With the announcement on Friday that Disney-Star is going to launch 16 new channels in December and January and close 11 existing ones, the broadcaster’s kids portfolio is going to be one of the most affected. New HD feeds are being launched for both Disney Channel and Hungama, while Marvel HQ will be rebranded to Super Hungama. Besides, the international channel BabyTV HD will finally be discontinued, two years after other foreign channels such as Nat Geo Music and Nat Geo People left Indian shores, as well as BabyTV’s SD feed.
Moreover, the network is also going to pull the plug on its struggling youth GEC Bindass, much like Star had shut down Channel V three years ago, marking its exit from the youth genre once and for all. This article takes a deeper look at these changes, which take place on 1 December 2021.
Note: GEC = general entertainment channel.
Huge shakeup in the kids’ genre: Super Hungama, Disney Channel HD and Hungama HD in, Marvel HQ and BabyTV HD out
Before we proceed, first a little background on the kind of content that Indian children’s TV channels usually air.
In India, even before its acquisition of Star, Disney has always been perceived as a broadcaster that has had a large kids’ portfolio, especially through the eponymous Disney Channel. So far it has been running four channels tailored for Indian audiences: Disney Channel, Hungama, Disney Junior and Marvel HQ (previously Disney XD, before then Jetix/Toon Disney), apart from BabyTV HD, which is discussed later. They are predominantly focused on airing either Japanese cartoon shows like Shinchan, Doraemon, Pokemon and Kiteretsu or Indian productions such as Bhaagam Bhaag, Oye Golu and Selfie with Bajrangi. Indeed, Hungama has become as synonymous with Shinchan as its competitor Pogo from WarnerMedia has become synonymous with Chhota Bheem — or, for that matter, Sony Max with Sooryavansham, or Sony Sab with Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah. Most of these shows are perceived as intellectually inferior to the content that Disney Channels across the globe are known for, in particular American live-action shows such as Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Austin and Ally and Girl Meets World. (Fortunately, Disney-Star does have a channel dedicated for these live-action shows — Disney International HD — which has thankfully been spared from shutdown as it approaches its fourth anniversary.)
Gone are the days when Disney Channel was known for Indian original live-action shows such as Best of Luck Nikki, The Suite Life of Karan and Kabir, Vicky Aur Vetaal, Kya Mast Hai Life and Oye Jassie, or for that matter non-fiction shows like Art Attack. This despite the fact that they are loved by people watching them on Disney India’s YouTube channel, who hope for their return. Instead all that is to be found are Indian animation shows which are regarded as crass and cringeworthy, but nevertheless remain a favourite among kids and drive up ratings. This is not only true of Disney, but of Indian kids’ channels as a whole — be they from Disney-Star, WarnerMedia (Pogo and Cartoon Network), Viacom18 (Nick, Nick Jr., Sonic), SPN (Sony Yay), Discovery (Discovery Kids) or for that matter ETV Network, which launched the ETV Bal Bharat channels in April.
All these channels have been forced to show predominantly animated cartoon shows, usually from either India or Japan (or France, in the case of Oggy and the Cockroaches), at the expense of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Tom and Jerry (not counting any of its numerous remakes), Yogi Bear and The Flintstones, or Western animated series from the 1990s and 2000s such as Teletubbies, Oswald and Barney. It is futile to show Pingu or Noddy to today’s infants as they were products of the early 2000s and worked only for kids of that period. As infants and kids evolve over the decades, so do their tastes, which are unfortunately becoming worse than they were ten or twenty years ago, and this is reflected in the state of Indian kids’ TV channels.
Another kids’ channel that Disney has so far been running in India is BabyTV HD. Unlike the aforementioned channels, this is not an Indian channel at all, but is run from Europe by Fox Networks Group, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. It is markedly different from any of the other children’s channels in India — or even from the likes of other infant-targeted channels such as Disney Junior and Nick Jr., which are local Indian feeds — in that it has far more refined, parent-friendly content that actually contribute to toddlers’ learning and development, instead of the crude animated shows found elsewhere. A similar HD channel in India was Da Vinci Learning HD, launched in November 2015, but due to the lack of takers for its innovative children’s content, it had to pack its bags and leave the country in April 2017.
