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In-depth: Kids’ Genre – not a child’s play any more

FMCG products other than kids’ brands have become major advertisers as they have realised that children have moved from pestering to deciding on the spending patterns. analyses the change in focus

Wandering in a grocery departmental chain outlet, holding my one-year-old, I suddenly heard a sweet voice chattering – “But Bheem likes to eat Del Monte ketchup, not the other one. I also want it mom.” As I turned around, I saw a modern mother trying to convince her three or may be four-year-old daughter to let her buy the brand that (possibly) she herself has grown up eating. I could see the struggle of the mother and ultimately, she had to buy the Del Monte ketchup, thanks to Chhota Bheem, a nine-year-old dhoti-clad cartoon character.

Looking at my son, I could imagine that tough times are ahead tough for me. At the same time, as a journalist covering the advertising and media marketing business, I kept wondering how lucrative is the spot called ‘kids’ for advertisers. It is not just me, I think everyone has overheard such conversations some time or the other, wherein kids trying to convince parents either about the colour of the car, the restaurant where the family would eat out, the holiday destination or a particular brand of chocolates, juice, bags or apparels. Kids are buying their favourite stationery and their own birthday return gifts on Amazon or Flipkart or Hopscotch or even Firstcry.

None of these advertisers are necessarily kids’ advertisers, but the younger one takes a call on the purchase. If one closely looks at the top advertisers on the kids’ genre, the names (as per the number of insertions) include Reckitt Benckiser, ITC, Hindustan Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, Perfetti Van Melle, Procter and Gamble, Dabur and Britannia. Well, most of these companies have kids’ brands but it’s not just the kids’ products that are advertised on the genre. Even other FMCG products too are heavily promoted on the genre.

Till about 10 years ago, kids used to pester parents into buying a certain product or brand. Five years down the line, this pester power became influential and the children started influencing, in fact, convincing parents to buy a particular brand. Today, the children have the final call on a lot of family purchase decisions, especially the FMCG products. Advertisers too have realised that children have moved from pestering to deciding on the spending patterns.

Other than this, the kids’ space has been an exciting one for multiple reasons. As Abhishek Maheshwari, Vice President – Media Networks, Disney India, pointed out, “One of the major changes is the number of channels…the space has about 12-15 channels now with a lot of sub-genres such as pre-schools, boys, girls, action and others.”

Recently, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) of India has decreased the age of television audience from four years to two years in its sample. This has increased the average unique viewers for the kids segment from 56.3 million (in weeks 1-7 in the range of 4-14 years) to 81.1 million as the age group changed to 2-14 years in weeks 8-14. With this, the average viewership for the kids’ genre has grown from 373.1 million Impressions in weeks 1-7 to 578.6 million Impressions in weeks 8-14.

Leena Lele Dutta

Leena Lele Dutta, Business Head, Sony Yay! said, “After the merger of the markets and addition of new audiences, the genre has got a GRP push. Generally, you see ratings start spiking two weeks after the vacation starts, but this time it has started quite earlier. However, the pre-school channels haven’t seen the movement of the needle much.”

Let’s look at some of the key trends that have seen major changes in the genre:

Content: Too much for local

In the initial days, cartoon and animation content in India was mostly American. Later, it slowly shifted to Japanese content and then Chhota Bheem happened. It took the kids television space by storm. Pogo climbed to the top, overnight. Very few know that Chhota Bheem was a rejected character for five years and later, it was accepted by Pogo.

Cut to 2017 and there’s Motu Patlu, Shiva, Roll No. 21, Pakdam Pakdai, Gattu-Battu or a few other shows, including Guru Aur Bhole (musical comedy), Sab Jholmaal Hai (chase comedy with pets), Prince Jai Aur Dumdaar Viru (adventurous friendship) and Comedy Paap-O-Meter on the newly launched Sony Yay! Why did the local content creep in, and in such a huge quantity?

Nina Elavia Jaipuria

Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Senior EVP and Business Head, Nickelodeon India, “Relatability increases with local content, because chai ki tapri, autorickshaw, BEST buses have most relevance.”

A media planner said, “The designing of a character includes clothing, body language, vocal language and all of these makes the kids love the character. They can imagine these characters in their own surroundings, schools, parks etc., and this insight pushes the advertisers to use the characters more.”

Jaipuria said that be it Indian or not, kids content is still about different genres of humour – silent, psychographic, thriller, action, the character has emerged as the winner in all of these comedies. What has changed is how we are delivering it. We do have famous foreign characters like Ninja Hattori and Doraemon in the Indian industry.”

Sashwati Banerjee

Giving a super localised angle to this, Banerjee pointed out, “There is a wide range of content available, ranging from internationally acquired shows to the domestic productions. But there is a growing inclination towards locally produced content, including the regional languages, with specific regional kids’ channels such as Kochu TV, Chutti TV, Chintu TV and Kushi TV on television and on the digital platform such as ChuChu TV.”

