“I hope the kids’ category continues to grow”: Anu Sikka exclusive at AMS 2019

Toonz Media Group celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and managed to gather the animation industry under one roof for its 2019 edition of Animation Masters Summit (AMS). The event saw dignitaries from the industry grace the dais and give away valuable insights to the audience. AMS 2019 honoured two masters for their contribution to the world of animation, professor Raman Lal Mistry and Nickelodeon India/ Viacom 18 head of content, kids entertainment cluster Anu Sikka. AnimationXpress, in a candid talk with Sikka asked her views about the ever growing animation industry, especially the kids’ sector. How does it feel on being honoured for your outstanding contribution to Indian animation? Well it’s an honour to be recognised by the industry, with which I have been associated since 2004. But this achievement and recognition is incomplete without my entire team’s effort and contribution and of course without Viacom 18’s vision to take all the risk in pushing the envelope year on year. What do you think brings the Indian kids or their parents to Nickelodeon?  Obviously the biggest pull factor is the acceptance of its content by kids of all age group in the kids’ category. And the popularity of these shows are driven by characters like Motu Patlu, Shiva, Rudra, Gattu Battu to name a few, which kids either find relatable or inspirational. Also we did manage to identify the need gaps in the category before anybody else got that trend right. So it was a culmination of all these factors which led to the creation of shows, which has given us the edge over our competitors and led us to the success of this channel. Nick continues to be No.1 (all India two to 14 age group) for the fifth consecutive year. And it goes without saying that the constant and innovative marketing has further strengthened all our channels – Nick, Sonic, Nick Jr. and Nick HD+. How do you think the growth of OTT platforms has affected the content in the kids’ genre? Both screens, TV and digital help build a more dynamic ecosystem and are complementary to each other. TV continues to gain the same patronage from kids as is evident in the leadership standing and genre share.  In the case of Nickelodeon, VOOT Kids that rests on our digital platform VOOT has contributed to the popularity of the Nickelodeon characters is evident through the fact that top six of the top 10 characters on the platform continue to be from the Nickelodeon franchise. What is the current trend that you can see in the kids’ genre? Presently, the two shows that are completely dominating the kids’ genre are Rudra and Motu Patlu. Indian content is completely dominating the kids’ landscape. Today every kids channel in India is investing heavily in the local content. This trend will continue to grow along with the audience appetite for different and unique characters and stories. This creates a challenge for the storytellers, broadcasters and the studios to recognise that ever changing and ever growing need of the audience and bring about that variety in our offering on various platforms. The way of communicating a story cannot be similar to what we had in 2010, when we started. The audience is evolving extremely rapidly and we (broadcaster and studios) have to keep pace with that. When a project is pitched to you, what do you look for in the content? We have a slightly different way of doing things. The concept development happens in-house. So whenever we create a new show, we first identify the need gap in the market. Post-that we sit with the writers, flesh out the concept in detail, decide the characters, the backdrop of the show and then start getting the scripts developed. Once we have completed the entire process, we then approach the studio to partner with us to execute these concepts. So we approach the development of the show differently. We do get pitches and if there is any particular concept that really catches our eye, we work closely with them to develop it, which we believe will resonate well with the audience. But presently everything that you see on air, both on Nick and Sonic, is something that has been developed in-house. Where do you see the kids’ sector growing in the coming years? We hope that the category continues to grow. I would say it is still a relatively young genre in our country, but the success of the category is for everybody to see considering the number of national kids’ channels which have come up. And we continue to hear that more and more channels in regional space are getting launched as well. We sincerely hope that this upward trend continues at an even higher pace which will probably end up helping the animation industry to grow at perhaps the same rate or even better than it has managed to achieve so far. What changes need to be brought in the animation industry considering the kids content to make it reach a larger number of audiences? It’s difficult to say what changes are required in the animation industry as animation and VFX industry has been growing at a steady pace of approximately 17 per cent every year. But looking at the pace at which the demand for local content is increasing, we definitely need to have more studios to cater to that demand. With the growth of kids universe at three to four per cent every year, animated content will no longer be restricted to the kids channel but will eventually be consumed on GEC’s as well. Which is your favourite show from the channel? Well that’s the most difficult question. It’s really hard and unfair to pick up just one. Each show is unique and caters to a different emotion, so picking up one is almost impossible.