Motu Patlu to Chhota Bheem, desi characters lead the way on kids' channels

Ten years ago, Indian audiences were introduced to a lovable animated character called ‘Chhota Bheem’. His adventures, along with his friends in the fictional kingdom of Dholakpur, drew eyeballs quickly, helping Pogo, the kids channel from Turner International, broadcasting the show, stand out of the clutter. 

Between then and now, there are a dozen or more home-grown animated characters to choose from across channels. And the beauty is that it is these cartoon characters that are raking in the moolah for broadcasters. Clearly, the days of foreign animated shows dominating kids’ television are over as seven out of the Top 10 characters on media consultancy Ormax’s biannual research are Indian.

While investing in animated content or intellectual property (IP) may be expensive, it does pay rich dividends, say experts, since broadcasters have control over the entire ecosystem — from content creation to licensing  and merchandising.

In Viacom18’s case, for instance, this has meant turning its focus away from international shows to desi characters instead. The broadcaster, which runs the Nick cluster of kids’ channels, has six out of the top seven home-grown animated characters on Ormax’s list, coming from its stable.

“For us, the story has been all about reinvesting in the business. So, when we decided to develop and own home-grown IPs, we knew we had to look at monetising beyond commercial air-time on the channels. It was a risk because we went with characters that defied logic for a kids’ channel. Motu and Patlu are not conventional kiddie characters, but two grown men bumbling around town. The show (called ‘Motu Patlu’) is the highest rated on kids’ television (in India) and continues to grow,” says Nina Elavia Jaipuria, executive vice president and business head, kids’ entertainment cluster, Viacom18.

Nick adds desi animated characters every year to its list. It now has 350 hours of local programming, which it hopes  to take to 500 hours  by next year.

Other broadcasters in the kids’ space also agree that having control over IP means better grip on programming, critical for channels. This translates into control not only on the tone of the show, but also its duration of telecast.

Discovery Networks, for instance, which runs the Discovery Kids channel, realised there was a white space in content for children between five and nine years. “There was no well-defined, strong animated character for children in that age group,” says Karan Bajaj, senior vice president and general manager, South Asia, Discovery Communications India.

“Children at five years are leaving home and attending school for the first time. They are also looking for some kind of a hero. That is why Bollywood and mythology do so well in this age group. And that is how ‘Little Singham’, an animated character, came about,” he says.

Introduced earlier this year, ‘Little Singham’ has helped Discovery Kids to grow viewership by 500 per cent in three months. Bajaj also cautions that investing in kids’ IP should be rooted in consumer insight and must have a long-term monetisation plan.

Sony Yay, a kids’ channel from Sony Pictures Networks (SPN), on the other hand, has depended only on local animated characters created and executed in India from the first day of launch (last year). “We launched with four original-content shows and then went on to develop two additional shows within the first year of launch. Having 100 per cent Indian content on the kids’ genre is a first and has upsides. There is a novelty factor attached, driving up viewership, which helps advertisers,” says Leena Lele Dutta, business head, SPN India, kids’ genre.

Indian characters also open up syndication revenue opportunities for broadcasters, implying they can take them abroad easily. Viacom18’s home-grown characters, for instance, are available in seven overseas markets. 

The benefits of original content or IPs notwithstanding, the drawbacks besides heavy investment include the time required for creation of shows. 30-40 episodes of a kiddie animated show, for instance, could take between 12 and 18 months to produce. That is a big bet for a broadcaster and something that requires complete dedication. In the small world of kids entertainment, this counts a lot.

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