Completely dubbed in English, Animax features works by some of Japan's top producers and studios which include global successes such as Astroboy, Gundam and Dragonball. While initially, Animax started with around 12 million households, it has now extended its distribution to around 14 million.
Animax's marketing strategy is two-pronged. At one level, it is devising innovative marketing attempts such as the Irfan Khan school-contact programme, animation workshops and contests popularising its lead characters. On the other hand, it is driving home the point that animation is in fact for everyone (all ages) and not just for kids. In July, Pathan was chosen as the brand ambassador for the school-contact programme after a dipstick survey showed him as a popular, yet unexploited teen icon that could be identified with the brand image of the channel. The programme stretched across 1000 odd schools, across five main television viewing markets. The channel claims that the programme initiated a spurt of viewers calling their cable operators and demanding an experience of the channel. In addition, characters like Astroboy and Princess Sarah have been promoted heavily on air, and otherwise (in terms of radio, outdoor and press ads.)
Says Rohit Bhandari, Director (South Asia), " There are three prime time blocks catering to viewers of different ages - the Kids Hour from 3 to 7 pm, the Youth Hour from 7 to 9 pm, the Mega Zone from 9 to 11 pm and Weekend Anime. The reason we are stressing on the different time blocks is because animation is not just for kids, it can be enjoyed by adults just as much. It's not your average cartoon series that we are talking about (slapstick comedies and all of that). We are looking at animated plots with a definite story line and visual effects. If you give a 15-20 year a product that's meant to be viewed by a 5-year old, you naturally get tagged with the line that 'Animation is for kids.' Give him a technologically sophisticated Matrix and it's a different story. What we have in our casket, are slick productions from Japan. Technologically these are far superior to what's out there in the market." If animation is really for all ages, then why is the channel sticking towards promoting primarily kiddie content in the current day? Bhandari asserts, "That's just a beginning, for us to make certain inroads into the already fragmented television viewing market. Since animation is traditionally seen as 'Just for kid's product', let's capture that segment first and then look towards gathering the other audiences."
And how does an animation workshop really champion the cause of the channel? He replies, "Of course, it helps. Our brand of animation is in fact 'anime' and it's a far more sophisticated product. Workshops such as these lead the people into understanding all that goes into animation…and helps them appreciate superior productions far better."
The channel had enough exotic fare to keep Indian youth engaged. Nearly 46 per cent of India's cable and satellite population is in the 20 - 24 years demographic. Is the channel deriving more mileage from youth brands? How is it going financially for Animax?
Bhandari answers that the channel has managed to bag certain contracts with brands such as Nutrine and Britannia but not all of them are youth brands. He says, "Till now, the going has been slow from our side since we were keen that the advertisers ought to sample the channel first, and see what the Animax experience is all about. But now that we have been on air for a sufficient amount of time, we are going to consolidate our ad sales in a big way and become a lot more aggressive, in revenue space. Already, we have bagged a few contracts with advertisers such as Britannia, and are getting a lot more kids focused brands on air."
Animax is currently available in English with a four-hour block targeting kids also available in Hindi. Would the channel run locally acquired animation as well? Bhandari asserts that while the channel is considering bringing on characters which are 'quintessentially Indian', it has not chalked out any immediate plans as yet.
The USP of Animax is that it is locally aligned, fun and hip and it's an exciting experience for viewers across India. The channel asserts that it has made a sufficient dent into the kids market, and that the size of the market would loom into something bigger in the days to come. Either way, Animax has definitely brought in a change in the way animation has traditionally been viewed in India.