AMS 2020: Kids broadcasters speak on innovative content solutions during and post COVID

The third day of the virtual Animation Masters Summit (AMS) 2020 hosted animation industry honchos for a panel discussion on ‘How does the kids entertainment industry innovate and sustain in a post-pandemic scenario’.

Moderated by FICCI AVGC chairman Ashish Kulkarni, the session had esteemed panelists – YouTube APAC Family & Learning Partnerships head Don Anderson, Viacom 18 Content Creation, Channel Strategy & Research, Kids Cluster head Anu Sikka, Sony YAY! OAP head and marketing VP Sujoy RoyBardhan, and Discovery Kids head Uttam Pal Singh who discussed the effects of COVID-19 on the creative industry of animation and how they waded through the crisis and still managed to keep kids glued to the TV screens. 

For the kids broadcasters, the consumption numbers soared quite naturally as the country witnessed an explosion in that category as kids watched content targeted to them more than usual having limited or no access to outdoor entertainment. 

Clockwise from top left corner: Anu Sikka, Sujoy RoyBardhan, Ashish Kulkarni, Uttam Pal Singh and Don Anderson

Sikka mentioned, “For the entire kids network at Viacom18, the numbers shot up across all the age groups between two to 14. We had seen our main premium channel, Nickelodeon touch close to 800 TVTs which is unprecedented. As a matter of fact for us, Nick Jr. today in the urban areas had a six per cent market share which we ourselves couldn’t anticipate but I guess the smaller kids are sitting at home and parents are feeling far safer to give them the remote and with brands like Nick Jr., they know the content is absolutely safe. So the entire category has seen a huge increase.”

Singh too added how they have added fresh episodes of its popular IP, Little Singham to engage kids and keep them stress free during this crisis times. “The idea was to make them aware of the situation and educate them about important factors through the IP because these are strong characters, like icons have a great fan following with the kids. So, we’ve been building up content around that front. So the idea was to make them understand the situation like how Little Singham will be able to find strength to fight a virus because this is a different kind of a villain which they’re facing.” There’s also a new tele-movie on Little Singham on disposal of masks, usage of sanitizer as it’s very important how you discuss it with small kids and spread awareness, as kids understand better when their favourite characters advise them.

Almost all panelists agreed that the saving grace in the COVID scenario was that the lockdown came around the time of kids’ summer vacation which usually is the time for peak viewership. So, the programming slates were more or less ready as animation as a medium takes time. But the strategies needed to be revised and modified time and again according to the situation. 

Sony YAY! too has seen a 25 per cent surge in content consumption during the pandemic imposed lockdown, and their campaigns beyond TV screens, i.e. across digital platforms have also gained huge traction. 

RoyBardhan noted, “I don’t think before COVID, kids have had such a lengthy vacation, and as kids broadcasters, we are at the top of our game whenever kids have their vacations. It was important to not just focus on the awareness and flow of content, but ensure difference and freshness of content that is going to make an impact. I’m not talking saying that our brand will suddenly hop on from an entertainment one to being a learning one, but create content around that. We created content for kids on shooting home-shot live action videos, and digital classes. We’ve done tonnes of workshops partnering with popular names so that kids are engaged with us not just through a television, but are experiencing this brand and their favourite characters. We also launched a few games, and the numbers are looking better than they’ve ever had because kids now have the time to do a lot more, and thus our numbers in terms of digital has grown tremendously.”

Anderson pointed out that there has been a phenomenal growth in the YouTube kids content and YouTube Kids space since mid-March. When it comes to content available on the Google owned VOD platform, creators are producing diverse pipelines. 

“Many top broadcasters, animation studios across the globe, like Chu Chu TV,  USB Studios and others with whom we have strong partnerships, have gotten very creative in terms of how they create, package and present their content. DIY has played very well across our platform. I think it’s about providing comfort, positive and hopeful. The kids are out of school and can’t even meet their friends so how do you keep them engaged, so attractive content with messaging is the right combination. We’ve seen some interesting work happening with Ministries of education and we’ve launched a lot of programmes around that too as well. Exercises, dance workshops, Yoga videos have also been a big win,” added he.

It’s not an easy task for content creators to keep up with seamless content consumption, as Sikka added that for dubbing shows, initially they had to figure out a lot of aspects as the studios were shut. She also informed that sound engineers and voice clean up artists had their work substantially go up as dubbing artists sent recordings remotely and some even on mobile phones. Sony YAY! had to deal with the delays owing to super cyclone Amphan that wreaked havoc in Bengal and disrupted workflow from studios based out of Kolkata. 

Given the uncertainty of when things will go back to normal, the broadcasters and content creators are revising their strategies according to the new rules and situations. Few of them like Nickelodeon will now keep rolling out important or new content as and when possible and not wait for specific timings or quarters like Summer vacations or Christmas or Diwali. But the animation community is optimistic to figure out ways as it has till date to keep content flowing and kids entertained as well as educated as edutainment has become the focus now.