‘Cosmos-Maya has transformed into a forward-looking, 360 degree business entity’
Last year KKR-backed Emerald Media acquired a controlling stake in Cosmos-Maya through a combination of primary and secondary stake acquisition. The stake acquisition by Emerald Media is the testimony of the company’s success in the Indian animation sector.
Promoted by Indian filmmakers Ketan Mehta and Deepa Sahi, Cosmos-Maya pioneered the art and technology of animation and visual effects in India. Over the last five years, the company has produced 1500+ half-hour segments of animated content.
Today, it has multiple ongoing productions with television and digital platforms, including Viacom18, Disney Networks, Turner International, Sony Pictures Network, Discovery Networks, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and ALTBalaji.
TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Cosmos-Maya senior VP – revenue, corporate strategy Devdatta Potnis to talk about the company’s progress so far and the plans ahead.
Last year Emerald Media took a controlling stake in Cosmos-Maya. How is the capital being deployed?
While I am not at liberty to declare details of capital deployment, I can tell you that it is being utilized for the overall development of the studio across all fronts – from developing global IPs, investing in high-end talent, overall studio infrastructure scale-up and consolidation of operations.
Could you talk about the expertise that Emerald Media brings to the table?
From continuously growing in all directions to having a sustained and sustainable growth plan, the company has transformed into a forward-looking, 360 degree business entity.
How is Cosmos-Maya building up its team and capabilities to handle work in India and abroad?
Cosmos-Maya is rightly placed to handle different types of businesses within the same industry. Domestically, we have almost 60% market share today, and our production expertise is unparalleled. Internationally speaking, animation requires more high-end global quality talent. Concerted efforts are being taken along both directions. A special development team is being put in place for global projects.
The number of artists in the company is 1500. There are two studio facilities within Mumbai, one in Hyderabad. There are a couple of others in discussion at the moment, even internationally. We will announce that soon. Cosmos-Maya is trying to create a holistic ecosystem for an exponential growth in the years to come.
What is the USP of Cosmos-Maya vis-à-vis other animation studios?
Our biggest strategic, competitive advantage is the staggering and consistent success that our IPs has delivered within the domestic market. There are very few studios world over which can boast of this kind of a lion’s share in their respective domestic markets. Fortunately for us, our growth has been a microcosm of the growth of the industry and working with almost every television and digital player has given us certain leverage.
In addition to our influence in the domestic market, we are well placed with regards to international co-productions. We are working on two Italian co-productions at the moment, namely ‘Leo Da Vinci’ (with Gruppo Alcuni and All Rights Entertainment) and ‘Berry Bees’ (with Atlantyca, SLR and Telegael) and a third, ‘Atchoo!’ (with Studio Campedelli and Cartobaleno) is already airing on Amazon Prime Video. Our first French co-production, Galactic Agency, where we are working with Studio 100, was recently announced.
Now with COO Adi Shayan joining in, who was Studio Manager at DreamWorks when they set up shop in India, we have an edge, qualitatively and creatively as a studio in terms of the talent force that we attract. We are poised for a phenomenal growth.
Cosmos -Maya started its IP creation journey in 2012 with ‘Motu Patlu’. How have you built on it and how many IPs do you own?
The strategy that we follow is to have a mix of novelty and familiarity in all our IPs and to create a new genre creatively every time. ‘Motu Patlu’ is a slapstick buddy comedy, ‘ViR’ is Sci-Fi action, ‘Kisna’ is an epic story, and ‘Eena Meena Deeka’ and ‘Tik Tak Tail’ are slapstick chase comedies. ‘Inspector Chingum’ is an eponymous spin-off. ‘Chacha Bhatija’ has unique familial ties being explored with an uncle and nephew as protagonists. These elements are very familiar for Indian kids and we add certain uniqueness. That’s where our USP lies.
What factors do you bear in mind before giving an IP the go-ahead?
There is a mix of factors – first and foremost, creatively, are the kids of today looking out for content like this? There are regular internal discussions between the creative team and the business team. What is it the kids are watching? What broadcaster has which kind of a void? That is our internal IP assessment pre-process in that sense. Basis that, we create IPs and accordingly make pitches to broadcasters. This is for the domestic market.
Internationally speaking, there are multiple elements in discussion over there. Along with the strategic aspect, there is a pre-process in terms of which broadcaster needs what kind of content. That’s what helps us bring in a sense of freshness to the storytelling while adhering to current trends. The concept should also not be something radically different. So, keeping the framework well balanced within a mix of novelty and familiarity in that sense is what we look out for. Then again, sometimes it is very compelling to greenlight a particular IP basis its animation style because certain IPs lend themselves better to a 2D format.
International co-productions are strategic exercises and current alliances allow us to pivot deals with other players. We will soon be announcing an international co-production, where we will consider partnering with an established IP in its second season for a co-production. This has its own strategic advantages. All of the factors are considered.
When you talk to broadcasters what do they look for?
There are certain genres that works really well – buddy comedy, slapstick comedy, chase comedy, pure action, action adventure comedy, fantasy. Slice of life is doing really well for us, case in point ‘Selfie with Bajrangi’. ‘Motu Patlu’ brought in a disruption because people were not open to adult protagonists. ‘Inspector Chingum’ is a larger than life comedy with an established IP.
Does the IP scaling up process involve starting first with a show with multiple seasons then do TV movies and then character spin-off shows?
It really depends on the broadcaster in question and the kind of IP we have locked in. Some IPs lend themselves to a long format leading to short format like a TV feature leading to a series. In case of a show like Selfie with Bajrangi, the affinity for the character gets established with smaller stories and then eventually lends itself to a larger format. For ‘Inspector Chingum’, we started with a 22-minute because it is part of an established brand.
