Bheem is waiting for his character friends who are on their way. But are they?

Animation Xpress Anand Gurnani & Amrita Valecha talk to Kids TV Channels and content creators to figure things out
Chhotta Bheem Image Courtesy Green Gold Animation © Greengold & Cartoon Network
Kids empathize with characters. And the entire business of a Kids TV channel revolves around building that connect between kid and character. Last year, Chhota Bheem (produced by GreenGold and acquired by POGO) was the only made for TV Indian animation character to debut with his own show on air. The popularity of Bheem has not only been overwhelming in India, it has also spread across the subcontinent, and so have the TV ratings which soared sky high. Previous Indian animated TV shows & features aired in the past few years including the 4 part Krishna series, Vikram Betaal, Akbar Birbal, Jungle Tales, The Adventures of Tenali Raman, The Adventures of Chota Birbal (On CN), J Bole Toh Jadoo (On Nick), Thakurmar Jhuli ( On Zee Bangla) have all scored record ratings. The impeccable success rate of Indian animated content on Television and the number of new shows being commissioned, acquired, or licensed across Networks does not seem to match. Prime reasons for this being, the cost of producing animation content for TV and the scarce availability of good quality ready Indian content. Also, while Indian animation is the cornerstone for CN‘s programming mix, the same is not the case with the others. The logic put forth by those who are not speeding for Indian animated content is that International shows have been consistently doing very well too and when it comes to a cost to TVR parity, the scales bend in favor of the International content. null Share‘s Nick India SVP & GM Nina Elavia Jaipuria, “What kids accept or reject is not based on origin of content, but what they connect with. The show concept is extremely important, the characters need to be endearing for the kids to tune in to the channel repeatedly. Nick‘s shows like Ninja Hattori & Chibi Maruko Chan, are amongst the Top 20 shows and are chart busters globally. Chibi Maruko Chan, one of our recently acquired shows was a super success in Japan and is now delivering as much in India. So it‘s irrelevant whether it‘s local or foreign concept, but certainly has to be a show that brings a kids imagination alive.” Chutti TV‘s Kritika Suresh resonates, “There are two reasons why we are currently not having any Indian animation shows on air. Firstly, Indian Animation shows that have come to us so far are either not at par to the quality of shows already acquired from abroad, which means they will not fit our style sheet. Or they are too expensive, sometimes double as much as similar content from abroad. Also, most of the ready Indian content is already procured, and there is not much available either.” Indian animation is one thing and localization and live action content is another. To point out the obvious, almost all of the Kids Channels have strong localization. Since its launch, Disney exuded its localization philosophy by airing its Hindi feed from day 1. “The channel has gone through various phases of localization, first being the launch in Hindi, second phase we created localized environments with Indian animated characters such as Birthday Bhoot which made the kids understand the channel in their own idiom, third phase was when we acquired local live action content and finally when we started creating our own live action content and short form interstitial” That said, it is not as if there hasn‘t been any Indian animation on these channels. In 2005, Nickelodeon Asia along with Graphiti Multimedia co produced the live action comp animation series J Bole To Jadoo, starring Jadoo the popular alien from Filmkraft‘s bollywood blockbuster Koi Mil Gaya. In 2006, Disney acquired the blockbuster Hanuman from Sahara & Percept for three years to air it in a serialized format (8 episodes). Amongst the newest channels to enter the fray is Spacetoon which was announced launched by Kids Media India in January. KMI is a subsidiary of the Spacetoon Media group which has already acquired a library of 4200 episodes from various producers and studios throughout Europe, Asia and North America. In an earlier conversation during the channel launch KMI CEO Rajiv Sangari shared, “We are essentially an Animation Channel and will have 90% internationally, sourced content, where as 10% local content of animated and live action. Local Animation content will essentially be on the folk tales of India and SAARC region.” Currently, as in the past, the one network that has given a window to Indian animation is Turner, through its channels CN and Pogo. Monica Tata, VP & DGM for Turner International India shared, “Indian Animation remains a corner-stone of Cartoon Network and POGO‘s programming mix. It‘s local and enjoys a strong resonance with our audiences and thus is always a huge hit on our networks.” She stated that the ratings peaked each time the network‘s Indian Animation line up was aired. Krishna Janmasthmi back to back movies (Krishna – The Birth, Krishna – Makhan Chor, Krishna – In Vrindavan & Krishna – Kansa Vadh) led with 36% channel shares; Ganpati (Bal Ganesh & My friend Ganesha movies) enjoyed a whooping 44% channel shares and Diwali festival gathered 25% shares with an enjoyable and interesting mix of Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters complemented with the best of Indian animations that included Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Ram, Pandavas – The Five Warriors, Krishna: Kansa Vadh and Bal Hanuman on Cartoon Network and Bal Ganesh on POGO.” “Cartoon Network has offered kids a window to India‘s vast and rich story telling heritage, with its showcase of mythological and legendary series, in the format kids enjoy the most – animation. We present these epic tales to our young generation in an entertaining format while retaining their original message. Not only kids, Indian animation content is a favorite amongst all-age groups and with it we offer healthy family entertainment to our Indian viewers based on age-old stories we all have grown up with.” She adds. The SNAPTOONS Initiative From the Indian animation content creators‘ point of view, the single most positive development in recent