However, Banerjee believes that as Indian kids’ audience migrates to online platforms, there will be further growth in the amount of video content by Indian creators.

Having said all of this, Doraemon remains one of the most liked and popular characters in India. A media planner said, “Doraemon has been India’s favourite character for a much longer duration than any other. There have been other characters like Beyblade, Pokemon, Ben 10, PowerPuff girls and many others for shorter time lags. But Doraemon has been around in the top charts for years. With Doraemon, it is not about viewership alone, consider the volumes of consumer durables they sell and the number of brands that associate with it.”

Abhishek Maheshwari

Maheshwari said, “There is a lot of volume of Doraemon both in terms of content library and the consumer durables. India is a volume-oriented market. Doraemon testifies that it is also important how you handle and market the foreign characters.”

Ronojoy Chakraborty

Ronojoy Chakraborty, Head, Programming, Sony Yay! said, “We launched with four local shows and we even tried to pick sub-genres within comedies that have not been done on Indian TV before. Largely I think, within the Indian kids’ space, it will always be a healthy mix of local and foreign content. But the local content will go on increasing. We have also tried to expand the creative talent pool, there are otherwise very few writers and designers for kids.”

Content: Why animation?

Kids’ television channels are full of animated content. Disney Channel India had tried to bring a large amount of live action content on its platform but ended up retracting the step, making it animation-led as it is today. However, the Alia Bhatts and Varun Dhawans of the world are quite popular among the younger audiences. Taking a cue from this, Nickelodeon had invited a lot of kids’ Bollywood favourites in the second edition of their Kids Choice Awards.

According to Jaipuria, a major reason is that live action will never be able to do what animation does. “My hypothesis is that there is enough live action available outside kids’ genre. Kids come here to get relaxed, entertained and to get rid of routine work – exam, peer pressure and school. On kids’ channels, they are looking for escape and relief – which is offered by the imaginary fiction world of animation. The characters are not human but are amiable as a best friend, saviour, helper and heroes. In addition, comfort increases as they watch it again and again. Live action doesn’t have the repeat value too.”

Sesame Workshop India’s TV shows Galli Galli Sim Sim (GGSS) and Chamki ki Duniya (CKD) together have reached 41 million children (4-8 years) in India across 9 channels where these were aired from July ’16 to mid of February ’17. Cost of animated content is very high but the longevity of the content encourages the broadcasters to make more of their own. It is learnt that a 22-minute animated content piece can cost anywhere between Rs 30-50 lakh, against a live action one, which can be made in Rs 5 lakh too. However, a kid can watch the same animated content innumerable times, thereby increasing its repeat value and pushing the shelf life of the animated content up. Live action content doesn’t give you that option. However, because of the repeat value, any animated content series need a long trail of archive/library.

Taking the discussion of animated versus live action one step higher, Sashwati Banerjee, Managing Director, Sesame Workshop India, said, “The production costs vary as per the format of the show, so a claymation will always cost more than a 2D animation. Similarly, a studio segment format will cost more than animated content.”

Monica Wahi

While some believe animation is a better stress buster, others believe live action or animation doesn’t matter. Kids want strong storytelling. Monica Wahi, kids’ content curator, said, “Animation or live action doesn’t matter. The story has to be compelling. This segmentation of formats is only in our minds. We must not consider children to be a different species. They are just younger parts of us.” Tata Sky has recently launched a specific kids’ movie channel, which is going to have children’s movies from all over the globe.

Disney Channel India that started doing more live action is now focusing on animation again. Maheshwari said, “We have realised that animation drives the kids’ priorities. While we got a lot of appreciation for our live action content, the fact is that as soon as you do live action, you are competing with the GECs and as a kids’ channel, the volume and finances of GECs could not be matched. Hence, we toned it down and are now focusing on animation.”

However, Disney has never been very aggressive about marketing its local animation. Why so? Maheshwari answered, “Aggressive is relative. A lot of shows are in the pipeline at various stages and we are very excited about some of them. We have had our learning curve on the Indian animation over the last one and half years.”

Looks like there is a lot of news waiting to come out of Disney.

Content: Values and morals

Parents are very sensitive about what kids consume – be it food, games or content. Policing of kids content has always been there, which has increased the need for marketing to parents (especially moms) by the television channels. No wonder the channels keep running so many contests for mothers. At the same time, the broadcasters need to be so sure that the content that they are offering to the young audiences is all healthy and morally right.

Banerjee explained, “With the advent of proliferation of internet services like OTT platforms, time spent by children in front of television screens has been declining in the last decade. However, quality content that is non-violent, inclusive in nature and promotes gender equity and values like kindness that helps kids equip themselves better in this highly competitive world is what works the best and gets past through the parents’ filter easily.”

