Dutta, EVP and Business Head of Kids' channel–Sony Yay! at Sony Pictures Networks India, talks about the channel’s five-year journey, growth plans & more Sony YAY!, which is Sony Pictures Network India (SPNI) first kids’ channel, has recently completed five years in the industry. The channel was one of the last entrants in this category. Launched in 2018, the channel has now led the kids’ genre and is all set to launch its new IP Ha.Go.La in June this year. In a conversation with exchange4media, Leena Lele Dutta, Business Head, Sony Pictures Networks India, Kids’ Genre talks about the plans to expand footprint in the category, new show lineups for summers and the channel’s five years journey. When asked about the channel’s journey, Dutta expressed excitement about the channel’s growth over the period of time despite being the last entrant in the kids’ category. "In the first two years, we went around with the proposition of giving the kids what they wanted to watch, which was missing on the rest of the channel's-100 percent indigenous, characters, regional language dubs, and all of those things. The first two years, in our opinion, were formative years because we were introducing IPs that were sticking and falling off." The COVID pandemic disrupted our lives to a large extent at a time when the channel was poised in the top three rankings of the kids category, Dutta stated. “That's when the TV viewership for both kids and adults went completely out of whack. For the first two to three months, we had to change our strategy completely because we needed to keep our audiences glued to us with new characters and new shows on our channel. Honey Bunny's core audience stayed with us, but the rest of the guys moved on to other channels and sought their viewership needs from other channels, not just children's shows.” That was the time when the channel launched Tarak Mehta Ka Chotta Chashma that did exceedingly well”, she said. “What we have learned from the five-year journey was that we never got complacent, from reaching from number seven to number eight player in the category, then going up to number three. Now over the past 13 weeks, we've been at a number one position so it's been a very organic growth,” added Dutta. With an aim to bring entertainment to the forefront of its summer offering, Sony YAY! brings brand new episodes of the iconic shows - Oggy and the Cockroaches and Obachhama – Kun. Moreover, the channel is also launching two first-ever movies from the show- Taarak Mehta Ka Chhota Chashmah, added with new episodes of the popular show. This June, Sony YAY! is set to amp up the fun, adventure and friendship, with another brand new show Ha.Go.La starring the adventures of three friends Hathgola, Goli and Latha. When asked about the shift in the childrens’ category from television to digital, Dutta stated that the kids have definitely moved to digital and that their digital consumption has increased significantly. However, it is not eroding the TV viewership. "TV viewership has returned to pre-COVID -550 GRP levels. During COVID's first year, it had risen and when the lockdown was lifted in the second year, the 700 GRP levels dropped to 600- 625 and are now back in the normal 550 range. So, digital hockey stick viewership or children's digital time spent was unquestionably a boon for the YouTube channels, but not necessarily in terms of entertainment.” According to Dutta, the total TV viewership for the children's category has not decreased. However, it must have declined in terms of reach as kids have now shifted their focus to digital. “Much of it has to do with the entire universe and the NTO era, when people are able to choose their own channels. When we first started, the kids’ category reached nearly 57 percent of all TV households. Today, the kids’ category reaches 51% of all TV homes, while the amount of time spent by children in this category has increased by 30%. So, despite the fact that the absolute reach has decreased, children are spending more time on television channels than they were spending five years ago. When asked if there is any evidence that the drop in reach had an impact on advertising revenue in the kids category? Dutta stated that the advertising revenue in the kids category has increased as a result of the emergence of newer categories such as EduTech. "Of course, FMCG accounts for a large portion of inventory consumption on children's channels, owing to the fact that mothers serve as gatekeepers, advising their children on which channels to watch”, she said. On the growth drivers for the kids’ category, Dutta shared that in most parts of urban India, there already has been cord cutting. “Kids are already using television just as a device, they may not watch linear television or linear TV channels, but they are using television as any other device, like they have the iPads and the iPhones”, Dutta added. “For kids on changing the paradigm, whether it is going to be more advertising related to television or more advertising related to digital, it's just a matter of time. Today, YouTube constitutes a huge amount of eyeballs of kids landing on to their platform. You're not supposed to target kids in the digital world, it's a place where targeting is not allowed. Therefore, YouTube had to pay heavy fines internationally.” Dutta asserted that the digital spending for kids for the next few years will continue to be dominated by television. “There could be hybrid models of AVOD and SVOD, where SVOD for kids will be offered only with a differentiated premium product. And that's where the play could be. We all know for a fact that between 100% of what the mother and the father earn in a month, 30 to 40% of the spends of that are going on going to their kids, whether it's through education or any other medium. Moreover, these industries will need platform to reach out to the kids going forward, because kids are going to be cord cutters. So in the near future, there is a definite need and demand to have parallel ecosystems running. The relay of linear television may change, there could be a possibility if the pay TV audience are migrating to digital platforms, then there could be a play for free TV Kids channels. It's an interesting time that we are in over here, especially for kids because we've never kind of focused on kids and given that kind of importance and relevance that it should actually deserve.” On the Sony YAY! contribution to the overall network, Dutta shared that Sony YAY! is a one-channel play, unlike the rest of the players in the category and networks in this space that have two to three channels. “Our entire endeavour is to go all out on inventory levels, and enjoy the revenues that come with it. We are completely sold out at any point in time and our FCT and inventory levels are the highest across the category”, Dutta stated. Further, on the expansion plans, Dutta mentioned that the network has plans to launch TV channels in the category. “When we launched Sony YAY!, we knew that everything that we needed to do in this category had to be differentiated. So we are looking into it, nothing is finalized as of now. If we launch, we're going to completely launch with a differentiated product. The timing of it is still a question mark.” On the other revenue model, the channel is actively pursuing an AR gaming piece, which is, casual games of channels’ IPs and characters. Dutta said, “We will add as a part of brand solutions to our advertisers so if they want to have their brands integrated in the games, they can do that. Along with this, we have our YouTube Play, where we are introducing a whole lot of new shows on our YouTube platform, not necessarily in the animation space. We're getting that built up over these few months”. Talking about the expansion plans, Dutta said, “We have our licensing and syndication content deals with our partners including Netflix and Amazon Prime. We are also looking to develop new IPs and produce them in-house which will be for OTT platforms and of course not to miss our licensing, merchandising, that's also a big revenue spinner, where we look at licensing products for all IPs and characters”.