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More than kids play: Homegrown cartoons rule the air

In 2008, a dhoti-clad nine-year-old animated Chhota Bheem entered the TV space on Pogo and changed the game. Till two years ago, it was Chhota Bheem and Japanese cartoons which were ruling the roost. Today, at least three out of the top five are Indian characters, reflecting changing viewer preferences

More than kids play: Homegrown cartoons rule the air

In 2008, a dhoti-clad nine-year-old animated Chhota Bheem entered the TV space on Pogo and changed the game. Till two years ago, it was Chhota Bheem and Japanese cartoons which were ruling the roost. Today, at least three out of the top five are Indian characters, reflecting changing viewer preferences

Raushni Bhagia | Mumbai | May 30, 2016


If one goes by the definition of target audience for each genre of television channels, little ones make the third largest set of viewers glued to TV sets (after GECs and Movies). GECs command close to 58 per cent of the total viewership on television followed by Movies with 20 per cent. The Kids genre contributes nearly 5.6 per cent, according to the FICCI KPMG Report 2016.

These numbers for the younger audience in the 175 million TV households of the country are only based on their specialised genre, and not on the passive and random TV viewing that contributes to other categories. Out of the total Rs 181 billion TV advertising monies, about Rs 425 million is riding on the back of the Kids genre, giving immense scope of increase to broadcasters in this category.

A change in the viewership trend in the genre may reflect a significant turnaround in the revenues and the business of the television industry. The increased likeability of the Indianised cartoon characters shows a positive trend for the genre and all players are excited and geared up to rake in the moolah.

Shaktimaan was possibly the first Indian superhero on television. But the most popular ones now are Chhota Bheem, Motu Patlu and Shiva among others.

If one goes down memory lane in the 1980s, Potli Baba Ki and Tarram Tu were select Indian shows available, along with the dubbed versions of Duck Tales and Mowgli. Much later and till a few years back, all the top shows in the genre were mostly Japanese cartoons – Doraemon, Shinchan and Oggy and Cockroaches.

In 2008, a dhoti-clad nine-year-old animated Chhota Bheem entered the TV space on Pogo and changed the game for Indian broadcasters. It instantly became the number one and hot favourite among younger viewers. Till two years ago, Chhota Bheem and Japanese cartoons were ruling the roost. Now, at least three out of top five are Indian characters. Movie screenings on Indian character cartoons too rank high.

What does this say about the changing preferences of the audience? Is this because of more availability of Indianised characters or because of awareness about homegrown cartoons? BestMediaInfo explores viewing patterns, advertising monies and other aspects of the trend.

Desi versus Videsi

Most experts agree that there is definitely an unsaid competition going on. If one reads the undercurrent well, a little more effort in the direction may change the game completely and within the next five to seven years, children would be only seen enjoying Indian cartoons. However, a few others believe the magic lies in a fine balance of the two.

Shailesh-Kapoor Shailesh Kapoor

Shailesh Kapoor, Ormax Media, said, “There is a definite shift to indigenous characters. Indian characters would always get more traction, as they can be given physicality, context and mannerisms that are Indian and hence more relatable. In the past, creating such content was prohibitive from a cost perspective. But over time, with the success of Chhota Bheem and then Motu Patlu, this cost barrier has been crossed, as it's now clear that a hit indigenous show can certainly be profitable.”

Navin Kathuria Navin Kathuria

Some believe Indian characters will still co-exist with the international ones, especially Japanese characters. Navin Kathuria, Vice-President, DDB Mudra, is one of them. He said how five out of top 10 are still Doraemon episodes.

Kathuria said, “Of course, local cartoons are coming up but that doesn’t mean that the Japanese ones are going out of the preferences. Looking at the latest data (Week 19), there is Chhota Bheem and Motu Patlu in the top 10 but Doraemon is also there in the chart. In the top 20, there’s Ninja Hattori and Shinchan. However, one of the major reasons can be the availability of the content in abundance. Japanese cartoons have developed their popularity and library over a long period of time and they have a huge bank which increases the frequency of these shows on the channels. It's not a replacement theory yet.”

Nina Elavia Jaipuria of Nick too suggested that though the popularity and viewership of Motu Patlu, Pakdam Pakdai and Shiva are growing unparalleled, Ninja Hattori too has a significant fan following.

Siddharth Jain Siddharth Jain

So does Siddharth Jain, Managing Director, Turner International South Asia. He said, “We have been the pioneers of bringing Indian animated cartoons to the television screens but our channel Cartoon Network still enjoys a good viewership. About 90 per cent of the content is international. Pogo is another success story for us, while it mainly telecasts Indian content. There are takers for both though local cartoons are getting into the households faster.”

Rahul Sachdev, Director and South Asia Research Head, Turner International, agreed about the increasing popularity and affinity towards Indianised cartoons. “Our recently released kids study, New Gen, says that there is a strong affinity towards local cartoons. Even if we take foreign content and dub, we have to ensure that the local flavour is always there. Also, maybe familiarity of characters would make a stronger connect.”

Power of a character

It is true that kids love characters and they idolise them. Be it a Doraemon, a factory rejected toy, or a Chhota Bheem, a nine-year-old laddu-eating strong boy, or Shiva, a child superhero. It is the character and his charm that takes the kids into the fantasyland and makes them aspirational.