Wahi, who is curating content for Tata Sky’s new kids’ movie channels, also has a view to offer. She said, “Other than the content on the kids channels, kids also watch a lot of Bollywood content – irrespective of whether the content is good for them or not. The access to content should not only be age-appropriate but should also be empowering for the children. There are specialised films made for the core audience and are judged by a kids’ jury.”

A life-size window for pre-schoolers

With the BARC universe expanding, as it starts from 2+ and not 4+, it has added so many more young eyeballs to the TV screens. This is mainly preschool segment – which has just two players, as of now – Disney Junior, Nick Junior and an erstwhile ZeeQ (which has now shifted as a digital only channel). Will the broadcasters take advantage of these extra eyeballs?

Banerjee said, “Yes, it is likely that the broadcasters will now begin to focus on showcasing early childhood content that is currently missing in India. At present, none of the kids TV channels are primarily focusing on the 2+ bracket, rather they are still focusing on the 4+ universe as a base, as reflected in the programming line-up. We hope that with the BARC’s change in age group, more channels will start broadcasting preschool, age-appropriate and gender balanced content.”

Jaipuria too agrees that this change will give a lot of scope to the broadcasters, helping them in content curation for the youngest audiences. “We know there are a lot of pre-schoolers who are taking to screens very early in their lives – be it TV or OTT. We have made the genre inclusive, which is good. The universe has increased 40 per cent for kids’ genre. It is also aspirational because every parent at that stage wants their child to learn. There is enough and more content to cater to the two to four age bracket. However, this specific group will not generate a huge number, because there are not many kids in this bracket and younger siblings always want to watch what the elder one is watching – it’s aspirational. The stickiness in the 2-8 segment has equal contribution as 9-14, after inclusion of 2+.”

Wahi too agrees that pre-schoolers is a lucrative group for all the content providers – both broadcasters and digital. “It is a huge segment. Children are taking up to screens faster. Because of the growing number of nuclear families, the screen is becoming the nanny. This gives a huge revenue generating opportunity.”

Disney too has a dedicated pre-schoolers’ channel. But Maheshwari said that no analysis was possible on the 2-4 group. He added, “I can’t really say if 2-4 is huge, because we don’t get the bifurcation of data, other than 2-14. Disney Jr has always been a prized product for us and frankly rating doesn’t matter much because it is a brand that has a lot of affinity among the audiences.”

Viewership patterns

Viewership patterns in the genre have shown interesting trends. The average time spent per viewer has gone up from 58 minutes 17 seconds (average for weeks 1-7) to 1 hour 1 minute (average for weeks 8-14). The market shares of the three big kids broadcast networks are Disney (five channels) at 38 per cent, Nickelodeon (three channels) with 31 per cent and Turner (two channels) with 25 per cent. Other than these, there are single channels – Discovery Kids, Baby TV and Sony Yay!. Also, a lot of parents watch the genre with their kids. Co-viewing or passive viewing is very common in this genre. According to Banerjee, caregivers (22-40 years) form a major chunk of viewership in the kids’ genre contributing approximately 40 per cent.

Jaipuria seconded this with a 30 per cent contribution, giving out three basic reasons for co-viewing. She explained, “These are mostly young parents and the reason for co-viewing are to spend time with the children or to de-stress. The main reason is to know more about the content that kids are watching and to know the characters. This gives them content to talk to their kids. For our Motu Patlu series, which was our first local production, we received a lot of appreciation from parents since they were familiar with the characters through LotPot.” Jaipuria also pointed out that this is why a lot of brands are coming to the genre.

Selling to kids

Advertisers are aware of the changing dynamics of the genre. The leadership was held by Disney Channel India for a long time, after which Cartoon Network took it up. Later, Chhota Bheem pushed Pogo to the top and it enjoyed the top spot for a long time, before Nickelodeon took it up. The content has moved from less Indian, to less foreign. The marketing has moved from parents only to kids and parents and advertising has moved from kids only to a combination of brands.

Jaipuria said, “We have 50-50 contribution by kid and non-kid advertisers. This is what has helped us to monetise. We have been able to grow our ad sales by 30 per cent last year and 20 per cent now.”

A media planner said that the kids are very confident about their likes and dislikes. “I don’t think any major broadcaster can avoid the kids’ genre. Any product that is for the family, or for a mother/ father/ child is to be advertised to the kid. The child decides on the colour of the paint, the toothpaste brand, the car, the holiday destination, the phone that mother uses, the laptop that father buys and even the saree or shirt colours that parents have to wear. Most Indian parents are ready to bend backwards for their children.”

Banerjee agrees, “With the high proliferation of TV channels and OTT platforms in the last few years, it has given a big push to the passive purchasing power of kids in India. This offers a big temptation to the marketers/ advertisers to treat the kids as a chunk of consumers creating a pester power and surely not to be ignored.”

Dutta had another view, “Even if there is a mix of kids and non-kids’ advertisers, it is an under-indexed category. While it generates 500+ GRPs, it is not getting its due from the advertisers.”

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