Mark Eyers, senior vice-president and chief content officer – Kids Networks, Turner Asia Pacific, was in India earlier this week to review the local operations. In an interview, he spoke about creating differentiated offerings for the Indian market, the company’s focus on merchandise and other ancillary streams and coming up with local Indian characters that can travel across the globe. Edited excerpts:
Q. What are the challenges of making children’s content in India?
A: One of the challenges we face in India is with the measurement system which takes a broad age range of 2-12, so essentially you have both two-year old toddlers and 12-14 year old pubescents to cater to. In fact almost two-thirds of the audience watching kids channels in India is over fourteen. It’s a discrepancy that influences the editorial decisions of a lot of people. We, at Turner, want to put the 5-9 year old demographic first but India is looking at 2-12 year olds, so we see a lot of content out there that is very broad-based and not targeted.
Q. How do you plan to create differentiated content?
A: Our key thought has always been to keep an authentic voice. We want to continue down that path and our philosophy is to have more ideas than money. That means working with creators here in India and across Asia Pacific who have that voice to try and speak to kids. If we do that and they become fans which is what we want them to become, instead of chasing rating points which unfortunately skews all the activities in this category, they will have a lifetime relationship with the brand. When kids become fans, we will be able to allow them to experience the characters and brands on other platforms. Be it digital, licensing and merchandising or location-based entertainment, for instance, we have a theme park coming up in Surat and a cruise that will float towards the end of 2019 across Singapore and south east Asia. We’re also looking at releasing some games with adventure time and virtual reality because using technology to tell stories differently is important.
Mark Eyers, SVP, chief content officer, Kids Networks, Turner Asia Pacific.
Q. Going forward, how much of your revenue will come from these ancillary streams?
A: I can’t get into specifics but I can say that those revenue streams are growing. India is in a unique situation where traditional TV advertising is still growing unlike other parts of the world where we see challenges in distribution and advertising revenues. So as a strategy we’re investing in characters and intellectual properties that will grow these streams. All our off-screen streams are important, it’s not just about a product you take off the shelf but we want to extend that to experiences, that way kids can take their families with them. The cruise is a great example of what we can do beyond the channel. Creating authentic characters and shows that can travel beyond one country, that’s the business we want to get into.
Q. Which characters or worlds are you immediately investing in?
A: We have a two-pronged strategy. Because of the strength of the brand, we still have equity in some of the more recognized characters like Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls and Ben 10. But we’re also growing the next generation of characters which includes the new Ben 10 and We Bare Bears. So we’re fortunate to have those two pillars. In India, our aim is to find creators that can come up with characters that work not just here in India but travel overseas. The future of storytelling is not just technology but people. We’ve launched a program in Asia which we want to bring to India called Imagination Studios where we not just meet local creators but try and empower the next generation of storytellers to tell their unique stories. For example, we’re working with a creator called Vaibhav Kumaresh on a series called Lamput that has already had two seasons published in India and abroad. That is an important focus for us because animation has the power to travel more than live action.
Q. How do you compare challenges of catering to TV and digital audiences?
A: You need to make sure you have not just good content but different content to suit those different platforms. We’ve been launching a lot of content digitally first even before linear channels. We have distribution partnerships with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, VOOT and others. The market is fragmented and busy and managing the digital bucket is tricky because the old traditional buckets are still growing in the near term. But we seen evidence around the world that this is the future and we just have to balance that.