Sunil Kumaran Sunil Kumaran

Sunil Kumaran, Country Head, The StoryLab, feels it is the power of character in a kid’s mind. He explained, “There is definitely a certain significant liking for the Indian characters – Chhota Bheem, Motu Patlu, Shakti and Shiva. The basic thing is that kids relate to a character, not much bothered about the channel, the show or storyline to a large extent. Once you set and build the character right, everything else becomes secondary, even the fact that whether they are Indian or foreign doesn’t really matter. Another layer is that the relatability of appearance and language of a character. But the critical thing to understand is that the character should be able to capture the imagination of the kids.”

That might make sense, considering how the storylines in each of the shows remain simple and largely the same. Be it Doraemon and Nobita, they meet with regular problems of a school kid and come out of it. Chhota Bheem fights with the evil for the good.

“A classic example of increasing the relatability of a character is Oggy and the Cockroaches, which got voices of film actors,” added Kumaran.

Kapoor too said popularity of characters play vital role. “In the last Ormax Small Wonders study done in 2015 end, three of the top five most popular characters among kids were indigenous characters – Chhota Bheem at No. 1, Motu at No. 3 and Patlu at No. 5. Doraemon and Hattori took the other two places. Home-grown characters are now outshining the 'foreign' ones, though the latter still exist in a lot more quantity.”

Nina Elavia Jaipuria Nina Elavia Jaipuria

Jaipuria told the story of Motu Patlu. “We have just contemporised the 30-year-old characters but while doing that we made sure that their relevance is built well so that it resonates with the audience.”

Watching again? How many times?

Yes, that’s true. Kids can watch the same episode about five to six time or even more, back-to-back; the repeat value of any content increases exponentially for kids.

Kathuria said, “Kids’ repeat viewing is not restricted to cartoons only. They are a substantial base on Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah and if you see the viewership numbers, the repeats of Taarak are also getting amazing numbers, even the three to four-year-old episodes. Children love fun content and repeating fun is very much preferable to them.”

Kumaran seconds this: “They comprehend things better if they repeat the content. They discover the new dimensions of the show with each time that they watch the show.”

Week 19 highlights of Indian characters programming  
  • Motu Patlu, an Indian animated character, tops ratings in HSM market with a TVR of 1.22 on Sunday back-to-back shows on Nick. {Motu Patlu 36 Ghantey Race Against Time (2015) – Animated}
  • Doraemon is a Japanese manga series listed 29 times in the top 100 programmes played and viewed on television 14 times on Disney; 15 times on Hungama Channel, which makes it a consistent player in the kids market.
  • It has been seen that Doraemon dominates the kids market on Disney and Hungama equally on both channels in Hindi language have consistent TVRs.
  • Doraemon has a highest TVR of 1.05 on Saturday when there are back-to-back episodes.
  • Shin Chan, a Japanese manga series which was a huge hit once upon a time, today ranks 12 among top 100 programmes in kids’ genre.
  • Chhota Bheem, again an Indian character, ranks 38 in the top 100 programmes on television.
  • Roll No. 21, an Indian animated cartoon, ranks 6th in the top 100 programmes with a TVR of 0.85 and is listed 9 times in the top 100 programmes.
  • Weekends programmes garner more TVR than other days.
  Of the top 100 programmes, 31 belong to morning time band, i.e., 0800-1200; 51 programmes are in afternoon time band 1200-1700 hours; and only 19 programmes are aired in the time band 1700-2200 hours.

Market it well

One may feel that possibly the sense of ownership among the broadcasters is towards an Indian-made character and hence the efforts put in the promotions are much enhanced. Does this too play a role?

Kumaran said, “It might be. Most channels have understood the importance of building the characters. That’s how their marketing initiatives revolve around the on-ground engagements, letting the character meet the fans or even movies on weekends, they are amazing efforts.”

Kapoor feels otherwise. He said, “Marketing stunts can be done around foreign characters too. The reason is definitely the relatability factor, especially the look and the language of the characters.”

Money matters

The supply of Indian shows was limited and even now, the archive or library of the shows is very little compared to the Japanese or other foreign cartoons. Japan has about 15-20 years of headspace in producing animated content as compared to India. That’s how their archival content is much bigger than ours.

Building the library and producing animation is expensive. So much so that, a fiction show for a GEC can be produced in Rs 5-6 lakh per episode against an animated one, which costs about Rs 25-28 lakh per episode. On the other hand, the advertising rates commanded by the two genres are inversely proportional.

Jaipuria agreed that the content costs are high but said, “There is a lot of merit in creating Indian content. The relatability and familiarity of the characters and the look and feel gain instant loyalty which converts to viewership. The need is to build more and good quality Indian content with fine and balanced storylines.”

Advertisers are now looking at the genre differently with more categories joining in. Kathuria said that while about 90 per cent of advertisers in the genre are still kids’ brands, the other ones are increasing too. “If you see in the last few years, some categories coming aboard are targeted towards females like Good Night, Surf Excel Easy Wash, Tide Plus, Godrej Expert rich feel, Lux and Head and Shoulders. The blend of advertisers on the genre is getting interesting. Assuming that mothers are co-watching the genre, one can observe three major types of advertisers -- those with no reason to be on kids channels; some others considering passive viewing and those targeting kids as influencers.”

Kumaran too said the participation of non-kids’ categories is increasing. “The genre has been active for quite some time and the brands have gone beyond television screens, merchandising, on-pack promotions and experiential activities. Once a channel builds a really successful character, advertisers will be more than ready to back them with monies.”

As Kapoor summarises, “Indian history, folklore and mythology are very rich and we now have a thriving popular culture with Bollywood, cricket, etc. Hence, we should have even more homegrown shows in the future. Chhota Bheem was seen by some as a freak hit. But with the success of Motu Patlu and of late Shiva, it is clear that home-grown animation content has a clear edge over overseas content.”

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