All of these factors are considered, while also keeping in mind the broadcaster or digital partner in question. We marry the existing formats with creative requirements of the particular storyline or IP in question by maintaining a balance between the two.
There exists a good mix. Production bandwidth wise, we are one of the largest studios in the world and produce 50 half hours a month. We plan a lot in advance and currently, we are planning for Summer 2020 because our slate for Summer, Diwali and Christmas 2019 is full at the moment. So that’s how we forward plan our IPs in close co-operation with broadcasters/ digital partners.
From a P&L perspective what is the big challenge that you and other players in the animation space face?
The biggest challenge is the global optimisation of revenues for Indian content through reach maximisation.
What trends are we seeing in the kids genre in terms of what works and what does not?
Kids are one of the most difficult audiences to please because attention span becomes an issue, and there is a plethora of choices kids of today have. This is making the creative challenge more and more interesting. Having said that, the genres mentioned earlier are typically the genres that work. The kind of variation we bring in is what helps an IP scale up from an average to an extraordinary one.
How have kids’ expectations from content changed over the past five years?
With so many digital and linear channels coming in, kids are spoilt for choice. Especially on a digital platform, where so many attractive thumbnails are put out. It’s like taking them to a candy store. To be able to create an IP which is sustainable from the creative standpoint and engaging enough for the child to want to return to it is a major challenge, especially for the metros and Tier 1 cities where digital has taken over.
We have created a niche as a production studio, where the demand for our content has been growing exponentially and we have ensured that we cater to that demand while bringing in the creative differences that are required in every new IP.
How important is it for kids’ shows to have aspirational heroes?
It is very important for kids to have aspirational heroes. We cast characters that are slightly older than the core viewing population (8-9 years) with some kind of powers or abilities which the child will aspire for. For that age, a character couple of years older is an aspiration.
What we’ve also noticed is that because the sweet spot is 8-9 yrs., if we have a 9 year old boy as a lead character, the 4,5,6,7 year olds look up to this character. So that’s a critical driving force. Take the example of Ankush in ‘Selfie with Bajrangi’, who is a very ‘average’ boy in that sense. He is not the topper in the class. He is not a hero on the sports field but there is something appealing and aspirational about him for his sincerity, for his genuineness and the fact that he has Bajrangi as his aspirational friend makes him special and hence relatable for kids.
Cosmos-Maya is working on three international co-productions — ‘Captain Cactus’, ‘Atchoo!’ and ‘Help me Ganesha’. Is the main benefit the reduction of financial risk?
Cosmos-Maya is working on more international projects at the moment. We have already finished delivering Season 1 of ‘Atchoo!’ and Season 2 is in discussion. Then there are ‘Leo Da Vinci’, ‘Beery Bees’ and ‘Galactic Agency’. For the Italian ‘Atchoo!’, ‘Leo Da Vinci’, and ‘Berry Bees’, the primary broadcaster is Rai TV. Gulli is the primary broadcaster for ‘Galactic Agency’. There is a big French co-production that we’ll be announcing soon. ‘Captain Cactus’ and ‘Help Me Ganesha’ are pitches in development at the moment.
One major advantage of an international co-production is that you challenge yourself by balancing different creative sensibilities. The European markets are very different from each other. A German market is very different from a French market and all European markets are very different from the Indian market. Cosmos-Maya, as a studio, creatively loves to push the envelope for every IP that we develop or partner on.
For many kids the mobile is the first screen. What opportunity does this provide in terms of content innovation?
India is a country where most households have a single television set. When parents want to watch soap operas or a news channel, mobile is the only platform kids have for watching their favourite shows. Prime Video and Netflix both run on smartphones and there’s always YouTube. It helps our cause that more than 60 per cent of the content consumed on YouTube by children under the age of 14 is short form content.
India is a country with close to 600 million smartphone users. Kids, being very mobile-phone-savvy, are an unexplored audience whose digital consumption helps media conglomerates drive consumer-aggregation.
This is where I’d like to talk about WowKidz, the bouquet of our YouTube channels. WowKidz is one of the fastest growing kids’ platforms. These channels cumulatively boast of the largest library of Indian kids’ content, a subscriber base of over 17 Million and total view count of over 9 Billion views as on Dec 2018.
How do you keep production budgets under control and do broadcasters give you more leeway in this regard?
Cosmos-Maya has almost 25 years of experience in animation production. Our in-studio training facilities and proprietary software help us cut costs. Moreover, we have created an economy of scale where we are able to produce 50 half hours of content every month.
Has the turnaround time for delivering a show gone down?
As a pioneering studio in the Indian kids content business, Cosmos-Maya has been a champion with regard to reducing turnaround time. There have been times when within 6 months, we have delivered 26 half hours of a new show and the next season of a successful show. We’ve had these maddening deadlines but rather than looking at it as a situation where the delivery timeline has gone down and production stress has increased, we look at it from the perspective that we have created this kind of a niche as a production studio where the demand has been growing exponentially and we have ensured that we cater to that demand while bringing in the creative novelties that are required in every new IP.
India has not created an iconic, globally recognised kids character like Mickey Mouse, Dora: The Explorer. Do you see this happening sometime in the coming five years?
We see this happening because India as a market has actually taken after US, European and Japanese counterparts. China has taken this up in a big way. Brands like ‘Boonie Bears’, which are very big in China, are transcending boundaries, though none of them have reached the heights of Mickey Mouse and Dora at the moment. Rather than get into “Why this hasn’t happened”, we will focus our energies on making it possible.
We are growing at almost 40% CAGR YoY, which is a huge growth rate and with the consumption patterns and different kinds of revenue avenues proliferating, it is about time that something global comes out of India and Cosmos-Maya is taking concerted efforts in that direction to pioneer this initiative.