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Non-linear platforms have become pivotal to connect with children: Krishna Desai, Cartoon Network

On completion of 20 years of the channel’s journey in India, Cartoon Network’s Krishna Desai and Juhi Ravindranath  talk about the trends ahead, upcoming ventures and challenges faced

Aanchal Kohli | Mumbai | November 19, 2015

Krishna Desai and Juhi Ravindranath Krishna Desai and Juhi Ravindranath

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.’s (TBS) Cartoon Network launched in India in 1995 and since then the channel has catered to the changing demands of its consumers.

Drawing from the world’s largest cartoon library of Warner Bros., MGM and Hanna-Barbara titles, the Network also showcases original series including the ‘Ben 10’ franchise, ‘Roll No. 21’, ‘Adventure Time’, ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’, ‘Steven Universe’, to name a few.

Currently available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu languages, Cartoon Network is recognized as the resident kids’ expert with a 360-degree presence across media.

To expand its footprints, the broadcaster also launched a website, which over the years has become India’s leading destination for kids’ online entertainment featuring the largest selection of cartoon character based games, video on demand, and a community site featuring personalized avatars and message boards.

The network has completed 20 successful years in India. BestMediaInfo caught up with the two leaders of the channel who have been scripted the brand’s success story.

Krishna Desai, Executive Director and Network Head-Kids, South Asia, Turner International India  and Juhi Ravindranath, Vice President, Ad Sales, South Asia, Turner International India share look back on the journey and share future plans. Edited Excerpts:

Take us through the 20- year journey of Cartoon Network in India.

Krishna Desai: For Cartoon Network and the kids’ genre as a whole, it has been an evolutionary journey. As the first 24-hour kids’ entertainment channel, it launched with a portfolio of global shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ben 10, etc. from studios including Warner Bros., Hanna Barbera and MGM besides its own Cartoon Network Studios. Since then, Cartoon Network has become the best destination for cartoons.

In order to widen its reach and resonate with the Indian audiences, Cartoon Network established the ‘Desi Toons’ strategy thereby launching 3 regional feeds, acquired local content and, with the launch of Roll No. 21 in 2010, began producing its own content in India. Today, the channel has undertaken path-breaking partnership in creating local content from Kid Krrish (with Film Kraft Productions and Toonz Animation), to Sholay Adventures (with Sholay Media and Entertainment and Graphic India) to Chakra: The Invincible (with POW! Entertainment and Graphic India), and several other Bollywood partnerships, the latest of which is, the Salman Khan- starrer ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’.

In terms of understanding the behaviour patterns of its target audience, the channel launched Cartoon Network New Generations study which is regarded as the largest and most widely adopted research into kids between 4-14 years.

Over the years, the channel has been known to organize the most enthralling on-ground events and a flourishing licensing and merchandising business.

All this and more, not only make Cartoon Network a force to reckon with but also a brand that transcends all barriers.

What do you have to say about the changing scope of advertising on kids’ channels?

Juhi Ravindranath: Today, most advertisers look at a more integrated and involved association with content. It’s not so much the category, but the idea and brand fit that matters.

Please elaborate on the integrations you have had in the past one year

Juhi Ravindranath: In the past year, we have done several noteworthy brand integrations on Cartoon Network and POGO with traditional and non-traditional advertisers. One of our biggest initiatives was the partnership with Kellogg’s to create a 4-part miniseries called ‘Coco aur Chhota Bheem ka Dhamaa’l featuring Chhota Bheem and Coco (the Kellogg’s Chocos mascot). Aired across 4 weekends, each episode had Bheem and friends undertake new adventures with Coco in the magical kingdom of Chocoland while subtly highlighting the nutritional values of Kellogg’s products. This integration won 4 awards at the EMVIES 2015.

We did in-film branding for the animated tele-feature ‘Sholay Adventures’ aired on Pogo. Through active and passive integrations, the lead characters of the movie were shown interacting with the brands Centre Fruit and Jungle Magic.

Apart from these, we have integrated with Godrej to showcase their efforts and contributions towards India’s progress, Honda to encourage road safety through Chhota Bheem, Kissan to promote recycling through Music Art Dance (M.A.D.), Canon which associated with Cartoon Network and POGO characters to highlight the easy use of their cameras. ICICI Prudential, Dell, Panasonic and many other unconventional advertisers have also associated with Cartoon Network and Pogo in the past for innovative brand solutions.

What do you have to say about the localization of content?

Krishna Desai:  Localization, although not a new phenomenon, has emerged has the biggest game- changer for the kids’ genre. Turner realized the demand for “local content” over a decade ago and established the ‘Desi Toons’ strategy to showcase relevant content that the kids could relate to. This strategy goes beyond just dubbing international shows in local languages to include acquiring locally-made content as well as creating original productions. Thus, from acquiring shows like ‘Tenali Raman’ in 2004-05 to current favourite shows such as Roll No. 21 (Cartoon Network India’s first original production), to co-producing some of the biggest franchises including ‘Chhota Bheem’, ‘Kid Krrish’, ‘Sholay Adventures’ and ‘Chakra: The Invincible’, we are constantly pushing the boundaries to deliver engaging content for our young viewers.

What are the future plans of Turner?

Krishna Desai: Investment in creating and strengthening our IPs continues to be a primary focus for Turner across the world. Thus, in India, kids will not only get to watch new international cartoons like ‘We Bare Bears’ and ‘Wabbit’ but also new episodes and movies of local IPs like ‘Roll No. 21’, ‘Mighty Raju’ and many more.

In order to effectively connect with today’s generation; non-linear platforms have become even more pivotal for any business. In order to provide 360- degree engagement, Turner invests in digital apps and games, on-ground events and licensing and merchandising that complement the on-air content. For instance, the Cartoon Network Watch and Play app and the Cartoon Network Anytime app will be the next milestone to engage kids with new video and gaming content on mobiles. Our annual on-ground events such as School Contact Programs have become bigger and better reaching over 1.5 million kids and enabling them to proactively engage with the brand and characters.

With the launch of Toonami, we not only aim to consolidate our leadership but also expand the kids’ genre to include older boys.

What are the trends witnessed in the kids’ genre?

Krishna Desai: An emerging trend in the kids’ genre is the demand for greater volumes of hand-picked popular shows across channels. Children no longer sample 10-12 shows from each channel on an appointment viewing basis. They prefer watching 2-3 shows per channel but in the form of long marathons.

On the other hand, on the basis of our patented research – Cartoon Network New Generations study, we have seen an increasing influence of children on household purchasing decisions. From refrigerators to cars to insurance, kids have a say in all matters. This largely helps us broaden our spectrum of advertisers to include new and unconventional product categories that can target parents and their children.

What are the challenges faced as a company in the kids’ entertainment space?

Krishna Desai: As a whole, India continues to be dominated by the single TV household phenomenon. This not only limits the amount of time children get to view television but also determines what they watch on TV which 80% of the time is anything but content especially designed for them. It is surprising how under-priced the genre is. While the kids’ genre is the third largest in viewership, it earns only 3% ad sales revenue.

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