From cable to fables – our chat with Sanjay Dhar, President, Amar Chitra Katha

Today I’m chatting with media veteran and dear friend Sanjay Dhar. Sanjay was instrumental in launching Turner International in India back in 2000 including Cartoon Network CNN and HBO. He’s worn multiple hats since then including that of VP biz Dev and sales at Pearl media, Co-founder of Clockwork Events, Co-founder and COO at outdoor advertising company Integrid Media and even ventured out on his own as part of a mobile start up LSD Media. Post that he ran Vipul Shah’s Sunshine Pictures for a while. He is currently serving as President at Amar Chitra Katha – home to some of the most famous characters in India including Shikhari Shambu and Suppandi from Tinkle and National Geographic – one of the most respected names in infotainment. Thanks for speaking with us at indialicensingpost Sanjay!

 

  1. Sanjay give us a little background on ACK’s strategy in India. Is it difficult lifting the weight of a legacy brand with so many hardcore fans? Does it impede you or give you the further impetus to innovate?

 

SD – Yes it is a gigantic legacy to carry, and also a little overwhelming sometimes, because of the millions of lives that Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle have touched over the last 50 plus years. But this enormous love and respect for the brands is also the source of our strength and inspires us to keep telling stories of and from India, in a style that is uniquely ours and that continues to inform, entertain and inspire, in spite of the overload of entertainment formats that are jostling to find a foothold in the consideration set of children and adults. Our growing sales of the same titles that we have been printing for the last 5 decades goes to prove that our storytelling style is timeless, and will always be relevant and loved by all age groups. Of course, we are constantly exploring options of making our stories available on more and more diverse platforms – like digital and video, and we do adapt our stories to better suit the experience that consumers of content expect from that platform, to ensure that we continue to satisfy the needs of our fans no matter where they see our content.

 

  1. Do you believe Indian media has come of age to support home grown ip? Given your background in media and connection with brands are you scouting for suitable partners to syndicate your content?

SD – Frankly, I think we still have some distance to cover in this regard. Things are definitely getting better, but even now getting fair value for our brand and content – be it through syndication or sponsored content or licensing tie-ups, continues to be a challenge in the absence of standard industry norms and practices. It is really a deal to deal situation.

 

When outsiders look at Indian characters from a licensing perspective – Chhota Bheem and Chuchu tv are the only names that seem to come to their lips. Does ACK plan to change this with its roster of characters? Any plans you can reveal to us?

SD – Yes, that is a question that is asked of us quite frequently. Without revealing too much, I can share that we are planning to make our presence felt in digital and video content world quite significantly in the coming days, and you should be hearing a lot of news in this area very soon, and very frequently, over the next few months.

According to the LIMA Licensing International study 2018, character licensing is around 46% of the $270 billion licensing

market at retail – 50% of this in the US alone. APAC delivers around 5-6%. Do you believe ACK can make its presence felt given its pedigree and loyalty from its fans globally?

SD – ACK and Tinkle has a significant number of fans worldwide, mostly in the Indian diaspora. Our first aim is to reach out to them and capitalize on our brand and characters as quickly as possible. That is the low hanging fruit. Subsequently, we are sure that given the timelessness of our stories and growing international interest in entertainment originating out of India, achieving a large fan following in the non-Indian audiences worldwide will not be difficult.

 

You have created some animation content around suppandi which is available on YouTube. What about other VOD platforms? Are you in discussions with any of them?

SD – Yes, we are. Hopefully you will hear some news on this front soon as well.

ACK mural

 

Are you seeking out licensing partners? What are your terms of engagement?

SD – We are always looking out for good licensing partners. We don’t have fixed terms of engagement as of now, we evaluate each proposal on the merit of the potential partner who has approached us, his areas of strength, and most importantly, how passionate he is about our brands. If these things are to our satisfaction, we are always willing to work on a win-win arrangement.

 

  1. How has Nat Geo been fairing in India? Does it help that you have a staunch following for this brand as well? Any figures you can reveal to us?

SD – Without revealing figures, I can share with you that, in an otherwise challenging magazine market, both our magazines – National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler are actually growing – both in circulation and ad sales. As a brand, National Geographic stands head and shoulders above all the rest, for it’s quality of content and readership, and is a major asset for us. And you said the magic word – loyal. That is something no amount of money can buy. You just have to be good enough to deserve it.

 

Nat Geo has a strong play globally and also an e-commerce store to sell memorabilia. However, the India site has products which are extremely expensive e.g. DVDs for $60+. Do you believe fans will shell out such money?

SD – Our knowledge of the consumer products is negligible so we would not be the right people to assess the potential of sales of such products.

 

2 questions before we wrap up,

    • now that Tantri the Mantri has ascended the throne, will he rule the 7 kingdoms wisely?
    • SD – your guess is as good as mine. Our editorial team is keeping the future episodes with Tantri as king very close to their chest, so my friend, I cannot help you much there. But keep reading Tinkle, as there are exciting times ahead, that much I can assure you
    • .
      Do President’s get to appear in a Tinkle strip?

SD – Only if the art director thinks the President has an interesting face. Since I haven’t made the cut so far, I think you can safely say that rank and designation don’t always make a difference.