Six-year-old Ayush knows his toons. And thanks to that, he has a say in what brand of biscuit he should munch or which soap he should use.
That's not all. He is also convinced that only the red Santro will serve his family best.
Ayush is just one among the 130 million TV viewing kids in India whose proven pester power lures a wide array of companies to advertise their products on kids' channels. To get an idea of this market, it's as big as the kids' markets of Germany, France, Spain and all other Western European countries put together.
Sensing the potential, players such as Disney, UTV's Hungama and Sony's Animax joined the race dominated by Turner International's Cartoon Network a few years ago. The results are there to see. With more players, the share of kids' channels in the overall TV viewership pie has more than doubled in the last three years, emulating the success of the news category, which last year saw its share soaring after the entry of more players.
The increase in share to nearly 9 per cent of the overall pie, from 4.1 per cent in 2002, has come mainly from an increased viewership base, and not at the cost of any other genre, says TAM Media Research, which tracks viewership.
Advertisers haven't missed out on the action. You'd have expected categories like foods and FMCGs to be on board. They have, but sharing the airwaves with them have been insurance and banking firms, automobile brands, electronic appliances and telecom, among others. For instance, over a third of Cartoon Network's and Pogo's advertisers are non-traditional ones.
Gopinath Menon, Vice-President (Media) of TBWA India, says kids' channels are a great vehicle for marketers on three counts: "They attract a mix of viewers, and not just kids; the 4-14 age group is an influential segment; and at a budget of Rs 30 lakh - Rs 40 lakh, they are an efficient addition to investment in mass channels."
"There are so many more options now," as media planning outfit Starcom Worldwide's General Manager Narendra Kumar Alambara puts it. Till a few years ago, he wouldn't have thought beyond Cartoon Network to feature Arun ice cream, his client. But now its sister channel, Pogo, seems more enticing, what with better rates and greater penetration in Arun's key market — Chennai.
And although Turner's channels still dominate the market with an over 80 per cent share (Cartoon Network's share being 61 per cent), the competitors believe there are gaps in the market to be exploited.
UTV's Hungama, which has made rapid progress since its launch late last year to be No. 3 now, says the "gap was for a local live action, made-in-India channel."
Hungama also figured out that older kids prefer live action to animation, says its Programming Head Zarina Mehta. Gol Gol Gullam, launched based on this insight, is a winner. "It's a terrific game show set on a giant wheel. Kids play the most messy, yucky games. For instance, they have to pick out 10 earthworms from a pile of mud in one minute!" she says.
The monthly report of 20 kids who help run the channel as its `board of directors' enable Hungama to keep tab of what's in and what's not.
Disney has been less successful than Hungama in terms of viewership figures, though the industry considers it a formidable brand. Disney Channel and Toon Disney, launched in December last year, have a share of 4.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent, respectively, of kids' channel viewership.
But Rajat Jain, Managing Director, Walt Disney Television International-India, says his channels are popular, referring to its first viewer campaign that fetched it over 1.75 lakh entries.
He says, "It is our intent to comprehensively address the underserved entertainment needs of pre-schoolers, kids and their families through Disney Channel and Toon Disney."
The twin-channel strategy that Turner and Disney follow is not much about providing a package to advertisers as it is about addressing all age groups, considering half the viewers of kids' channels are over 14 years, say media planners.
Viacom, whose offering in the kids' genre is Nick, is not planning to bring its second channel, Nick Junior, to India for the time being.
Its flagship kids' channel has been languishing at the lower end of the lot for a while now, something that MTV India Managing Director Alex Kuruvilla, who takes care of Nick too, acknowledges. "We have gone slow on Nick. The channel is No. 1 in the US and in other markets. But we aren't anywhere close to that here."
But he doesn't believe a complete revamp is the answer. "It wouldn't be prudent to do that. We will rely a lot on our library and there would be a marketing effort to follow it up," says Kuruvilla, counting on kids' lack of brand loyalty to prop up his channel! "It will take only one good show to lure them away (from other channels)."
In such a situation, creating channel affinity will be `the' challenge, reckons V. Balasubramanium, National Director, Advanced Techniques Group and Media Consumer Insights.
Turner International India Managing Director Anshuman Misra believes quality content will be the key to loyalty. "Having said that, I believe our biggest competitor is ourselves, not other kids' channels." Sitting pretty at the top, the media house's strategy will be to "raise the bar, build on success, and continue to innovate."
Even as the channels try to sharpen their content in the battle for viewership, the mood is upbeat. Hungama's Mehta sees a substantial increase in revenues from kids' channels in the coming years. Industry estimates peg the earnings of this segment at Rs 150 crore, a fraction of the Rs 13,000-crore TV market.
In the next five years, there will at least be 20 dedicated kids' channels that will cater to individual age groups, she says.
Research shows that only 10 per cent of Indian kids watch kids' channels, which indicates the potential, says Disney's Jain.
Also, "we believe that the advent of new entrants in the kids' arena will see the a burgeoning of the category. This will mean more choices for the viewer." Now, Ayush wouldn't mind that.