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#Retrace2021: Digital evolution has changed the game for kids genre

Sony YAY!’s Leena Lele Dutta on how the channel kept the kids entertained in 2021

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Mumbai: A seasoned professional in the broadcast industry with over two decades of experience under her belt, Leena Lele Dutta has worked with Ten Sports India, Channel 9 (Nine Broadcasting Media) and MTV India amongst other reputed companies, besides having worked in sales with SPN (then SET India) from 1995-1999. During her stint with Sony Pictures Television, she spearheaded, structured and developed the content distribution and licensing division for the company in India and South Asia.

In her current role, as the business head – kids genre at Sony Pictures Networks India, she is responsible for driving the overall business and building the growth trajectory of the Kids’ genre for SPN by focusing on strategic content development and marketing initiatives.

The kids channel – Sony Yay! has launched 140 hours of fresh programming, including new shows and movie premieres, and captured a significant share of viewership in the kids’ genre in October which saw the highest ad volumes of 2021. With 63.7 gross rating points (GRPs) in the Hindi-speaking market for week 43-45 (Avg, 24 hours, 2-14 ABC, BARC data), it reached the pole position in ratings compared to other kids’ channels.

As the year draws to a close, Indiantelevision.com caught up Leena Lele Dutta to talk about the channel’s performance in 2021 and the key trends that shaped the kids’ entertainment space.

Edited Excerpts

Looking back at 2021

It has been a stupendous year for us, especially the festive season. Every year we have two periods for our tentpole launches - summer (April-May-June) and the festive months. The festive period is the most potent time, in terms of ad monies and the revenue involved. So, this year, we had envisioned our programming line-up starting from Dussehra to Durga Puja, Navratri going all the way to Diwali, Christmas as well as the New Year. We actually had a lot of ammunition to fire so that we could get a share from the advertising market for our channels viz-a-viz the rest of the channels in the category.

Unlike 2020, when the kids’ category was down by half in terms of inventory sold out because there was uncertainty and sales only picked up during Diwali, the mood of all our advertisers across all categories has been encouraging this year. Everything has opened up. Also, this year, since Diwali was in the first week of November, it gave advertisers a long four-week period in October to advertise. Barring FCT, advertising spots and sponsorships selling out, there has been demand from new clients that wanted to make their mark this season.

On the launch of new shows, and programming line-up

Kids genre is a highly saturated marketplace. So, when we entered the space, we knew we had to bring something different. We’re still relatively new, while our competitors are over a decade old. What we have realised, is that unlike any GEC, the rotation of audiences on the kids’ channel has become even shorter now. Kids between the age group of four to seven who land on our channel grow out of it in three years and you have a fresh set of audiences coming in.

So, our differentiator has been local programming, indigenous characters and multi-language feeds. From a slate of four original IPs in a year we’ve ramped up and produced almost seven original shows by year, with the help of in-house scriptwriters and array of dubbing studios that are aligned to us.

On any new innovation that the channel brought in this year

The pandemic had first led to a surge in viewership during summer when kids and their parents were at home. There was a lot of co-viewing happening. We altered our programming strategy and introduced a variety of different characters that can appeal not just to kids but also to their mothers. This included ‘Oggy’, and a new anime show ‘Obocchama-kun’. We also revamped a show called ‘Horrid Henry’ for the Indian context and called it ‘Haste Raho Henry’.

Through research that we conduct periodically, we understood that kids don’t necessarily want home grown IPs but want to be entertained by an array of characters that appeal to them and are a reflection of themselves. We followed it up with a 360-degree amplification including on-ground, digital platforms and through our association with network channels.

What we’ve added because of the lockdown is a whole lot of digital innovation as kids are spending more time on devices. Whether it is a watch party, an online contest, or a digital workshop with videos from our creators and DIY activities, we’re doing all of those engagements as well on our digital platforms.

On how the kids’ audience has evolved

Today, a child has a lot of content choices that he/she can make. The child may go to gaming platforms, subscription video-on-demand players, YouTube, or ed-tech platforms. Right now, if you look at the ecosystem, it is not about creating the next ‘Tom and Jerry’ but also about what a new character can do to enhance your kids’ ability. We cannot satiate the kids’ appetite by just showing them content. It needs to go beyond that.

On the trends that dominated the kids’ genre this year

Today, OTT platforms' acquisition of kids’ content is running into millions of dollars as they have begun to see the potential. The fact that so many players are investing in this genre is a great sign for us. That’s why at Sony YAY! apart from the production pipeline we’re also building a parallel ecosystem to make diverse content for kids and feed it into digital platforms. We have a couple of shows developed specifically for OTT platforms and YouTube that’s concurrently happening while we cater to our channel’s audiences.

We also recently concluded our on-ground activation plan across 30 cities including metros. We’ve observed that people are going to markets and shopping with their kids so on-ground has come back and is here to stay as the more efficient form of engagement to grab a captive audience.

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