Interview: We are betting big on original IPs with increased focus on local content says, Abhishek Dutta, Cartoon Network & Pogo

Abhishek Dutta

With the kids’ content seeing a surge in consumption during the lockdown, Media Samosa speaks to Abhishek Dutta about how the genre has faired and the role of Cartoon Network and Pogo in it.

Apart from news and movies, the third genre that has contributed to the all-time high total viewership across India during this lockdown has been the kids’ genre. Abhishek Dutta, South Asia Network Head for Cartoon Network and POGO speaks at length about the viewing pattern of kids, advertisers’ sentiments towards the genre, co-existence of OTT & television & more.

Edited Excerpts:

Kids’ content consumption and television viewership saw a spike during the pandemic. How has it been for Cartoon Network and Pogo?

There has been a significant uptick in TV viewing across major genres including kids, news, and entertainment during the lockdown period.

Recent BARC data revealed that the kids’ genre saw a 29% increase in average weekly viewing minutes, growing from 11.3 million in the pre-COVID weeks to 14.6 million after the outbreak.

The last few months have been very exciting for our kids’ business. We strengthened our content offerings on both Cartoon Network and POGO by launching new homegrown animation content. On Cartoon Network, we launched Bandbudh Aur Budbak in April, and on POGO, we launched ‘Titoo – Har Jawaab Ka Sawaal Hu’ in July, and the response to both shows has been overwhelming. Titoo has become one of the most successful launches ever in the kids’ genre in 2020. The show is currently #2 in the entire kids’ genre in terms of average yield, another record-breaking achievement for POGO.

The lockdown which resulted in no shoot/remote operations seems to have had the least impact on Kids Entertainment Industry. Your thoughts?  

Since animation is planned well in advance, the kids’ genre continued offering fresh and relatable content throughout the COVID-induced lockdown, unlike many other genres on TV. At Cartoon Network and POGO, we already had new launches scheduled for Q2 & Q3 of 2020 before the start of the year, making it easier for us to give our audience fresh content.

For instance, we premiered Titoo on POGO and Bandbudh Aur Budbak on Cartoon Network during this period along with a lot of other new content that aired for our existing shows. The Bollywood-inspired POGO original production, Smashing Simmba, that premiered this Diwali was developed largely during the COVID-19 phase. The additional challenges that came with this taxing period, makes it special to us and our young fans.

Data released by the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) revealed that the 2-14 year age group has shown a maximum increase in TV engagement. How has the impact been reflected on kids’ entertainment channel viewership? 

The kids’ entertainment genre often features within the top three spots of most watched genres among all viewers in urban India and in the 2-14 years age bracket.

Kids genre viewership has seen a significant rise over the years and shows a promising growth trajectory. Within the genre, both Cartoon Network and POGO clocked substantial viewership hikes during the pandemic and in comparison to 2019, which was further supported by newly launched homegrown IPs.

Any specific timeslots that witnessed a significant increase in engagement? 

Morning and afternoon time bands 0700-1100 and 1100-1500 hrs have observed a growth of almost 47% during the peak COVID-19 period (i.e. Q2 vs Q1’20). The same slots still dominate a majority viewership as kids continue to be at home. A similar trend has been observed across all genres.

What were the advertiser’s sentiments like and how is it panning currently as the world -inches towards normalcy? 

We have also seen some success with advertisers leaning more into innovative branded content solutions, especially for Pan regional advertising campaigns. Some notable examples include the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the Philippines Department of Tourism, and the Prudence Foundation. While the impact of COVID-19 was palpable on television advertising, we are seeing some signs of recovery with the festive seasons and audience sentiment will help the industry bounce back and will bring in new avenues of growth.

Also Read: Voot Kids’ debut campaign #MastiMeinAchhai puts spotlight on children’s screen time

How do you plan to retain the viewership base gained during the lockdown period?

We will continue to introduce our fans to new shows as well as new seasons of their favourite shows. The new shows would include new programs from Warner Bros Animation and our very Cartoon Network Studio in the US. In addition, and just as importantly for us, we will also both acquire and create our own unique and relatable homegrown content that offers a local flavour through its authentic voice, India-centric characters,and regional language feeds.

For example, POGO’s newest offering Smashing Simmba brings to young fans the aspirational Bollywood charm, in local languages of Hindi and Tamil. Based on our past successes, we have most recently introduced international fan-favourite, ‘The Tom and Jerry Show’, in an all-new version with Hindi, Tamil and Telugu commentaries on Cartoon Network India. Adding a commentary-style “thoughtover” track is a delicate and nuanced task, serving to retain the original charm of the show while enhancing its relatability. With this, we successfully introduced the famous duo to fans, with a layered style of immersive storytelling.

We’re confident our fan-first approach will continue to help us create diverse, fun and enduring kids’ entertainment content, that our viewers love.

Apart from TV, a lot of Kids content is available on OTT while a few also rolling out the genre exclusive online platforms. How has it impacted the big screen world?  

The country is showing a unique pattern currently wherein OTT and TV co-exist, thanks to increased internet penetration. However, the rise of OTT does not undermine TV, as 98% of India still comprises single-TV homes, and co-viewing remains the defining feature of kids’ viewership. Even with endless choices, kids have been coming back to TV and animation is the format they love. When it comes to kids’ entertainment content, the kind of content is more pertinent than the medium of consumption.

The style of content is distinct for different platforms; for example, for kids it needs to be funnier and faster for immediate engagement. To me, relevance and relatability to the target audience in order to stand out trump the medium overall.

What does the road ahead for the kids’ genre look like? What are the factors that will contribute the most to this genre’s growth?

When it comes to kids’ entertainment in India, original and local content will continue to rule the roost. At present, 7 out of the top 10 shows in the kids’ entertainment genre are homegrown properties.

We believe that homegrown content will continue to unlock new and exciting growth opportunities for Cartoon Network and POGO.

Considering increased accessibility to entertainment through many modes, and the unique co-viewing patterns in India, we are sure that Kids and Family Content will continue to be the ‘anchor genre’ that it is. 

Another feature is evolving viewer sensibilities that have played a key role in driving these growth trends in the kids’ genre.

Indian viewers no longer want just engaging and interesting stories; they also want more relevance and relatability. We had identified this trend a while ago and have been focusing on localizing international content to better suit the preferences of our young fans, as well as creating more unique local IPs.

Another factor is the quality of animation. The Indian animation industry is brimming with potential, whether it is storytellers with a vision or animators who bring the technical expertise. The Indian animation and Visual Effects (VFX) industry continues to rub shoulders with its global counterparts and is growing at a healthy clip. According to KPMG India’s Media and Entertainment Report 2020 – A Year off Script: Time for Resilience, the Animation, VFX, and post-production segment grew by 15% from 88 bn in FY19 to 101 bn in FY20. The sector has grown at a CAGR of 18% from FY16 to FY20. 

We are also seeing more mature content being developed in the animation and VFX space, which will be a significant additional factor that will add to the growth of animation.

That said, I feel this high-growth space will benefit immensely if stakeholders – from government bodies to key industry players – collaborate to facilitate better skill development, training, and learning opportunities for animation/VFX talent. Doing so can help create a strong pipeline of future-ready professionals with skillsets that are aligned with the industry requirements and can compete with established markets.

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