By Shriya Roy
A lockdown, intense heat of an Indian summer and school holidays — for children, this is perhaps the most frustrating time ever. For parents, more so, as they watch their screen-addicted offspring glued to devices all the more.
For those behind the screens, however, it is a lucrative time. With not many entertainment options, people have been depending on OTT platforms to tide over the crisis. This includes children. So even though there is hardly any fresh content, or the means to generate any, a platform like ZEE5 launched ZEE5 Kids in the middle of the lockdown in April with over 4,000 hours of free content across genres in nine languages.
And just before the crisis hit, Hotstar had partnered with Disney, opening up the world of popular Disney animation series and movies for viewers. Animated movies like the Lion King, Frozen II and Narnia to Toy Story, Mickey Mouse and Doremon have been around for a long time on television, and the app only aids at easier accessibility. Disney has thrown the full force of its children’s content creation machine behind the Disney+ service, pulling back children’s shows like Sofia the First and movies like Toy Story from Netflix to cement Disney+ as the eminent children’s online TV service.
Viacom 18’s Voot Kids, launched in November last year, is partnering with content providers such as Nickelodeon, Oxford University, Sony Music, Warner Media, and others in a bid to keep its content diverse and engaging for children. It offers a variety of popular cartoon shows, including Motu Patlu, Peppa Pig, Pokemon, Ben 10, Dora the Explorer, Mr Bean, Spongebob and Dexter, among others.
Top players have admitted that today’s kids are the future as far as revenue goes. Hence offering unique content becomes even more important. And with children confined to their homes, the combination of entertainment and education, or what they call edutainment, is being seen as a redeeming feature. So not just shows and movies, the focus is also on things as diverse as karaoke, audiobooks, DIY videos, quizzes, and more.
For instance, a browse through Voot Kids will reveal an extensive content library spread over 13,000 hours of videos, over 500 e-books, over 150 audio stories and over 5,000 quizzes.
Saugato Bhowmik, business head of Voot Kids, says, “We wanted to tell the adults that screen time can be meaningful. Our aim is not just to entertain children, but to get them excited about learning new things too.” Not surprisingly, time spent per viewer per day on the app has gone up from 70 minutes to over 90 minutes. The user base has grown manifold in the past few weeks, and not just in metro cities but tier-2 places as well. The daily subscriber addition has exploded by six times the original limit after the lockdown was imposed. The consumption of quizzes and e-books have also shot up significantly.
Aparna Achrekar, programming head at ZEE5, says they have started streaming exclusive animated originals on ZEE5 Kids, beginning with Guddu, the story of a fun lion and his friends, and will soon release few others including digital content Gadget Guru, an animated series based on a superhero character and Bapu, a light educational series about Mahatma Gandhi. The platform also offers a variety of freshly produced animated movies and series like Christopher Colombus, Ramayan, Cindrella, Bablu Dablu, Vir: The robot boy, among others.
Aparna adds they plan to have a constantly evolving library of shows, movies and other content forms in multiple languages, providing a mix of acquired and exclusives by onboarding leading production houses. Indian parents are ready to shell out money to provide the best quality education and entertainment to their kids. And, that is why Aparna says the primarily subscription models of most OTT platforms seem to work.
Genres and taste clusters like adventure, super-hero, fantasy, mythology are the main focus at ZEE5’s browse list. They plan to add the services that will allow the creation of user-generated content sharing and community building features, along with highly interactive formats of engagement like karaoke, gaming and more in an attempt to take kids entertainment a notch up.
POGO unveiled a fresh series it screened in May, Sun Sunny Bheem, telecasting four different locally-made animated shows featuring Bheem.
Multiple reports by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), in collaboration with Nielsen, revealed that the 2-14 years age group had recorded the highest increase in viewership, by about 20%, during the month of March.
However according to BARC’s latest numbers, by the end of May 2020, the kids genre viewership stood at 9%. The total TV viewership recorded 1 trillion viewing minutes, and is 15% higher than pre-Covid viewing. Smartphone usage, too, is 11% higher than pre-Covid times.
And even though most of the content is recycled, the advantage OTT platforms enjoy is ad-free streaming and binge watching, unlike television.
Aparna Acharekar of ZEE5 says though “the pandemic was an unexpected turn in plans”, they went ahead to attract a new cohort of viewers aged between 4 and 12 years. Bhowmik of Voot says unlike adults who crave new stories, for kids it is their sheer love for a show that they come back to, watching their favourite show again and again. And aren’t the OTTs loving it too!