DIC Entertainment and ABC hope to transform the previously untapped Indian marketplace from a diamond in the rough to a jewel in the crown.
A licensing program for ABC series airing in India was established in December 1995 by Joy Tashjian, president of worldwide merchandising for DIC Entertainment/ABC. She traveled to India to talk with and develop licensing programs with manufacturers, set up a merchandising office and establish fan clubs for children’s series in India.
Her efforts come a year after ABC had established offices in New Delhi and Madras to help create new programming for the country, and to syndicate American shows. The network established a joint venture with First Serve Entertainment, run by Max Gupta and former tennis star Vijay Armitraj, to become the first broadcaster to co-create a programming block on the Indian channel Doordarshan.
By far the most successful venture in India to date has been The Panda Club, a four-day block of children’s programming featuring shows like Dennis The Menace, Rimba’s Island, Wish Kid and Samurai Cybersquad.
The company knew it could not leap into a full-scale licensing program. While India is a market with tremendous growth potential, it is far from having a marketing and retail infrastructure that would support mass merchandising. It realized early on that it had to give Indian audiences time to digest these new series and characters in order to create a demand. After the shows aired for almost a year, it believed the time was right to begin a merchandising and marketing program.
Establishing one in an emerging nation like India has plenty of traps.
India lacks a comprehensive distribution and retail system. With no major retailer, like a K-Mart, it becomes difficult-almost impossible-to move swiftly to keep up with demand. Secondarily, many manufacturers have to be schooled on the value that television can bring them. ‘It is difficult for a toy manufacturer to understand the intrinsic value of buying a license on a show if they don’t really understand how many viewers are watching,’ says Tashjian, ‘and if they don’t have a case history to know that when they put that toy out, based on 25 million homes, they are going to move a lot of product.’
Further clouding the situation is simple economics. Although India’s middle class is growing, a large portion of the population is still poor. ‘Companies seeking a foothold in India must realize that they aren’t going to move many high-ticket items because the culture can’t support expensive products on an across-the-board-basis,’ says Tashjian.
The Indian government, struggling to build its own economy, makes importing difficult and extracting money out of the country even tougher. Tashjian believes that to build a business in India, you need to align yourself with a company in India. In this specific case, First Serve takes what DIC/ABC d’es in American and European markets and uses what makes sense to their region, based on business and cultural sensitivities. ‘You can’t place U.S. standards on a foreign country,’ she says.
The company is very pleased with the initial marketing and merchandising efforts. Tashjian says that she has completed five licensing deals since she has returned.
The Panda Club fan club has prospered as well. She cites a recent event in Madras that drew 2,000 kids to meet their favorite characters. The event was supported only by a print ad and a few promotional spots. The company will continue to test other marketing plans throughout the country.
‘This is a building process . . . and a fascinating business opportunity,’ she says. ‘It’s extremely challenging, and due to the amount of children in India, you really have an opportunity to grow in that market. But to develop that market, you need time, and you need to understand the consumer. India is absolutely a market where, if you’re not there in the next five years, you’re going to have trouble making a foothold.’