New Delhi: Viacom 18 Media Pvt. Ltd’s children’s entertainment channel Nickelodeon will show a blank screen for half an hour on 7 November between 5pm and 5.30pm in an effort to encourage kids to play outdoors. Nina Elavia Jaipuria, general manager and senior vice-president at Nick India, spoke about the strategy and the channel’s India plans. Edited excerpts:

Responsible broadcaster: Nick India’s Jaipuria says the channel wants to send a message to children by encouraging them to play outdoors.

How will you compensate for the lost commercial air time and viewership when the channel goes blank for 30 minutes?

The more important thing is to be a responsible broadcaster. We reach 28 million homes today and what better way to leverage our platform than send a message, which is good for children? Children are becoming social recluses thanks to television, the Internet and video games. The need of the hour is to get play—which has gone out of fashion—back into their lives. We don’t mind losing viewership because we know that they will come back after half an hour to watch their favourite toon.

Are you growing your character merchandise business?

We are taking baby steps. Currently, merchandise is a very small percentage of our revenue. The largest share still comes from ad sales and distribution. But I see it becoming big in the future. We’ve taken the merchandising rights for Ninja and our first product will be out in January. Today Disney earns more from merchandising. I’m not sure we’ll go that way. But eventually it could contribute anywhere between 20% and 30% to our income.

Are you looking to license more characters?

Our main aim is to expand our product categories and not so much the characters. We already have Dora and SpongeBob merchandise and Ninja will be launched in January. We also plan to launch merchandise for Little Krishna. Currently, there are story books, toys, stuffed toys and apparel, but we’re now launching products in categories such as footwear, innerwear, furniture, like tables and chairs, bed linen, home entertainment products as well as high-end toys like remote-controlled cars.

Any new Nick toons on the anvil?

It is time we started thinking about normal Indian animations. We have to move beyond mythology. Why can’t we create an Indian Perman, or Ninja? We’re moving in that direction, but it will take some time because animation does not fructify as fast as real-life action does. Some time next year, we should have an Indian toon, which is not mythological.

Is the Indian animation industry ready to deliver products to your standards?

India is completely ready. It has been for a while; it just got stuck in outsourcing. What Indian animation industry lacks is not talent and technology, it lags a little bit in script-writing capability. So that’s the talent we need to nurture. Twisted Whiskers on Disney is made in India. Penguins (a show on the penguins from the movie Madagascar) and Barnyard that Nick will launch next year are all made in India. It’s also a huge cost saving measure.

How do you differentiate your channel ?

We’ve redone our packaging and the channel has become very contemporary, fast-paced and techno-wired. We are hugely differentiated already for there is no channel in the category that can talk about so many toons as we do. Cartoon Network is more about Tom and Jerry, and probably a Ben10, which is now a dying show. Pogo has MAD and very recently it’s got Chota Bheem. On Disney, I can only think of Mickey. It’s Hannah Montana is no longer featuring among the top few. Jetix is identified only with Power Rangers. We have a Ninja who is a best friend, a Perman who is a super hero, Little Krishna and many others.

Do you plan to launch another children’s channel?

We need to first consolidate our position. We are mainly in the Hindi speaking belt. In the South, we have begun in a small way in Hyderabad and some regions of Karnataka. Within six-eight months, we should have a pan-India presence. After this, we can we look at another channel.