The early broadcasts of channels in the kids’ genre such as Cartoon Network, Disney and Nickelodeon saw majority of the programming content being acquired from Europe and US. These were shows such as ‘Tom & Jerry’ and ‘Spongebob Squarepants’. Thereafter, Japanese animation also made its entry in the programming line-up of channels very soon with animation series such as ‘Pokemon’ on Cartoon Network, ‘Doraemon’ on Hungama, and ‘Ninja Hattori’ on Nickelodeon.
This was followed with a rush of such animation series from Japan and rest of Asia with shows such as ‘Chibi Maruko Chan’ on Nickelodeon and ‘Anpanman’ on Pogo. Eventually the kids’ space saw an onset of local Indian animated content with channels creating content such as ‘The adventures of Tenali Raman’ and ‘Little Krishna’, leading to its birth. Today with shows such as ‘Keymon Ache’ on Nickelodeon, ‘Roll no. 21’ on Cartoon Network and ‘Chhota Bheem’ on Pogo, the local content seem to have finally come of age.
Elaborating on the evolution of the local animated content Anu Sikka, VP, Programming and Scheduling, Sonic & Nickelodeon India said, “Eventually foreign content started getting exhausted and broadcasters started looking at producing Indian content. ‘Keymon Ache’ is one such example. Nick was looking for an ideal studio based in India and willing to execute Nick’s internally developed concept, when DQE approached Nick and their first co-production was created.”
Till date 52 episodes of ‘Keymon Ache’ have been produced and a full feature length movie is under production. Home videos of ‘Keymon Ache’ episodes have been launched as well as merchandise based on the character is being launched every month.
Commenting on the advent of local animations, Krishna Desai, Director, Content, South Asia, Turner International stated, “Being the first in the country, we identified that we would need local content pertaining to different languages in order to connect with the viewers. That is when we started focusing on creating and acquiring tele-features which are of local animated content. That is how shows such as ‘Kumbh Karan’, ‘Chhota Bheem’ and ‘Roll no.21’ came into being. Apart from Hindi, we have also experimented with shows in Telegu in the case of ‘Tenali Raman’.”
Apart from ‘Keymon Ache’, ‘Chhota Bheem’, launched in 2008, has aired over 120 episodes. Similarly ‘Kumbh Karan’ on Pogo and first seen in 2010 has aired 28 episodes till date. ‘Roll no. 21’ on Cartoon network, first aired in 2010, has around 49 episodes. The channels are also experimenting with the idea of creating more content of ‘Roll no.21’ which has done well in terms of ratings.
According to Sikka, the animation industry in India which sustained itself from outsourced jobs, slowly started pitching its own concepts to broadcasters which led to the birth of local animation in India. Kids also started looking more favorably towards these local creations and they started to garner GRPs for the channels. ‘Keymon Ache’, in just few weeks of launch, had become the third top rated show on Nickelodeon contributing more than 10 percent of GRP to the channel.
Though there has been an advent of local animated content as of late, there also has been an underlying question regarding the factors determining the success of the shows since local animation pertains to a selected market. Commenting on the same, Sikka said that the primary factor in the success of any show depends on the narration of the story it wants to tell its audience (kids or adults) and how well they can identify with such stories. If the story is well communicated, it’s bound to attract the audience. In many cases it has been observed that most of the local shows which have been produced in India are region specific. On the other hand shows such as ‘Keymon Ache’ deals with the issues related to kid’s life which is as universal as it can get.
Agreeing on the same lines, Desai stated, “We have always focused on the content and the philosophy of the show. According to me, the show should be character-driven and multi-dimensional. The factor of it being a local animation or not is hardly of relevance to children viewing the shows. We are more intent on developing attributes which appeals to the young viewers. Script is also an important factor which should be relevant in terms of language, thoughts, etc.”
Desai is also of the belief that off late there has been a shift from action to comedy and humor with respect to the viewing habits of children. This is what was kept in mind when developing the three shows ‘Kumbh Karan’, ‘Chhota Bheema’ and ‘Roll no. 21’.
Sikka further elaborated that the success also depends on the aspect of the story and the likability of the characters. This is really what appeals to the kids and fulfills their imaginary world, whether it brings alive their super hero, or takes them to the magical world that every child dreams of. The ambience of the stories, its location, secondary characters and how well they identify with them adds to the show as well.
The biggest challenge faced by local animation has been the cost factor and the fact that most of these shows lack universal appeal. This basically means the shows either do not have or have very limited potential of getting sold outside India; as a result the entire cost of production comes on one single broadcaster who will pick up the content for five to six years. That’s the single most reason why most of the channels depend largely on international acquisitions, shared Sikka.
“If we need to have more local content on the channels, then this business model needs to change where a single broadcaster is not bearing the entire or 90 per cent cost of the show. And for this it is crucial that the animation producers start focusing on content which has a strong appeal, both in local and international markets. This would help the producers recover the cost from various sources, which in turn reduces the burden on a single broadcaster. This is just one quick fix for this problem” Sikka further added.
Desai believes that for a long time the effort has been to create home grown content which would appeal to the local viewers. Today the channels want to create content which could travel across as well. Since creating such content is an expensive affair, it is challenging to get RoI that will work for the broadcasters as well.
Sikka added, “Today most of the broadcasters have the perception that any animation content coming out of the India is too Indian, both in terms of stories as well as look and feel, hence their acceptability in other territories will be an uphill task. This perception will change once they see a steady streamline of shows which are more universal in terms of the stories.”
Changing the perception of the broadcasters and eventually the audience worldwide whereby they will be open to the idea of accepting Indian content is of major importance today. If the channels are able to overcome the underlying challenges, the road ahead for the local animation industry will definitely prove to be much smoother in times to come.