“There is no non-prime time rate in my channel”
After a decade in the business of entertaining children, there is nobody else who understands kids better.
It was considered a brave decision a decade ago when Nina Elavia Jaipuria quit Sony to join Viacom18 as the business head for its kids’ channel. Especially so as they had to take on the might of Cartoon Network and Pogo along with Disney (which had acquired Hungama TV just then).
Ten years later, not only did Viacom18’s children’s channel Nickeleodeon blaze a path for itself, it would be no exaggeration to say that what Jaipuria does not know about children and the children’s market is not worth knowing. Today, as the Business Head, Kids’ Cluster, Viacom18, looks back on an satisfying 10 years, she remembers that the only experience she had with kids was limited to her interactions with her then three-year-old daughter.
Today, the kids broadcast business in India is around `500 crore and Nickelodeon has become a force to reckon with - it has remained No 1 in the category since the last three years, competing with the likes of Turner and Disney. Sony recently entered the fray with Yay. But Nick has no intention of letting go. Edited excerpts from an interview with the lady in charge:
What were the challenges you faced 10 years ago?
When I joined, Nick was an English language channel. The first thing we did was to dub the shows in Hindi and then in South Indian languages. We sat down to understand kids and their entertainment needs. We found that it was about giving them content that they love. We went ahead and acquired Ninja Hattori, our evergreen soldier, who is going strong even today. We continued to acquire content from across the world and give them a colloquial twist by dubbing them in regional languages.
While you continued your acquisitions, was there any research to back this strategy?
There are two reasons why kids came to TV. One was to get rid of boredom. Kids have tiny attention spans and get bored quickly. Therefore, it is all about offering them content that they can engage with. Second, is the pressure they go through in their daily life - parental pressure, pressure of performance in school. They are expected to win a medal even in a hobby class. So, kids choose TV which transports them from the real pressure-filled world to a fictional one, an imaginary world where there is no pressure, which is their comfort zone where the characters connect with them and become a part of their life.
I often see repeats on the channel. Is that a deliberate move?
Kids love to watch or hear the same story again and again It gives them a sense of comfort, where they don’t need to discover something new. They like to feel that they know it all. That is why a lot of kids’ content have high shelf lives.
What keeps live action content away from the kids broadcasting space. We have seen Shaktimaan tasting considerable success. Why did you not think of doing something similar?
For kids broadcasting to work it is very important to take the kid into the imaginary world and animation plays a vital role in that. I cannot imagine live action content doing that unless you make a Matrix every other day, which is not possible. More than 90 per cent of content in the category today is animation.
The other thing is that Human Superheroes become archaic, Superman has had many Avtars, James Bond took so many Avtars that it became archaic. Animation is evergreen. We have had Ninja Hattori in our portfolio for 11 years and it continues to deliver high number, continuing to connect with the kids. They love Ninja, want Ninja and that’s the evergreen-ness of animation.
So, what drove you to creating original homegrown content?
Three things, actually. One, the competition was doing it. Turner was running Chhota Bheem on Pogo. Two, it was about looking at the available supply of content to acquire and how much we could localise and how much we couldn’t. Three,
“You need to enable kids to touch and feel the characters.”
we thought we must develop our own intellectual property because that enables us to nurture the franchisee. In 2011, we decided on local content and in 2012 we launched Motu Patlu.
Why Motu Patlu?
Motu Patlu connects with the kids and parents. Parents read them in Lotpot comics so it often happens that the parents and kids both sit together and watch the series. What we did was to take characters from the comic and put them on TV. Of course, we styled the show and told it in a manner which a kid of today can relate to.
It was a big risk because though this is a show targeted at kids there is no child protagonist. The risk paid off - revenue and viewership that we get from this IP can easily run an entire channel. We did not restrict Motu Patlu to TV episodes and TV movies. There are mobile games, merchandise and we took it to theatres and did a theatrical release too last year.
Now that you have multiple original shows, how important is it to differentiate one from the other? How has the original content creation phenomenon changed the industry?