times, in fact ‘all time‘ has been SNAPTOONS which stands for Short New Asia Pacific CARTOONS. It is the long-term, original content development initiative from Cartoon Network with which the channel aims to enhance animation across the region and India. As per the channel, the objective of SNAPTOONS is to identify the next new animation legend in the leagues of Tom & Jerry or Ben 10. In October 2006, CN kicked off a Pan-Asia search inviting ideas from the creative community. Of the numerous hundreds of entries received, 10 pitches have already been green lit and are in various stages of development. Indian animation‘s presence is prominent at SNAPTOONS with the fact that of the 10 green lit animation pitches, over 50% are from India. At one of the presentations on Indian animation at Annecy in June ‘08, Creative Director, of Asia Pacific Animation Development at Turner, Silas Hickey, shared “The quality has exceeded our expectations on Kulvira. Ram Mohan has been involved in the concept art and backgrounds. It has a lot of export potential. We are working with Miditech on a show called Sulochana and the Nature Detectives being developed by Prakash Moorthy and Nikhil Alva. Sulochana.. has a crazy hybrid style. We are also working with Famous Animation in consultation with Van H from the US, the property is called Johnny Bravo goes to Bollywood. Famous Animation does some really amazing work and they have a lot of people from NID.” Commenting about SNAPTOONS, Famous House of Animation Creative Director E Suresh stated ‘The Cartoon Network team has done a commendable effort and a totally transparent approach in working this out with us. I hope more broadcasters follow the route that CN has set for creating ‘quality‘ Indian Animation content.” Elaborating on the project, he shared, “We chose to work with the famous property of Johnny Bravo which Cartoon Network owns and created a storyline with India/Mumbai as the backdrop for Johnny‘s latest encounters. Styled and designed differently to give the short film a different color from the existing Johnny series, this film is sure to entertain a lot of Indian youth with its Bollywoodish songs and snappy edit pattern.” The Studio Viewpoint Animation content producers are aware why many of the TV Networks shy away from Indian animation content. But they also believe that sooner or later, market dynamics and the increasing competition in the kids TV channel space will change things and make it imperative for them to invest in locally created animation shows. Says, Rajiv Chilakalapudi of Greengold Animation which has been the front runner in creating TV animation content with 4 shows already on air “The acquisition cost for Indian Animation Shows is much higher than International Animation shows. The reason for this being that major income for an international show comes from their specific region and the rest comes in bits and pieces from various territories across the world. Hence channels are tempted to pick up international shows But the good news is that Indian content generates much higher ratings than an international show and hence makes sense for a channel to consider them.” He further elaborates and stresses, “Any Animation content is costly and takes time to develop. The successful channels know the value of good content and would invest their time and money into good properties. The other important thing that the channels must consider is that not to compare the cost of Live action Shows and Animation Shows. Typically, Animation shows are 2 to 3 times more expensive than live action shows, but live action shows don‘t have 1/10th of the repeat value of that of an animated show. Animation shows are usually targeted for a certain age group, for example Pre-School, 6-11 yrs and 13+ yrs. Hence, almost every 5 years there is a completely new set of each age Group and every 5 years the content will generate money.” Offering the rationale on why investing in TV animation content also makes sense for studios, Toonz Animation India CEO P Jayakumar states, “TV properties attract a large section of audience across the globe and hence are an efficient way of creating International properties. The success factor depends on whether you have a story with a universal appeal to tell and a cost effective production method. Studios need to exploit tax funds/soft money to finance these projects and spread the risk” He also commented that studios are striving to reduce the production cost through innovative methods (like picture book animation) while maintaining the quality. “Channels are also aware of the fact that lower production costs could result in a reduction of quality and hence they have started paying more for the contents. Moreover the advertising revenues have also started increasing in Kids channels enabling them to pay the production houses more.” He added, His studio is creating a 66 minute animated TV feature film ‘Tales of Lord Siva‘ for Cartoon Network Asia and also a Comic book animation TV series. Looking at the legacy It‘s been almost two decades since the first Indian animation series Gayab Aaya (2D) produced by Delhi based Iffekt, aired on DD in 1990. Through the 90‘s, Bhimsen Khurana‘s Climb Media created 2 shows that went on air including LokGatha (DD -1992), Vartaman (DD -1995) and in 2003 Kireet Khurana‘s Chota Birbal went on air on CN and so did Toonz Animation India‘s The Adventures of Tenali Raman. That was also the year that Thakurmar Jhulie (In Bengali) created by Kolkata based Dawsen Infotech created ripples on Zee Bangla. Greengold‘s maiden venture, the live action animation Bongo went on air on DD in 2004. India‘s first 3D animated TV series produced by Moving Picture Company Jungle Tales was also acquired by CN in ‘04. 2005 saw Vikram Betal come on air on CN while Graphiti and Nickelodeon Asia‘s J Bole toh Jadoo drove ratings on Nick. Phoebus Akbar & Birbal came on CN in 2006 with the first of Greengold‘s Krishna 4 feature series on CN. 2007 saw the 3 remaining parts of the Krishna features win audiences on CN. 2008 saw just one show go on air, that being GreenGold‘s Chota Bheem on Pogo. No wonder Bheem seems like he is waiting for friends to join him. If only he knew that millions of kids love him, watch his shows again and again, and count him as. their best friend!