# Retrace2021: digital evolution has changed the game for children

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Mumbai: A seasoned broadcast industry professional 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 among other reputable companies, in addition to having worked in sales with SPN (then SET India) from 1995 to 1999. During her time at Sony Pictures Television, she led, structured and developed the content distribution and licensing division for the company in India and South Asia.

In her current role as Business Leader – Kids Gender at Sony Pictures Networks India, she is responsible for driving the overall business and building the growth trajectory of the Kids Gender for SPN with a focus on strategic content development and marketing initiatives.

The children’s channel – Sony Yay! kicked off 140 hours of fresh programming, including new shows and movie premieres, and captured a significant audience share in the children’s genre in October, which recorded the highest ad volumes of 2021. With 63.7 Gross Assessment Points (GRP) in Hindi-speaking market for week 43-45 (Average, 24 hours, 2-14 ABC, BARC data), it reached pole position in terms of audience by compared to other children’s 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 have shaped the children’s entertainment space.

Edited excerpts

Looking back on 2021

It has been an amazing year for us, especially the holiday season. Each year we have two periods for our tent pole launches – summer (April-May-June) and the holiday months. The holiday season is the most powerful time of year, in terms of advertising money and the revenue involved. Thus, this year, we had envisaged our programming from Dussehra to Durga Puja, Navratri until Diwali, Christmas as well as the new year. In fact, we had a lot of ammunition to shoot to get a share of the advertising market of our channels, namely the rest of the channels in the category.

Unlike 2020, where the kids category was down by half in terms of exhausted inventory due to uncertainty and sales only picked up during Diwali, the mood of all of our advertisers in all categories was encouraging this year. Everything opened up. Additionally, this year, since Diwali was in the first week of November, it gave advertisers a long four week period in October to advertise. Unless FCT commercials and sponsorships sell out, there was a demand from new customers who wanted to make their mark this season.

On the launch of new shows and programming

The Kids genre is a very saturated market. So when we entered space, we knew we had to bring something different. We are still relatively new, while our competitors are over ten years old. What we have realized is that unlike any GEC, the audience turnover on the children’s channel has become even shorter now. Kids aged four to seven who land on our channel come out in three years and you have a new audience coming in.

So our differentiator has been local programming, indigenous characters and multilingual feeds. From a roster of four original IPs in one year, we’ve grown and produced almost seven original shows per year, with help from in-house writers and an array of dubbing studios that suit us.

On any new innovation brought by the channel this year

The pandemic first resulted in an increase in viewership during the summer, when children and their parents were at home. There was a lot of co-viewing. We have changed our programming strategy and introduced a variety of different characters that can appeal not only to children but also to their mothers. This included ‘Oggy’, and a new animated series ‘Obocchama-kun’. We also revamped a show called ‘Dreadful Henry’ for the Indian context and called it ‘Hurry Raho Henry’.

Through research that we conduct periodically, we’ve come to understand that kids don’t necessarily want home-grown IPs, but want to be entertained by an array of characters they care about and reflect on themselves. We followed it with a 360-degree amplification including digital platforms on the ground and through our association with network channels.

What we added because of the lockdown is a lot of digital innovation as kids spend more time on devices. Whether it’s a night before, an online competition or a digital workshop with videos of our creators and DIY activities, we make all these commitments also on our digital platforms.

On the evolution of the children’s audience

Today a child has a lot of content choices they can make. The child can access games platforms, subscription video-on-demand players, YouTube or ed-tech platforms. Right now, if you look at the ecosystem, it’s not about creating the next ‘Tom and Jerry’ but also on what a new character can do to improve your children’s abilities. We cannot satiate children’s appetites by just showing them content. We must go beyond.

On the trends that have dominated the kids genre this year

Today, the acquisition of children’s content by OTT platforms is in the millions of dollars as they begin to see the potential. The fact that so many players are investing in this genre is a big sign for us. That’s why at Sony YAY! Besides the production pipeline, we are also building a parallel ecosystem to create diverse content for children and integrate it into digital platforms. We have a few shows developed specifically for the OTT and YouTube platforms that run simultaneously while we are speaking to our channel audience.

We also recently concluded our field activation plan in 30 cities, including subways. We have observed that people go to the market and shop with their children, so the ground has come back and is here to stay as the most effective form of engagement to attract captive audiences.


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