By Krishna Desai
There has never been a time like right now, when content creators can turn others bright green with envy! If you have a great story inside you and a passion to tell it right, it’s never been so easy to find a buyer. In the global media industry, a confluence of forces is growing with a voracious appetite for content backed with investment. There is a flux of linear and non-linear platforms focussing on delivering the best consumer experience possible in different, disruptive ways. This is true for India’s not-so-nascent-but-not-yet-mature animation industry. It has come a long way over the past few decades, in whichever aspect one observes — the sheer volume of content delivered or in the pipeline, the higher quality of content, the turnover of the industry and, most importantly, the energy of both the creatives and the suits within the business.
Enablers and challenges
The keys to keeping the business healthy are simple: a) access to increased, affordable technical prowess, and b) a healthy demand from platforms. An encouraging sign is a slowly emerging — a mature approach towards ownership of original content. For example, the development of franchises rather than TV shows, where content grows side by side with a multi-service-related approach. However, one area which poses a challenge to unlock the true potential of the animation industry is human resources. There is a relatively low supply of key talent — especially writers and storyboard artists. This is not a new challenge, but it has led to more complications by interrelated aspects. These include the focus of education institutes on artistic versus technical curriculum versus focus on placements versus impact of a tough five-year hiatus in the industry near the start of this decade.
Some production houses made choices in this period which have made them come out stronger, leaner and wiser. However, many outfits have also shut down. At the same time, an important driver for the animation industry has been the symbiotic collaboration with TV channels since the turn of the century. The resulting slew of local content has increasingly found resonance with audiences. This was no small feat, given two key challenges peculiar to the Indian market. First, the single TV household phenomenon, which has restricted the growth of kids spending no more than about 20% of their TV time on kids’ channels; and second, the under-monetisation of advertising sales on the kids’ genre.
The common impact of these two factors has been a limitation on the content budgets for kids’ channels. The animation industry and its television partners rose to this challenge and came up with viable commercial models to tap the local market demand. The early movers showed the way, and the trend has percolated to become a norm. If you look at popular kids’ content today, you would see quite a few local shows unlike a few years ago — evidence of the ecosystem’s growth. Another big opportunity would be to unlock potential demand from audiences in rural India — with them being measured and prioritised by marketers.
Consumer at the centre
Ultimately though, business success lies with great content. A consistent feature in the creation of popular franchises and shows is their creative choices. It will always be beneficial to remember that whatever the technology at hand, the heart of creating a successful show lies in the narrative and its characters, while keeping a fan approach at the centre of it all. Even today I find pitches that focus so much on beautiful backgrounds and props with little to show for premise and springboards. Debates on 2D versus 3D formats take precedence over explorations of characters. This basic tenet is surprisingly often forgotten, or the power of which is sometimes little understood. To be sure, more established content creators have raised the bar by building and showcasing concepts and, crucially, defining the intended consumer. This applies equally to the visual effects part of the larger industry, where there are many examples of leading with visual effects (VFX) while overlooking storytelling aspects. VFX to me is a powerful means to enhance storytelling and its hallmark is when it’s not noticed by viewers.
It seamlessly creates a world or objects or characters that seem to fit in snugly with the overall narrative. The other power of VFX is that it cuts across potentially all audiences, all markets and all formats of storytelling. At the end of the day, no one can guarantee that the best funded, best crafted, the most passionately created stories will be liked by an increasingly fickle and discerning consumer. Bets must be taken, as they always have been. But the odds are a bit more even now. It is the best time to be creating content — and I am confident we will forge a new path to the next phase of growth for the industry.
The author is executive director & network head — kids, South Asia, Turner India