Latha Venkatraman

Mumbai, March 11

THREE months ago, Walt Disney Television International (India) made a foray into Indian cable and satellite homes with two of its channels, Toon Disney and Disney Channel, but it continues to grapple with distribution inadequacies.

Officials declined to comment on the distribution issue but did say that Walt Disney has embarked on a multimedia brand campaign encompassing not only consumers but also multi-system operators and cable operators.

Distribution has been a major issue for most of the recent entrants to India's broadcast space, primarily because of the bandwidth space problem. Some of the more recent entrants are NDTV Profit and Zee's Business Channel.

Nevertheless, the officials at Disney said the reach of the two channels has been growing and they point to satisfactory advertiser response. "We have been able to get the big consumer product companies aboard such as Pepsi, Dabur, Nestle, Rasna," said Ms Hema Govindan, Head of Marketing & Communication, Walt Disney.

She and Mr Nachiket Pantvaidya, Director (Production and Programming), believe that the two channels go beyond children. Toon Disney, a nearly 100 per cent animation programme-oriented channel, and Disney Channel, which offers a combination of live action, animation, movies, by their very portfolio bring in more audiences.

Walt Disney and other kids' channels are also helped by the fact that Indian television viewing is family-oriented and that most homes have single television sets.

Within the Disney universe, India's Disney Channel is the largest producer of localised content, said Mr Pantvaidya. The plan is to have up to 400 hours of localised content in a year. Playhouse Disney, the pre-school property of Disney Channel, is one such initiative where Indian kids play host. "Each of these programmes is based on story telling with a positive conclusion," Mr Pantvaidya said. He believes the local production is path-breaking.

Most of the kids' channels are focusing on programming to carve a space for themselves among their audiences. Among the newer kids channels, UTV's Hungama TV has a programming mix of drama, comedy, science fiction, adventure, game shows and fantasy. Animax, which has Japanese animation, believes its strength is its unique programming with strong and evolved storyline.

At Disney, the effort is towards bringing real kids into programming and interspersing it with interactive shows.

The distribution issue assumes importance for Disney especially in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where it has language feeds. "We are working with Star and local distributors," said Ms Gobindan.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 12, 2005)
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