The last few months have been really busy at Turner Entertainment Networks Asia, Inc. With new programme launches across its channels Cartoon Network and Pogo in India, the media major is all set to further strengthen its position in India. Orion Ross, vice-president for creative and original content at the company, talks to Mint about content strategy for India, expansion plans and potential for growth. Edited excerpts:
Of the shows launched recently, most seem like shows for young adults. Who is the target audience for your channels?
Our target audience for both channels is 4-14 years old and that’s a big range. A 4-year-old and a 14-year-old don’t have a lot in common. Within that demo we have shows for older kids and younger kids. But kids tend to watch aspirationally, so a 10-year-old may not necessarily want to watch what a 5-year-old is watching, but would rather see what a 14- year-old is doing. So the characters also tend to be that age. Cambala Investigation Agency, for example, would be tuned to the upper end of the demo.
Ross says he’s planning theme parks as one of the platforms to take the brand forward
Most homes in India are one television homes. How will you vault over that one?
It’s a fact of life, kids are not always able to choose what they want to watch, especially when you get into the 8-9pm prime-time bracket. But at 6pm, you do get to choose, and Cartoon Network has consistently ruled that slot. That’s kids’ prime time and that’s where we need to win. But it’s not the same as the UK, Australia or the US, where you start to see kids getting their own TVs and are constantly making their own choices. The parental factor is definitely something that we have to keep in mind here, in terms of having content that is parent-approved—both in terms of it being safe and appropriate.
Are you planning to launch ‘Adult Swim’ (absurdist and ribald comedy and Japanese anime) in India?
Adult Swim is a fantastic brand, but my feeling about it in India is that the content is very American, so I really don’t know how the humour is going to play out. But, most importantly, it needs to be on another platform, in a crowded cable space.
What is the market size and potential for growth?
We are really focused on building the Cartoon Network and Pogo brands and extend their No. 1 position in the market. We think that the kids’ genre still has a long way to grow. We know that only 15% of kids’ viewing time happens on kids’ channels. That means 85% of the time those 4-14-year-olds are watching grown-up channels. As the market matures, and together with our competitors in the kids’ space, with the investment, attention and increasing quality of content and programming, we are going to see a lot more kids and families spending more time on kids’ channels.
How are you planning to take the brand forward?
We are planning theme parks as another platform. One Pogo site at Rohini will be opening in early 2008 and the Cartoon Network site in Noida is scheduled to open by end of 2008. These are really new, complicated businesses we are getting into, but the theme is very detailed, with design consultants from Toronto, contractors on ground in New Delhi, and cartoon and creative content coming out from Hong Kong and Atlanta.
Everyone in our company is looking at what we’re doing here in India and, quite frankly, is very jealous of the opportunities we have here. We launched Pogo, created a brand from scratch that is completely focused on the market we are in, and can launch new productions in any genre we want.
The idea is to create brands like M.A.D, which have the potential to be live shows, and publishing deals that could very well become online content. It could also go the other way—there’s no reason why a live show can’t go into broadcast. It doesn’t matter what side it comes from, but the growth area is to develop original ideas that can be extended multi-platform.
You have tied up with production houses such as Miditech Pvt. Ltd for content creation. Any acquisitions in the pipeline?
Our approach in animation is very similar to that of programme creation. We start with the creative and then find the best company to produce it. So, rather than going out and buying a room full of animators and saying “make a cartoon!”, we start with projects that have been successfully pitched to us from small companies, big companies and even individual writers, and once we have the right idea, we find the right animation studio to put them together.
Any plans to take any of the original content developed here to other countries?
The animated content we develop here in India has great potential because animation travels really well. Kids that age really don’t like dubbing or watching a bunch of European or American kids speaking Hindi. A lot of other channels have tried it and it doesn’t really work. But there is interest in some of the new formats such as M.A.D.
Are you seeing a lot more advertiser-funded programming to gloss over regulations?
Yes, you will continue to see innovations and it’s not just because of strict regulations. Advertisers are constantly on the lookout for more meaningful ways to connect with audiences. We have a unit that just looks after sponsorships and promotions.
We’ve reduced the ad inventory during the day. It was called Full House, where you have a full hour of Tom & Jerry and you sell that entire slot to one advertiser.