India's Digital Entertainment Hype
“With the rise of the internet, “attention” became the new currency! Covid19, however, has created a paradigm shift in the way we consume content and the way people socialize online. In this playbook, we delve into the new attention economy – new models, emerging players and trends in the world of social media, news apps, audio and video streaming, online games and more.”
Moms Over The Years:
1990s: You have been playing all day in the sun, come inside
2000s: Turn off the TV, go out and play
2016: Put that iPad down, go and check on your friends
2020: Do not go out, watch Netflix, YouTube Kids or play online games, but just don’t step out
For children today, going out and playing is a privilege they enjoy sometimes. Even before the pandemic struck us, various factors such as high pollution levels, seasonal flu, dengue, unkempt playgrounds and increasing rate of crimes stole children’s freedom and kept them indoors on most days. And whether parents and teachers liked it or not, the internet and smart devices came to their rescue.
And a rescue act is much-needed for parents coping with the economic and mental pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, while also working from home and managing the domestic work. The smart TV, the smartphone or the iPad — these are the new friends for kids. Parents who were wary of excessive screen-time have also given in, evident from the recent surge seen in edtech startups and online kids entertainment content.
In recent weeks, kids entertainment has taken centre stage at OTT platforms as streaming companies look to target this big niche. ZEE5 Kids saw a 200% increase in viewership in the first 26 days after lockdown. VOOT kids, that caters to children between 3 and 8 years of age, has also seen around 7X increase in traction.
In India, around 10 streaming platforms have looked to capitalise on the need for kids content in India, including exclusive kids streaming platforms and streaming platforms that have separate sections for kids.
This includes Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, VOOT Kids, ZEE5 Kids, and Eros Now besides YouTube Kids. As many as 83 Mn households on Netflix, comprising 60% of its users, watch kids and family-content, globally.
The latest to join the bandwagon is Hotstar that has now added Disney+ content, which brings more than 250 superhero movies and shows, and hundreds of hours of animated content. Zee5 also launched Zee5 Kids recently in April 2020. The platform comprises entertainment content across varied genres, languages, formats and age-groups based curations. It has also onboarded leading production houses such as Lionsgate and Cosmos Maya for exclusive/acquired content to cater to the rush of users.
ZEE5 Kids saw daily active users (DAUs) and app downloads rise by 33% and 41% respectively from March 18 to April 1, 2020. Subscription numbers increased by over 80% and paid viewers also saw a rise of 45%.
Viewers on the connected devices grew by almost 66%.
Besides OTT content, games have become the other entertainment avenue for kids. Minecraft, a very popular game among Indian kids, has seen a 50% increase in usage in March worldover. A report suggests that Free Fire surpassed all to become the most downloaded mobile game of 2019 across iOS and Android. Ludo King, a favourite among children, just like adults, has seen a five-fold increase in traffic since the pandemic.
Recently social networking giant Facebook also rolled out its Messenger Kids app, which was launched in the US in 2017, in over 70 countries, including India. With this Facebook aims to provide a safe online space to those children who are using online tools for learning and communication for the first time.
“The current environment presents a great opportunity for the media and entertainment sector to catch eyeballs of a relatively restful, stationary, and bored audience that is hungry for new content and new sources of entertainment. Audience doesn’t just include adults staying at or working from home but also includes children of all age groups,” Ankur Mittal, cofounder, IP Ventures told Inc42.
Big Content For The Little Ones
According to PwC Kids Digital Media Report 2019, one-third of internet users globally are kids and over 40% of new users in 2018 were children. The report also expects digital to grow its share of total kids advertising spend from 15% in 2016 to 22% in 2018; reaching 37% by 2021.
Well, most urban Indian parents have long been awake to the potential of new-age learning and entertainment offered by digital media. Moving online has been both inevitable and a blessing of sorts to expose children to content that matches international standards. For parents from Tier 2 and 3 India, this was an opportunity to provide a quality education that only city kids usually enjoyed.
This can be substantiated by the growing number of edtech startups in India. According to DataLabs by Inc42 ‘The Future Of India’s $2 Bn Edtech Opportunity Report 2020′, there are a total 4,450 edtech startups operating in India currently with BYJU’S, Unacademy, Vedantu, Toppr and Eruditus being the most funded ones. The exposure to online learning came with increased viewing time for video streaming and all manner of multimedia content.
“The top Indian OTT platforms have capitalised on the growing appetite for content created for kids or children in India. With children being avid adopters of videos and TV shows, kids entertainment has become an important demographic for many video streaming players in India,” said Aparna Acharekar, programming head, ZEE5 India.