The history of BabyTV in India dates back to June 2010 when many international Fox-owned channels — such as Nat Geo HD, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Adventure (later Nat Geo People), Nat Geo Music and BabyTV — were introduced in India. None of these channels initially had Indian feeds, though in February 2016, Nat Geo HD and Nat Geo Wild (SD and HD) got tailored Indian feeds, while the rest continued with their foreign feeds: Southeast Asian in the case of Nat Geo People; European for Nat Geo Music and BabyTV. However, in 2019, the channels that had foreign feeds, viz., Nat Geo People, Nat Geo Music and BabyTV, were suddenly and unceremoniously withdrawn by Disney-Star in India, so TV platforms were forced to discontinue Nat Geo People (SD and HD), Nat Geo Music (SD and HD) and BabyTV (only SD). As a consequence, Disney-Star’s infotainment and lifestyle offering in India was reduced to only three channels: National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild and the travel/food/lifestyle channel Fox Life, all of which have localised Indian feeds in both their SD and HD versions. (Also in June 2019, the broadcaster launched dedicated Tamil and Telugu versions of Nat Geo, but they were never added by TV platforms and were eventually shuttered in 2020.)
This had the result that — strangely enough — BabyTV’s HD feed continued to remain on air in India (even if only on limited platforms such as Tata Sky, Dish TV and Fastway Cable), well after Disney-Star had terminated transmission of all its non-Indian channels, including the SD feed of BabyTV. That will no longer be the case going forward, as Disney-Star has decided to put a stop to BabyTV HD in India for good, while aggravating the problem of the poor quality of Indian kids’ channels with its new launches. Ordinarily, the more channels are launched in a genre, the better, but according to many viewers, this is far from the truth as far as Indian kids’ channels and their mind-numbing shows are concerned.
Ironically, even as Disney is relentlessly closing down Disney Channels all over the globe — with the most recent one being in Southeast Asia earlier this month — and forcing viewers to subscribe to Disney+ (or Disney+ Hotstar in some countries), its Indian kids’ portfolio is not only surviving the manic axing of Disney Channels globally, but launching new kids’ channels, including two in HD. On 1 December, Marvel HQ will make way for Super Hungama, and both Disney Channel HD and Hungama HD will be launched, while BabyTV HD will end its strange journey in India on that day. This adds to a small but growing number of HD channels in the kids’ genre in India, which has so far not had as many HD channels as other genres (barring music channels, where far many more are being axed than launched). There have been so far only four kids’ HD channels in India: Nick HD+, Cartoon Network HD+, BabyTV HD and ETV Bal Bharat HD. Viacom18 launched Nick HD+ back in December 2015, and WarnerMedia followed it up with Cartoon Network HD+ in April 2018, while ETV Bal Bharat HD was launched in April 2021 but so far has not been distributed on any TV platforms — a long-standing problem with the ETV Network. Come December, this total will now go up to five, as Disney Channel HD and Hungama HD will be launched, but BabyTV HD will be shuttered.
As it stands, rebranding Marvel HQ to Super Hungama is a sensible decision, as the channel was showing more of the Japanese cartoons, especially Pokemon and Kiteretsu, shown by Hungama compared to the animated superhero series that the Marvel brand is known for. So Super Hungama is essentially an extension of Hungama, while the main Hungama gets an HD upgrade, so that kids can watch Shinchan in top-notch quality on large TVs. With Disney Channel also getting an HD feed, Indian kids have two more channels to view their favourite Indian and Japanese cartoons in high definition, but those who want quality curated content for their kids should probably look elsewhere, now that BabyTV is leaving the country for good.
