture, tradition, families, kids etc. We are thrilled to work with seasoned creators and fresh voices to create content kids and families will love and cherish. We know that when kids find the content amazing so do their older siblings and parents,” Yacoubin explained.

According to the 2018 KPMG report, linear TV remains the first preference of 97 per cent children in India as compared to other digital avenues. However, the rising popularity of a second screen among kids is undeniable. In a bid to capitalise on the appetite for good content from toddlers to early teens, OTT platforms are now looking at this segment more closely than ever before.

Elara Capital vice president Karan Taurani believes there is plenty of untapped potential in the sector. In fact, he describes it as the “next big thing”.

Viacom18’s digital arm Voot is probably the best placed among Indian streamers to benefit on this front. Voot made an early bet on the segment at a time when Indian OTT players were building their brands on the back of sports or premium English content. Within a few months of its launch, the company inked a deal with Turner for digital rights of popular kids’ shows to add a new dimension to its repertoire. Voot has always acknowledged kids as a key audience and its rich library with shows like Peppa Pig, Pokemon, Motu Patlu, Ninja Hattori and Chhota Bheem is proof of that conviction. Taking another leap forward, Voot is now on the verge of launching its dedicated kids’ service, a subscription-based model unlike the current advertising-based model of its main app.

Sony Pictures Networks India’s OTT SonyLIV has sets its sights on the segment as one of the key focus areas this financial year. SPN India digital business head Uday Sodhi said the company is excited about the prospect of developing this category.

“We have started expanding the footprint in kids’ content area. If you look at the app, we now have a fair amount of kids’ content and we are continuously adding more and more content. We should be able to have more than a thousand hours of content on kids alone. This includes a lot of content that we are doing as a part of the Sony Yay channel. Over and above that, we are also partnering and acquiring content from both international and domestic partners and today we have content in some southern languages, Marathi and Gujarati also,” Sodhi commented.

The top five to six OTT platforms operating in India are well funded and are likely to stay the course in the business. Given the diverse nature of the audience, these streamers have outlined unique visions for their companies. This applies to their take on kids’ content as well.

For instance, Eros Now has adopted a cautious approach when it comes to investment in kids’ content. Eros International chief marketing officer Manav Sethi said the company is looking to offer immersive experiences within this genre. While Eros is open to the idea of developing Originals in the segment, Sethi stated that the platform is currently experimenting and looking at data as well learning from mistakes of both Eros Now and its competition.

“It’s a huge opportunity waiting to be captured. We are experimenting in a few areas here. Kids today have access to iPads and phones; they don’t watch TV much. I think there is a huge market. When you look at creating content for kids, you have to be very careful about the sensitivities, language, message, and the art form. It can’t be too aggressive, too harsh and that requires lots of research,” Sethi remarked.

Another dominant force ALTBalaji has adopted a completely different approach. Balaji Telefilms’ OTT is on the brink of completely exiting from the kids’ scene. Recently, ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya said in a press meet that the company will take off all kids-related content in the next six to 12 months. While the company offered kids’ content to begin with, it eventually altered its strategy to position itself as the go-to platform for the 18+ audience.

India’s OTT business, especially when it comes to kids’ content, could be in for a significant shake up with Disney’s formal acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets. Star India’s OTT Hotstar, which until now focused largely on sports, could take giant strides when it comes to kids' audience. Disney’s streaming service is set for a November launch. The original content created for the much-anticipated debut of Disney+ will be routed in India through Hotstar, which plans to localise those originals by dubbing or by adding subtitles in Indian languages.

According to Taurani, Disney-powered Hotstar could pose a serious challenge to Voot at a time when the Viacom18 streamer intends to flex its muscle in this sector. To make matters more interesting, Netflix too has big plans of producing high-quality content in the animated and live action genre for kids in India.

From the looks of it, kids’ content in India is now primed for digital video disruption. It now remains to be seen what this key market has in store for India’s super streamers in the next two years.

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