Kids’ channels grow up, but not the money

Programming for children is witnessing a surge in local content and viewership, but advertisers are still to take note

is an adventurous, dhoti-clad boy. Together with his friends, Raju, Jaggu, Chutki, Kaalia and princess Indumati, he fights evil forces that threaten Dholakpur, his tiny village. The laddoo-chomping Chhota Bheem represents the biggest change sweeping through the kids’ television market in India – the rise of local, home-grown characters. Since Chhota Bheem‘s debut in 2008, scores of other local characters and shows have come to dominate the Indian television screen. Roll No. 21, Mighty Raju, Little Krishna, Motu Patlu (Fat guy Skinny guy), Pakdam Pakdai (Catch Catch) Chorr Police (Thief Police), just to name a few, came soon after. The Indian child since has moved beyond the stock American characters such as Johnny Bravo or Popeye or the dubbed Japanese ones such as Shin Chan or Doraemon that Turner, Disney and others have used for years.

“This genre has never seen as much original content as today,” says Nina Elavia Jaipuria, executive vice-president and business head (kids cluster), Viacom18, which runs Sonic, Nick and Nick Junior, among other channels, in India. The average ratio for acquired versus local content now is 60:40 for most broadcasters against 90:10 in 2008. This, in turn, has led to a huge rise in viewership for the genre. From 5.4 per cent in 2008, kids’ television now accounts for 7.5 per cent of the total time spent by Indians on television. It is, after general entertainment and films, the largest genre of programming consumed by Indians – roughly comparable with news television. The number of kids’ channels, across languages, has more than doubled over the past year from about 10 to 22 now.

But this is where the good news ends. For all their popularity, children’s channels got only about 4.5 per cent of the Rs 13,600 crore that spent on television in 2013. That is about Rs 612 crore, compared to Rs 2,000 crore that was spent on news channels at roughly the same viewership. For almost all other genres, ad revenues are either proportional to their viewership or a little higher. This then is the biggest bugbear for an otherwise rocking market.

The trouble with kids’ TV
ZeeQ, the first kids’ channel from the Rs 4,602-crore Zee Entertainment Enterprise, illustrates the problem. It was born in November 2011 when mandatory digitisation was just taking off. Its premise was to create thought-provoking programming for to aid their mental development. For instance, Teenovation, a show produced in association with the National Innovation Foundation, explores the stories behind innovations such as automatic food makers and shock absorbers for crutches. The idea was to sell the channel a la carte and charge Rs 82 for the high-end original programming. However, after two years, could manage only about 100,000 subscribers even though the market for kids” programming was booming. This prompted a change in strategy and early this year, Zee changed tactics and went on to join the kids package on digital platforms.

The ZeeQ story points to a market that is changing across all dimensions – distribution, programming and audience.

Distribution will sort itself out once digitisation, due to be completed by the end of 2015, is over. It is already impacting sampling and viewership. “Kids” channels have never been as big as general entertainment channels and, therefore, the last mile cable operators never prioritised it. As a result, there was bad visibility and low viewership. With digitisation, access becomes easier,” says Rajiv Chilaka, managing director and founder, Green Gold Animation, the creators of Chhota Bheem. Then, there is the hope of better pay revenues as digitisation is expected to plug revenue leakages that are endemic in analog distribution.

On programming, the transition is bumpy. This is because broadcasters need more local programming. “Now you need five seasons at least (about 80-90 episodes against 13 episodes earlier),” says Krishna Desai, executive director and network head (Kids, South Asia), Turner International, which owns Cartoon Network and Pogo. Besides bumping up costs, the extra episodes will also put more pressure on the companies to produce local content. Even if broadcasters are willing to pay $25,000 (Rs 15.5 lakh) to $100,000 (Rs 62 lakh) per episode, there are only a few firms such as Green Gold that can create original content as traditionally Indian companies have been engaged in doing back-end work for Hollywood. “We don’t have three hours of fresh programming every day (unlike general entertainment channels),” says Desai.

Revenue mismatch

Even if channels did carry fresh programming, there is no guarantee that ad revenues will increase. For one, “Kids’ brands don’t constitute more than 10 per cent of the total base of advertisers,” says Juhi Ravindranath, vice-president (ad sales, South Asia), Turner International. Roughly half the advertisers on kids’ channels are marketers of products catering to women. This is because mothers are passive viewers – either because they are feeding their children while they are watching TV or just hovering around. So cars, insurance and mobile phone ads rub shoulders with biscuits and noodle advertising.

The second big challenge, says Ravindranath, is getting the 80 per cent of the time spent on non-kids’ channels, by kids, back to its rightful place. But the big networks with their strong general entertainment channels make for formidable competition. Chilaka points out that more than half of TV viewers are under 16. “This has not been taken advantage of so far because advertisers are never quite sure if this is an audience,” says he.

The third impediment, says Subhadarshi Tripathy, cluster head, ZeeQ and Khaana Khazana, is that “the effective rates are pathetically low.” They range between Rs 150 and Rs 1,700 per ten seconds, about a sixth of what news channels get.

Now if only Chhota Bheem could get the advertisers to up their budgets too.

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