Even if parents go back to being strict about screen time once all this is over, weaning kids off-screen may be challenging, thus making the digital kids’ entertainment and education or rather an edutainment space an even more viable option for advertisers to cash in.
Building Habits Early On
“You are going to see a new normal. You are not going to drop back to the previous levels of engagement when the schools open. It will dip naturally since when children go back to school they will stay less time at home and all parents rightly so should be also concentrating on activities outside of the house then,” Saugato Bhowmik, business head, VOOT Kids, which saw a 7X spike after lockdown. But the hope is that the habits would be built up significantly and that would lead streaming platforms to a new benchmark post the lockdown than at the beginning of the year.
The time spent on OTT streaming has also increased significantly. VOOT Kids, which was only launched in November 2019, was seeing 70+ minutes per day among users till February. But from mid-March, when the semi-lockdown had started and schools were off, this climbed to 90 minutes.
Content consumption across most platforms, including OTT, podcast, gaming have seen an average increase of 30-60% since early March, when schools shut down, as per our conversations with the industry. Hungama Kids claimed 30% growth since the beginning of March.
“The initial traction came from the metros since they were the first to start practicing social distancing, but soon we started noticing similar growth from other centres as well,” said Neeraj Roy, founder & CEO, Hungama Digital Media.
The consumption patterns have also been witnessing shifts. While before the lockdown, the traction remained high on weekends and between 3 pm and 8 pm for weekdays, with a disruption in schedules, consumption is high all through the day from 9 am till 9 pm. Though many schools moved classes online, the number of hours spent with classwork is fewer, and the commute is also eliminated. All that time saved in going to the streaming platforms and games.
Catering To Unique Use-Cases
Speaking of time, there’s also a lot more content available to consume now, besides which streaming platforms are also capitalising on the unique consumer habits of kids and the economics of it. Children love to come back and rewatch their favourite shows and films or re-read books they love, unlike the typical OTT consumers where adults have the constant need for new content all the time.
At the same time, the quality and breadth of content offered is also improving. It’s not just about popular toons or shows anymore, but international shows, premium shows, learning e-books, quizzes and games. “The genre of kids’ entertainment has seen an evolution from the days of cartoon characters to reel life heroes or favourites. The realms of entertainment today for kids revolve around movies, shows, games and also smart learning,” said ZEE5’s Acharekar.
As the lockdown progressed, parents were on the lookout for something that provided a break from screens, which has brought music and podcasts to the fore. The largest podcast apps are already available on iOS or on Android devices. Podcast platform Gaatha Story typically witnesses a drop in listenership by 5% to 7% in the summer months for the past four years. However, this year usage has doubled. Podcast platform Aawaz which was launched in 2019, also saw an increase of 15% in consumption of kids-centric content since lockdown.
“The main factor that has helped us see such numbers is surplus and evergreen content. We have consciously focussed on producing content that has a longer shelf life,” said Amar Deshpande, cofounder, Gaatha Story.
In addition to the new episodes, the platform promoted episodes related to festivals and celebrations, some of which were published more than two years ago originally. “The immense interest in Ramayan on Doordarshan may have been an eye-opener for many, but we have always believed in evergreen content,” Deshpande said.
It’s Not Just Entertainment
Of course, it cannot be all play and no work. Learning goes in even in the times of coronavirus and edtech platforms are making the most with free content, both as a gesture to create brand loyalty and to rope in new users.
PlayShifu, the Bengaluru-based edtech startup which makes interactive AR toys, has created a free version of its popular Shifu Orboot app for children who don’t have the physical Orboot globe. Anyone without the globe can play 4 games for free. “We have all seen and experienced chaos in the last four weeks where kids have been stuck at home and we wanted to help parents and children,” said Dinesh Advani, cofounder, PlayShifu.
Amazon’s Audible launched Audible Stories that provides a library of some of its audiobooks for children and teenagers for free on March 19. This will be on till the pandemic keeps children at home. Author J.K. Rowling had made ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the first book in the series, available for free downloads in April in ebook and audiobook formats worldwide. Major actors and film personalities are reading children’s books online to keep learning and education going.
One of the world’s most well-known authors Paolo Coelho said he would be posting free ebooks of some of his books for young adults and teenagers.
Momspesso, a content platform for mothers, engaged with children through authors such as Ruskin Bond and Paro Anand among others through its Facebook page. Publishers of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha comics announced a month-long free subscription to their full comic-book archive in March. And that’s in addition to the host of educational resources, including study guides and Q&As, and documentaries available on streaming platforms that give children more than just a few hours of entertainment.