Bindass follows Channel V to the grave as Disney-Star completely exits music/youth genre, marking the end of an era for Disney India
There was a time when Disney was one of the most well-known niche TV broadcasters in India, with a huge variety of channels across genres. Around 2011, it had the Bollywood news and music channel UTV Stars, which was even available in HD at a time when HD channels were nascent in India; the foreign movie channel UTV World Movies; the business news channel Bloomberg UTV (later Bloomberg TV India, then BTVI, which shut down in August 2019); and of course it had a presence in the kids’ and Hindi movie genres. But few of these had stood the test of time as much as its youth channel Bindass, which was launched in 2007 as UTV Bindass and acquired by Disney India in 2012 along with the rest of UTV. Other Disney channels were chopped and changed regularly: in 2014, UTV World Movies was shuttered, and also in that year, UTV Stars was converted into the Hindi music channel Bindass Play, only to be replaced again by Disney International HD in 2017.
But Bindass stood firm with its innovative shows that resonated with the urban youth of India, and continue to be watched online by many, even as OTT platforms such as ALTBalaji, MX Player and ZEE5 started to tap into creating shows for youngsters. The likes of Emotional Atyachaar, Girl in the City, Yeh Hai Aashiqui and Zindagi Wins forged a strong connect with an entire generation from the late 2000s to the early 2020s, even though Bindass stopped showing them on TV around 2018. Instead, in recent years, Bindass has mostly been known as a destination for popular Hindi film music: especially since sister channel Bindass Play was merged into it in 2017 following the launch of Disney International HD, Bindass has entirely been showing popular Hindi songs, including the request shows originally shown by Bindass Play. That will finally come to an end on 1 December 2021 as Bindass will bid farewell from Indian television, marking the end of a generation for Indian TV.
This is not even the first Indian youth channel to shut down in this way. The Star network’s youth channel Channel V — when Star was owned by Fox and the Murdochs — shut shop on 15 September 2018, bringing an end to three generations of Indian youth programming:
- first the vintage 1990s/2000s music channel, best known for Lola Kutty and other contributions to Indian 90s pop culture;
- then the MTV and Bindass competitor of the mid-2010s, which had shows such as Paanch, Gumrah, Sadda Haq and Dil Dosti Dance, which are still available on Disney+ Hotstar;
- and finally the last iteration of the channel from 2016 onwards, a pure-play music channel that showed music from all over India and the world.
However, since late 2017, Star had been planning to close the channel and replace it with Star Sports 3, though it took a year for Channel V to say its final farewell. Nearly three years on, Star, now under the ownership of Disney, is doing the same to Bindass.
The closure of Bindass leaves only two main players in the Indian youth channel genre. The bigger and far more successful of the two is Viacom18’s MTV, which has had a strong connect with Indian youth for 25-plus years since the satellite TV revolution of the 1990s. It is best known for competitive reality shows like Roadies, Splitsvilla and India’s Next Top Model, besides airing a handful of music shows like MTV Unplugged, as well as some Hindi movies from Viacom18’s Bollywood library, and more recently football events such as La Liga and Serie A (which it shares with English sister channel VH1). The other youth channel left in the country today is Zing from the Zee network, which has a mix of music, movies and the odd youth reality show.
Only MTV has remained so successful in the youth genre that, in 2016, it shifted all music programming to the dedicated pure-play music channel MTV Beats. Indeed, Viacom18 has a vice-like grip on the music and youth genres in India, much like in the English GEC genre — to the extent that MTV, MTV Beats and VH1 are the only three music-related channels in India (except South Indian channels) to be available in HD today, after competitors like MTunes HD and Sony Rox HD shut down.
In the face of all this, Disney-Star has decided to beat a hasty retreat from the music and youth genres, with the closure of Channel V three years ago and now Bindass, especially as their core audience has moved on to homegrown OTT platforms like MX Player and ALTBalaji, as well as YouTube content creators such as RVCJ, TVF and FilterCopy. All the same, it is a sad occasion when anything that has been running for a long time comes to an end, doubly so when it was an iconic brand in the Indian media landscape. Bindass, like Channel V before it, will be dearly missed.
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