How Sony Yay! plans to build on characters

Leena Lele Dutta, Business Head of Sony Yay!, talks about the importance and process of building indigenous characters, and how the channel uses this to drive business further

e4m by Arpita Mukherjee
Published: Nov 18, 2019 8:34 AM  | 4 min read
Leena Lele Dutta

Ideas can strike anywhere, and for Sony Yay!’s Business Head, Leena Lele Dutta, it once struck when the creative team was on a Christmas lunch. “We work closely with a lot of NGOs. So the NGOs had written to us about what gifts they would like from us on Christmas. And, the majority of the gifts were remote control cars and watches,” says Dutta, and that’s where the team picked up the idea to develop the show Kicko & Super Speedo.

Insights like these have been the bedrock of the relatively nascent kids’ channel from Sony Pictures Networks India, launched about two-and-a-half years ago. It competes in a small, yet promising kids entertainment category. Other kids channels have been around for much longer with popular characters such as Motu Patlu, Chhota Bheem and Doraemon. In week 45 of BARC ratings, Sony Yay! stood at 75550 weekly impressions, at the No.4 position behind Nickelodeon, Pogo TV and Sonic Nickelodeon. Its driver shows are Guru aur Bhole, Paap-O-Meter, Kicko & Super Speedo and Honey & Bunny ka Jholmaal.

“Seven years back, the entire kids' category was in a state of inertia. You had the big networks running their kids channels and their kids' programming… Each of these channels stood for one character which the kid landed themselves on. There was no diversity in terms of programming,” says Dutta adding that Sony Yay! has tripled its market share since its launch. 

Dutta also found opportunity in relevant and indigenous storylines, told in regional languages. That is holding the channel’s focus at the moment. “The reason we went around developing our own shows and our characters is to get the long tail and IP uplift in terms of monetisation over the years to come. You have brands like Tom and Jerry in existence for many decades, and they have a huge licensing and merchandising and ancillary revenue piece attached to it. There is an untapped space in India, with Indian characters also having that traction,” says Dutta. The channel now has a back-to-school range with products such as raincoats, stationery, T-shirts and more is on the way.

As for brand partnerships, Dutta says the pace is slow, and that’s how she would want it. “This kind of business is going to take a while for it to actually evolve and the dynamics you only start seeing from five years from the time the IP or the characters are there in the market,” says Dutta, noting that the objective currently is to make the characters on the channel highly visible. “Currently we’re not looking at it from a monetisation perspective as much as gaining eyeballs and building character affinity.”

Dutta also believes that the children’s advertising space is a heavily under-indexed market as against the news category which is heavily over-indexed, but she is confident of ad rates going up. “When we launched, like any new channel, we didn’t have a currency to go out in the market with, only because we were new. So we don’t know which way the market would sway. Now, they know very clearly that we’re here to stay,” she says, adding that the channel’s marketing drive quarter-on-quarter is extensive and it spends heavily on BTL activities and has an outreach of almost 120 city van activations and 500+ school contact programmes. “Advertisers know that we are not going to stop in terms of our investment. We want to see ourselves firmly placed in the leadership - top three, top four rankings. And we’re slowly and organically getting there.”

While Sony Yay! started with associations with celebs such as Badshah and Tiger Shroff, the idea is to build on the characters as brand ambassadors. The push now, Dutta says, is more towards the advertisers and brand managers in terms of integrating their products with the characters and take it to the mass media.

“A portion of it will rest on TV, you will get your volumes and you will get your CPRPs from TV. But the amplification actually happens on the ground when you have your brand associated with our characters who become your brand ambassadors and take it to a completely different level. We are in conversation with a lot of brands for associations on a long term basis,” says Dutta.

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