After almost half a year, Pokemon Go is finally here in India. However, Pokemon is more than just a video game franchise. Jiggy George, Founder and CEO of Dream Theatre - The Pokemon Company’s agency in India - earlier told Gadgets 360 how the TV show has also seen a surge of popularity thanks to the game.
George said that the entire series is now being shown from the very beginning on both Disney's Hungama TV - a channel for children and Voot - a local video on demand platform, and we also got to know about Dream Theatre's plans of bringing Pokemon merchandise to India.
Today, we are in conversation with Vijay Subramaniam, Vice President - Content and Communication, at the Walt Disney Company, India that runs Hungama TV, and Gaurav Gandhi, Chief Operating Officer at Viacom 18 Digital Ventures, the company that created Voot, in order to figure out what makes Pokemon a massive draw on TV.
“The series is a blend of action, comedy, and fun, and the success of the show is testimony to the fact that great content packaged with local elements can definitely excite the kids today,” says Subramaniam. “Through our constant and regular conversations with them, we understand the entertainment expectations kids have today and stories such as Pokemon, which we believe are universal in nature, have the ability to remain relevant and entertain kids across generations. “
“To me, the show connects with kids at a very fundamental level and addresses two key anxieties that they deal with during the growing up years – exploration and powerlessness. Kids have found a hero in Ash, a hero who survives in every new environment, it gives kids the courage to face new environments in their reality,” says Gandhi. “Secondly, every version of Pokemon (be it series, movies or game) has a recurring theme of collecting, training, and battling. We know kids love to collect toys, tazos, power ups and so on. It feeds their confidence and fulfils their need to create a secret world that they can call their own.”
Both Disney and Voot have their own viewer touchpoints — the former via TV, and the latter via smart devices - but both agree that the transmedia effect of having Pokemon outside of just screens helps. Earlier though, there was no official support from Niantic or The Pokemon Company, which posed a problem. The launch of Pokemon Go in India has changed things, although Gandhi says there was an increase in interest already, despite the delayed launch of Pokemon Go in India.
“If anything, we saw the interest level grow two-fold for Pokemon during July on Voot, and we’ve seen this interest level sustain in the property with the new viewers sampling the content every week,” he states. For Subramaniam, it was more about making the show relatable to kids regardless of Pokemon Go's presence. To that end, Disney used promotional campaigns with modern voicing and dialogue that's akin to how children interact and converse with each other while staying true to the show.
“We are also engaging the kids with interesting campaigns that result in conversations around the show among their friends at school and home,” Subramaniam explains. ”For instance: We launched a rap song with lyrics introducing the different Pokémon in the show and this was followed by another, featuring kids who are Pokémon fans engaging in a lively rap-battle to test each other's knowledge of the show.”
One area where shows like Pokemon score over its games or apps is localisation. It’s a relatively less expensive affair to make shows available in multiple regional languages, when compared to software like Pokemon Sun and Moon, or even mobile games like Pokemon Go. The two men both acknowledge that it’s an important differentiator.
“For any story to be memorable, it is imperative to get the local texture right to bring a greater sense of belonging and identity. Once the narrative of the story has been put in the right cultural and social context, it brings in a strong form of relatability and only enhances its appeal further," says Subramaniam. "The added local dimension to Pokemon; through our campaigns, dubbing, tonality has made it a success among kids even today."
“Having Hindi or a regional languages will increase the audience base for sure," says Gandhi. "That's why we will be introducing more languages for Pokemon shortly." As for devices, Gandhi says that this isn’t a tremendous concern, simply due to its reach, and security features like the parental pin - something he considers to be a key differentiator, and helped it to grow its userbase among families. “In four months Voot has already become the third largest streaming VOD service in India with 14 million monthly active users. Voot kids, as a dedicated section in Voot, is already the largest repository of premium kids content with a large user base. The parents, who own the devices, see Voot kids as safe, especially due to the parental pin."
While the jury is still out on how successful Pokemon Go would be in India after a prolonged delay, it will be interesting to see how much of an uptake non-gaming properties such as the TV show and merchandise would have. Suffice to say, it’s a good time to be a Pokemon fan in India.