Parents have also been increasingly seeking content that goes beyond simple cartoons and is educational, informative and yet, entertaining for their kids.
“All our games have educational value deeply integrated with the gameplay, hence we are seeing an overall spike. Kids are engaging with a lot of interactive content on our platforms since schools are shut down. We are witnessing all-time-highs in returning users, time spent, activity progress, etc,” added PlayShifu’s Advani.
The platform has seen around 40K new users registered on the platform since lockdown and the daily active users went up by 60%. ZEE5 Kids also has a partnership with Eduauraa for learning for 6th to 12th grades through formats such as live-action videos, animation and DIY. “From buying board games, puzzles to tuition and hobby classes, Indian parents are ready to shell out money to provide the best quality education and entertainment to their kids,” said Aparna Acharekar, programming head, ZEE5 India.
While edtech services have evolved, many have focussed on the curriculum or school-based concepts, while the newer breed is looking at gaming, videos and other avenues for engagement. Augmented reality has become a more viable medium thanks to the lockdown forcing kids to look outside from inside their homes. “Integrating technology into learning allows creative freedom, improves problem-solving and perseverance, empowers kids to look past cultural boundaries, and aids in building reasoning and analytical skills,” Advani told us.
While attracting children may be an easy task, it was difficult for online platforms to convince adults, both parents and teachers, to try new-age tech and understand their ability to impart both knowledge and fun. The lockdown is changing that. “We in fact encourage parents to listen to the content along with their children,” Gaatha Story’s Deshpande
For parents, used to traditional learning, the new reality is sometimes hard to understand. Learning used to be in the classroom, and in physical activity like reading books, stories, solving crosswords and puzzles with friends. What has happened in this unprecedented lockdown is that parents are realising that a lot of learning happens without these external factors.
These trends are even giving rise to increased demand from Tier 2 India and semi-urban markets. ZEE5 Kids, for instance, claims it saw growth of close to 30% in Lucknow, Patna and Jaipur, and nearly 60% in Noida. Hungama Kids, which over the last year claimed revenue growth of 60% from Tier 2 and 3 cities in India, said that during the lockdown, users from Tier 2 & 3 cities grew by 20% on our platform.
Screen Time Concerns
While it is a blessing in disguise for digital media platforms, the sudden surge in demand for kids content and also the expected change in behaviour towards online consumption brings forth the issue of excessive screen time, digital addictions, safety and mental health. Netflix, for instance, recently launched improved parental controls for families that allowed parents to secure accounts with the help of a PIN. Facebook has also made a lot of changes to its Messenger Kids app. As the kids’ content ecosystem grows and flourishes, more such controls will be needed, particularly to prevent a case of OTT and edtech fatigue.
The internet throws many risks, which could range from cyberbullying to monetary compromises. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 175K children go online for the first time on an average every day and nearly 80% of its surveyed 18-year-old users believe that children and adolescents are in danger of being sexually abused or taken advantage of online.
Unless the kids are trained on online etiquettes, there will be challenges, say data privacy experts.
“The challenges become multifold with technically illiterate parents, who cannot either identify the risks faced by their children not able to resolve it for them. So, enough education for these parents is also important,” said Ramkumar Ramachandran, data privacy expert and founder of Ascentant Corporation, which offers consulting services for privacy and cybersecurity compliance.
Cyber experts call for a ‘Bright Web’ as a counter to the Dark Web, to protect the youngest users from exploitation. “I’m sure in the near future we will have ‘Kids-Safe’ websites for education, gaming, socializing etc. Many of the existing websites are striving for this as well,” he added.
Studies have proven that the internet is designed to hook the user. Since the novelty of things on the internet releases dopamine, “happy hormone” brings with it immediate gratification that can lead to children getting used to this high. Constant entertainment, novelty, the newness of material on the internet has an addictive quality.
A study titled, “A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well Being of Adolescents” by Amy Orben and Andrew K. Przybylski in 2017 collected information on over 120K young smart devices users in the UK to determine if mental wellbeing went down with screen use.
One of the largest surveys of its kind, the study showed that while some screen time is great for mental wellbeing, as the amount of time increases, the mental wellbeing falls down.
Just like how TV became a part of the lives of kids in the 90s, digital media is here to stay in the 21st century and is only going to evolve as it enters the lives of the children today. Even if offices open up and normalcy is restored to a large extent, the fear of letting children out may linger much longer than any lockdown. So, the focus may soon shift from engagement and entertainment to meaningful connections but with checks and balances.