Ryan Shiotani on CBeebies’ return & growth of the kids’ genre during COVID-19

Eight years ago, BBC Worldwide’s kids’ entertainment channel CBeebies exited India. In a statement, the company had said that broadcasting in India was uniquely challenging for pay TV channels and delays in digitisation and need for channel operators to pay cable platforms for carriage made the economics of running pay channels unviable. Last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) put into effect the Tariff Amendment Order (NTO), which put a cap on carriage fees and demanded that broadcasters set an a la carte price for all their pay channels.

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In the new regulatory environment, CBeebies re-launched in India during the month of July. The ad-free programming of the channel caters to pre-schoolers (6 years and younger) and their parents. The channel is available across leading multi-system operators in the country, including Tata Sky (DTH & Mobile), Sun DTH, IMCL, Fastway, and Kal Cables, among many others.

In conversation with Adgully, Ryan Shiotani, SVP and GM, South and South East Asia, BBC Studios, speaks about the channel’s return in India and their growth strategy.

BBC CBeebies has returned to the Indian market after 8 years. What are the learnings?

CBeebies and BBC’s children’s programming have always been very popular in India and we know that parents were disappointed to see the channel close down in 2012. Eight years on, we believe it is the right time to bring the channel back to provide our young viewers with an exclusively pre-school channel that is commercial-free.

We have always believed in the value of the CBeebies brand as it is a safe environment for children to learn through play. Our programming on the channel is unique in that it features both animation and live action programmes, which pre-schoolers love.

India is a very vibrant and fast-growing media market. It has a large young population and we believe that there is a demand for ad-free pre-school content. We have a multi-pronged strategy for our CBeebies brand across both linear and digital. In the digital space, we have a partnership with VOOT Kids, where CBeebies branded content is available. Linear is still a key platform for audiences, and pay TV is still very viable in India, especially for News, Factual and Kids’ content.

What’s your outlook on the kids’ genre in India after COVID-19 struck?

It has always been our goal to make our award-winning children’s content available to as many homes in India as possible. We have been able to launch the channel during lockdown and provide quality content for audiences during challenging times. In these early stages of rollout, the CBeebies channel is already available in 33 million+ households across India.

What’s your programming strategy to attract viewers?

Our programme schedule consists of entertaining, trusted and interactive series that encourage learning through play. It is high-quality and mostly UK-produced and is able to travel universally to educate and entertain young audiences. Our content comes from CBeebies in the UK, which is a multi-award winning and No. 1 children’s channel for pre-schooler’s. We develop our content with the involvement of child development specialists with specific curriculum goals in mind.

CBeebies marks its re-entry in India with a strong line-up of programming. We offer a mix of new and landmark shows, including classics like ‘Teletubbies’ and ‘Thomas and Friends’, and new favourites such as ‘Go Jetters’ – a comedy, action adventure that combines music, cool gadgets and disco-dancing to introduce the audience to geography and culture. Filled with comedy, teamwork, awesome sights, and funky facts, each episode offers older pre-schoolers a fun-filled and action-packed exploration of their wider world.

We also have the BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning ‘Hey Duggee’, which is one of the happiest, most fun shows on kids’ TV! Duggee, a big huggable dog and the leader of The Squirrel Club, a place where kids (known as Squirrels) can go to have adventures, try new things and earn badges. Duggee teaches the kids about being responsible, working as a team, taking acceptable risks and most importantly...having fun!

Live action is also an important element to our programming as children like to see themselves reflected in television. Our shows like ‘Andy’s Aquatic Adventures’ helps children discover the world around them – in this case, interesting aquatic animals that live near or under water – with the help of stunning CGI and visual effects. Presented by popular kids’ presenter Andy Day, the series helps pique little ones’ fascination with animals.

How do you plan to create awareness and grow your audience share? Without live events, will it be a tough task to create love for the channel and its IP?

It is true that live events is a key method of promotion in the children’s industry. Without the opportunity to host live events, we are focussing on creating awareness through digital platforms such as our CBeebies website and social media sites. We are running social media campaigns on our YouTube channels, and Facebook children’s brand sites such as Hey Duggee. We are working with affiliate partners on marketing, such as on-air promotion. We are also working on media outreach initiatives and offering interview opportunities with the leading talent from our CBeebies programmes. We are also working on ways to engage parenting publications, as a key media target.

What’s your monetisation strategy? What will be the channel pricing?

The monetisation strategy is based on a subscription model. The TRAI rate for CBeebies channel is Rs 4 for the BBC bundle and Rs 5 for CBeebies on its own (a la carte.)


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