Children should not feel the burden of the disruption in the outside world and miss out their favourite cartoons and shows at a time when they are forced to stay inside because of the pandemic, says Anu Sikka, Head, Creative, Content and Research, Kids TV Network at Viacom18.
Sikka said kids expect a lot of new content from them and they also hope to deliver on their expectations.
For the summers, the network plans several new TV movies and a new series. Newer episodes of leading shows such as Motu-Patlu, Golmaal and Pinaki and Happy-The Bhoot Bandhus are also in the pipeline, Sikka said.
“Nickelodeon has been known to come up with clutter-breaking content. We have touched genres that have never been tried before in the kids' space in India. We will continue to surprise and dazzle children with content that they have not seen before,” she said.
Sikka spoke about the challenges in producing fresh animated content at a time when most cities are under lockdown. “Animation is a long-drawn process. It's not something that can be turned around very fast. The moment work shifts home, the process slows down. However, we are better prepared compared to last year. Last year, we were almost thrown into unknown territory. We had no clue about how things were going to roll out. This time, the challenges are fewer but they remain.”
“The content on both our channels is played in eight different languages. One of the biggest challenges is getting voice-over artists to operate from home as most places are under lockdown. Some artists have set-ups at home where they can record. But a majority of them do not have that luxury. It increases the pressure on us and dubbing studios as cleaning up the voices gets difficult.”
Speaking about their strategy for the digital space, Sikka said they want to make screen-agnostic content and ensure it is available where the audience is present. She said the shows popular on TV are also the ones that are successful on Voot Kids, an OTT platform.
“The effort is always to make content where we can get the attention of kids and entertain them. Today when we make content at Nickelodeon, we ensure it is played within our network and on every platform wherever kids are available. Voot has a wonderful and massive library of both acquired stuff as well as content produced within the network.”
Elaborating further, Sikka said they recently had a deal with Netflix to run Motu-Patlu movies on that platform. She stated while these are running on Viacom18’s own platform as well, the deal was made as there was a demand outside. “We are open to such deals. If a child is looking for some content somewhere, why not make it available?” she said.
Asked about Indian animation in terms of impact and longevity, she said comparing iconic characters of the West to Indian characters is unfair as animation is a very recent game in this country.
“Indian animation series and characters began just 13-14 years ago. I can give our own example with Motu Patlu, which started airing in 2012. It is now 2021, almost nine years. It has stood the test of time. After that, we launched Shiva, which continues to top charts. All shows that we have produced have continued to be top players in the genre. We don’t know which show to stop producing, because all these continue to perform beautifully. The characters are as popular now as they were when we first launched.”
Advertisers often use kids' channels like an additional window to target audiences compared to other genres. Asked how broadcasters can tackle this challenge, Sikka said it is unfortunate that it is an under-indexed category. She said the kid's category has been growing consistently over the past few years and has a huge potential for family viewing.
“I think somewhere the advertiser needs to understand the power of the kid's category and the contribution of their viewership to TV ratings as a whole. It's not that we make massive jumps every year in terms of reach. But then it's a category that is growing consistently year on year and will continue to do so. It is unfortunate that it is so much ignored and as a result, it's under-indexed compared to all other genres on television.”
“Till the time this issue gets resolved, our hands will be tied and we will not be able to invest as much as we wish. While we feel that the quality of animation has not reached the levels of the West, we are not far behind. But it requires a lot of investment and the advertiser needs to realise the power of the content. It will always be a huge challenge for broadcasters and studios to continue to invest and improve the quality of animation till the time this category gets its due,” Sikka said.