Children have always been an important constituent of the television audience. Most television channels have aired special programmes targeted at them during designated viewing hours for children. With technology enabling beaming of segmented channels, children’s programmes are now available all day long. In India, children can access some 15 such dedicated channels.
However, an analysis of the content of the channels shows that most of these programmes are of foreign origin although Indian content is available and the top-rated children’s show is Chhota Bheem on Pogo.
Clearly, original Indian programmes and cartoons have a big market today, but they still constitute less than 20% of the content on most channels targeted at children. The chart above shows only Walt Disney to have tapped this potential with 40% original Indian programmes and cartoons.
Most content for children even today is foreign (American, Japanese, Korean and British) dubbed in local language. As indigenous content is inadequate to fill the slots, the gap is filled with indiscriminate imported content. While this trend is not new, improved dubbing techniques have certainly helped in reaching out to a larger audience.
Regional channels such as Chutti TV for children are fast becoming popular, while such channels are also mostly dependent on foreign cartoons and animation-based programmes dubbed in local languages, they also have significant film-based programmes, especially in south India.
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Shows on children’s channels are a mix of adventure, action, comedy and sports, and they also attempt to add distinctive features with an educative value. Still, violent and adventure-based programmes are dominant on all channels. Even indigenous productions are attempting to ape the stunts and violence in mostly mythology-based serials such as Ghatothkach, Prahlad, Siva, Dashavatar, My Friend Ganesha, Hanuman, Ravan Mahayodhya and Veer Yodhya Prithviraj Chauhan.
Pogo produced successful research-based content almost five years back with the introduction of Sesame Street (Gali Gali Sim Sim). This was an important turning point. Since then, original programming in foreign formats—very similar to our general entertainment channels—is also being produced.
Graphics: Yogesh Kumar / Mint
As family viewing dominates Indian television audience, today we also find a large number of children-based programmes (reality and serials) on popular entertainment channels aimed at both children and adults. Unfortunately, most of these programmes continue to rely on a great deal of stereotyping—children portrayed as powerless victims of abuse, conflict, crime and poverty; or children seen as charming, cute, innocent and entertaining accessories to the adult world. It’s time we explored alternative programmes based on more research and innovation.
In a scenario of shrinking ad spending and media fragmentation, the key differentiator even in this niche sector will be programming. Such content needs specific expertise, including psychologists, educationists, researchers and, of course, dedicated content producers. This indicates an emerging job market in this sector and also potential for courses that could impart the requisite training for such professionals.
Studies show that on average a child daily watches around 2 hours of television. Tapping this, advertisers have invested in children, both as consumers and influencers in consumption behaviour. Teachers, parents, programme and policy planners have yet to realize the investment opportunity in this sector that has such a significant role to play in our children’s development.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org