It is important to play across different genres in the kids’ space. If you see our originals, Pakdam Pakdai is a chase show, Shiva is a goodover-evil action comedy show, Motu Patlu is about Furfuri Nagar at the heartland of India, and the latest one from us Gattu Battu is a detective show with blend of comedy. The IP creation has enabled localisation to take over and has enabled us to create a sustainable ecosystem.
How do you fuel the growth of that original show?
Creating a show is not enough, you need to ‘tangibilise’. You need to enable kids to touch and feel the characters. So we have mobile games involving our characters, we have merchandise, we arrange meetand-greet sessions across malls and other high footfall areas with our characters. I will like to state a very recent incident – ‘Why not,’ we asked ourselves, ‘consider Rakshabandhan as Surakshabandhan and tie a Rakhi to everybody who protects us – from the nanny to the security guard in the building to the cops in the city?’
We started that and took it to the extreme and reached Wagah Border to celebrate Surakshabandhan and tie Rakhis to the jawans. We thought we would take ‘Dora’ to the border, because she is the explorer who likes to travel. We got a formal request from the jawans who wanted us to send Shiva along. That was music to my ears and we said sure. That shows Shiva’s value in the society. These characters have donned a celebrity status which I thought was only privy to Bollywood stars.
From a marketing point of view, who is the target?
There are kids, there are parents and there is the advertising community. The challenge for us is to reach out to all of them. We often had to create different marketing campaigns for different targets. As a broadcaster, it is important for me to have the gatekeeper’s permission and trust. If not, I could get written off. So if you see the kind of things we do, when we launched Gattu Battu we painted two local trains in Mumbai, we did 3D floor paintings in high footfall areas. Recently there was a strawberry festival in Bandra and my marketing team came and told me that Dora would be there exploring the festival. When I asked how that would help, they replied that there will be a lot of kids coming with their parents and we can interact with both.
You deal with expensive content and an under-indexed industry. Is it profitable for you?
We are a profitable business and contribute to Viacom18’s revenue significantly. That’s because we always made sure that we keep the cash bell ringing. Ten years back, the kids’ category was 1 per cent of the total ad-pie. Today, it is between `500 and `600 crore - about 3 per cent of the total advertising pie. We are still under-indexed because we are about 6 per cent in terms of viewership.
How do you make money?
Our ad sales are growing at 20 per cent year-on-year - not only because of an increase in slot rates but also because of the kind of integrations and partnerships we do. We integrate brands in our stories where the characters use them. You will see Motu Patlu having Horlicks. We sell at a premium rate throughout the day, there is no non-prime time rate in my channel because kids watch content at any point of time. We are taking baby steps in merchandising and licensing and soon that will be a significant contributor in the mix.
Do brands that advertise on Nick always target kids?
Kids play a vital role in decision making - you want to buy a phone, you discuss with your kids, you want to buy a toothpaste they have a say... We see a lot of non-kids brands associating with us, like Dabur, Samsonite, VIP, Amazon, Flipkart.
Where does the industry need to invest at this point of time?
I think it needs to invest on quality content creation. We refuse many pitches because they do not match the standards we want on our channels. We need to organise workshops and jam about content creation so that we can offer kids quality content.
We have seen Star Launching a free-to-air (FTA) sports channel. Are you planning one for kids?
Forty per cent of our ratings come from rural so we have our presence there. Since kids content has a huge shelf life it is difficult for me to put content from pay channels on FTA as well. If I have to do FTA with original FTA-only content then I will face a challenge to monetise it because the cost of content is high. If monetisaton becomes as lucrative as it is in pay we might evaluate an FTA launch.
What would you like to see happening in the kids broadcasting space?
I would like to see more quality content, see subscription revenue grow significantly. A really sweet spot would be to have 7 per cent ad spend share for the 7 per cent market share. I am happy with the growth of merchandising. The Peppa Pig stock in Hamley’s, for instance, sold out in 10 days. Soon we will be in a scenario where 15-20 per cent of the revenue comes from merchandising. ■
“It’s important for me to have the gatekeeper’s permission and trust.”
NINA ELAVIA JAIPURIA BUSINESS HEAD, KIDS CLUSTER VIACOM 18
NINA ELAVIA JAIPURIA BUSINESS HEAD, KIDS CLUSTER, VIACOM18