Walt Disney of India

Suppandi, Shikari Shambhu, Ramu and Shamu, King Hooja, Amar Chitra Katha

All these kindle fond memories in most of us, a reminder of what we read in our childhood days. These old brands of Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha which we fondly associated with the famous Uncle Pai, have now been acquired by a relatively new venture known as ACK Media or Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.

ACK Media, a venture launched in 2007, was founded and is headed by Samir Patil, an ex-Mckinsey partner with 10 years of experience in media, hi-tech, and healthcare firms. ACK Media started with acquisition of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle brands from the India Book House in November 2007. Then, in April 2008 they acquired a controlling stake in Karadi Tales (series of popular audio books for children). Since then a number of steps have been taken to develop and revamp the old charm of the ACK characters and stories.

In addition to improving content in print, magazines, comics, home video space, ACK wanted to improve its distribution network and have a better relationship with the end customer. Hence, it acquired India Book House in May 2010, and gained control of a distribution network that includes 400 cities, 2500 stores and over 22000 vendors. Also, in order to cash in on the growing size of web users, websites of Tinkle Online, Amarchitrakatha.com etc. were launched which have been developing considerable traction ever since. Also, to capitalize on the telecommunication and mobile data access revolution, there are several mobile games and apps in the making.

There has been a lot of activity in TV & film production space as well. Apart from a deal it struck with Cartoon Network for an animated series, ACK has a content partnership with Turner Broadcasting System to produce two animated films and a series on Amar Chitra Katha stories. Other Indian comic book houses are also making similar attempts to revive the market For example, Raj Comics has tied up with a mobile services provider, and Diamond comics is slated to launch a TV channel this year.

In the near past, ACK had said that they were looking to raise Rs. 100 crore by selling stakes to private equity firms in order to increase their product portfolio, mostly in the digital space. The latest buzz is that Kishore Biyani is interested in acquiring 40% of ACK. Biyani’s reasons are still unclear, but it seems that Biyani wants ACK to venture more into animation and eventually theme parks, as part of his ambitions of creating the Disneyland of India.

The concept of making cartoons popular by involving social media, creating TV & Films animations and launching theme parks sounds fascinating, but there is a catch. Firstly, the world of children that grew up on Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha has grown up into adults now. The current generation of children has too many options in terms of entertainment, and hence domestic comics figure forms a very small part of their leisure time, if at all . Secondly, the urban children population in Tier I and Tier II cities has undergone an anglicization of reading habits, which is steering them towards Noddy, Archies, Enid Blyton rather than Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu. Majority of the children who are still passionate about Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha will probably belong to a class that might not be the target population for the web/mobile ventures, animations and especially theme parks that ACK is planning to launch.

In this background, how successful would web ventures, animation or an entertainment park based on Tinkle or Amar Chitra Katha be? It is all right for Samir Patil to aspire to be the Walt Disney of India, but is that a possibility with his current brand portfolio? To be fair to ACK, they have followed a very structured process – they have tried to revamp the brand by adding newer titles, by reaching out to the end consumer via a revamped and much improved distribution network, by generating online content to increase reach etc. All these are attempts to revive the comic books market and create a market demand for ACK/Tinkle characters and stories. ACK is assuming that by the time they launch animations and theme parks, this market would have undergone a complete revival, thus creating a pull for the brand.

But whether a successful revival is possible in this era of Archie’s, Noddy, Tin Tin, Nancy Drew etc., remains to be seen. Only time will tell!

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