"With digitisation, CBeebies can manage on subscription model & stay ad-free”: BBC Studios’ Ryan Shiotani

According to Shiotani, subscription model is the most viable option.

MUMBAI: Earlier this month, BBC Studios, a global content company, announced the re-launch of its popular children’s channel, CBeebies, in India after a long hiatus of eight years. For the uninitiated, the channel had discontinued its operations in November 2012. CBeebies aims at helping preschoolers learn while they are playing. The programme schedule in India consists of entertaining and interactive series and offers a mix of new and landmark, high-quality, UK-produced programmes to educate and entertain BBC's youngest audiences.

Riding on the back of globally-known content as well as a better distribution platform in the country through digitisation, the channel hopes to attract eyeballs this time. In a special interaction with, BBC Studios south and southeast Asia SVP and GM Ryan Shiotani speaks at length about the channel's content strategy, marketing plan and much more.

Edited Excerpts:

With so much digital content at everyone’s disposal, is it wise to launch a TV channel for a niche audience?

Our approach with CBeebies is both digital and linear medium. As a brand, we are looking at safe, fun and educational content. No doubt preschoolers or audiences, in general, are consuming more content on digital and in fact, more content is made for digital platforms. However, in India, TV is still a very important medium and it is a great way to reach audiences all across the country. As of now, CBeebies is available on 33million+ homes. We feel it is important to be on television as well as on digital.

You are going ad-free with the channel. How are you planning to monetise it?

In the time of lockdown, we are happy to provide a safe, ad-free, educational entertainment channel for preschoolers on pay TV. We also know that parents, in particular, are busier than ever and the lockdown has impacted everybody’s life. As far as monetisation is concerned our channel is based on a subscription model. For us being ad-free is important for Cbeebies brand, we believe that now it is possible to manage on a subscription-based model.

We have a very strong distribution team in the form of BBC Global News. They are distributing Cbeebies to the linear channel across India. I think the subscription model is viable now as compared to three years ago where digitisation has still not happened and everybody was working on the carriage fee model. The TRAI rate for CBeebies channel is Rs 4 for the BBC bundle and Rs 5 for CBeebies a la carte.

You are launching at a sensitive time. Do you think you will manage to get enough eyeballs?

I think one of the major challenges at the moment is in terms of marketing. Normally with children’s brands, we look at on-ground events, on-ground activations and live shows in malls which is currently not possible. Our plan on marketing is to do promotions through social media and reach the possible target audience. Apart from that press is something which is very important, we are looking at conducting interviews with parenting publications.

You have shows like Teletubbies in your kitty already, which drive a huge nostalgic value that is also the trend these days. Do you think these will manage to get you an audience?

Our programming on CBeebies is a mix of both classic and new content. The classic shows like Hey Duggee, Go Jetters, Sarah and Duck, Thomas & Friends and Teletubbies are loved and remembered by parents. I do think that these well-known brands and characters will help parents and their pre-schoolers into the channel. Parents are generally active to search content places for their pre-schoolers. Definitely there will be new content but we are looking more into classic contents so that the parents can also relive their memories with their pre-schoolers.

Apart from that, classic content does have a value that we have especially witnessed during the times of Covid2019. In these unprecedented times viewers do enjoy something that is familiar and comforting. In India, mythological shows are trending because of the nostalgia factor. On linear channels, parents and preschoolers can discover new shows and characters.

Apart from that, what is your content strategy? Are you planning to create new shows or acquire rights from other studios?

Cbeebies is the number one children's channel in the UK. It is the most-watched channel for kids under the age of five or six. It means there is going to be a constant supply of quality content for preschoolers and it is developed with keeping a child’s development in mind.

We are fortunate that we have a strong content pipeline for preschoolers coming from UK Cbeebies channel and with that strong pipeline from the UK we scheduled a channel to be able to deliver the positioning through learning.  So, there will be a mix of content on the channel that may deliver basic information about science. We also have an adventurous series called Go Jetter, that teaches basic concepts of Geography and famous landmarks for e.g., one episode will talk about the Great Barrier Reef and the other could be about Taj Mahal.

Language is another area of focus where there is a show named Yakka Dee in which there is an animated character called Dee teaches new words in every episode. The content itself covers a wide range of documented and historical series. In addition to the variety of genres that are covered, what is important to us is that we have a mix of animation and live-action. Kids do enjoy animation but they also like seeing adults on screen.

Have you planned to get onboard Indian writers/producers?

At the moment we have a show that teaches us about animals, landmarks, food of India but we don’t have a series produced by Indian writers. It is something that we will be looking at in the future but not now. We do want to look at how we can work with Indian producers to create content that reflects India and also travels around the world. I think in today's time children are open to different cultures and stories around the world. We do know that in India there is a huge animation and production sector.

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