DreamDTH Explains: A guide to kids’ and educational channels in India
This is an in-depth dive into Indian TV channels for the littlest viewers, with both big broadcasters like WBD, Disney Star and Viacom18 and smaller ones like ETV and the BBC having a strong presence.
Regional kids’ broadcasters and educational channels
Sun: long presence in South Indian kids’ channels, but days may be numbered
Another long-standing regional-language broadcaster in the kids’ genre is the Sun network of South India, which operates four children’s channels in the four South Indian languages: Chutti TV (Tamil), Kushi TV (Telugu), Chintu TV (Kannada) and Kochu TV (Malayalam). Of these, Chutti TV was founded in April 2007, and the other three in April 2009. They all have a similar set of logos, with a winking sun and colourful blocks below containing the name of the channel. These are the only dedicated kids’ channels in South India apart from the South Indian versions of ETV Bal Bharat — now that Chithiram TV, the kids’ channel of the Tamil-language Kalaignar network, has given way to Blacksheep TV, a new Tamil entertainment channel — with the Bengali channel Rongeen TV being the only other kids’ channel in any other regional language.
The Sun kids’ channels seem to have fallen upon hard times, as all of them have more or less the same programming lineup: Stories from Panchatantra, Bal Ganesh, Little Krishna and two Chinese cartoons (Boonie Bears and Tian Tian), among others. These are declining in popularity compared to kids’ channels by national broadcasters which almost universally have Tamil and Telugu audio feeds, with many like Cartoon Network also available in Kannada and/or Malayalam. Rumour has it that Sun is considering shutting down its four kids’ channels in favour of launching two new regional HD channels — Sun Bangla HD and Sun Marathi HD — as well as a new channel, Sun Neo, in both SD and HD versions (rumoured to be a Hindi GEC but not yet confirmed) in the coming months. However, all plans have been kept tightly under wraps and it will only be many more months before any news on the matter comes to the surface, much like Disney Star’s new channels, which were launched only after years of postponement.
Other children’s channels: Gubbare in Hindi and Rongeen in Bengali
There are only two other children’s channels left to discuss now, one of them being an independent regional channel and the other being from a small but expanding Hindi network. The Hindi broadcaster IN10 Media has a small but noteworthy number of channels to its name: free-to-air Hindi GECs Ishara and Nazara TV, the latter being recently launched and added on DD Free Dish; ShowBox Channel, the number one Hindi music channel; Filamchi Bhojpuri, a Bhojpuri movie channel; and Epic TV, a factual infotainment channel with several original productions, as discussed on the last page. It expanded its portfolio by launching the Gubbare (meaning balloons) kids’ channel on 14 November 2020, on the occasion of Children’s Day. While not as famous as its competitors, it boasts of several originally Hindi cartoons that are also aired in English, such as Vir: The Robot Boy (originally from Hungama), Guru Aur Bhole (from Sony YAY!) and Roro Aur Hero: Bhoot Mast Zabardast (its original series).
The final kids’ channel left is the Bengali channel Rongeen TV — meaning colourful — which is the only full-time Bengali children’s channel (after the closure of ETV Balya Bharat Bangla) but far from the only Bengali channel showing cartoons, since Sony Aath has a significant number of animation series as well, in addition to a few on Zee Bangla as discussed before. Launched in June 2019, Rongeen TV is run by an independent company, Biswas Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd., with no affiliation to any existing TV channel. Recently added by Airtel Digital TV and also present on d2h — but not Tata Play or other DTHs — it has a selection of several shows, some of which tap into the rich lore of Bengali storytelling, and others being original cartoons, with titles including Gio Gopuda, Khude Rannabati (a cookery show for kids), Lullu Bhuter Goppo, Time Machine and Bablu Dablu, a dubbed version of the Chinese cartoon Boonie Bears that is also aired on the Sun network’s children’s channels.
Educational channels: mostly owned by governments with one private channel
Below we briefly touch upon educational channels, most of them being run by governments — either the central government (DD Gyan Darshan and the 34 Swayam Prabha channels) or state governments like Kite Victers (Kerala) and T-SAT Nipuna and Vidhya (Telangana) — though there is also a private channel, Topper TV by Greycells18, a division of the Reliance-owned Network18 group, that has shows aimed at school kids, especially high-school students. Over the past decade or so, edtech companies like Byju’s and Unacademy have posed a major threat to the existence of these channels, but the government-owned channels are nevertheless essential for rural or lower-income households that are dependent on DD Free Dish and have limited online connectivity.
Central government’s channels: These consist of DD Gyan Darshan — also mentioned in our article on Hindi GECs, along with other national-level Doordarshan channels — which is available on private DTH operators, and the 34 free-to-air Swayam Prabha channels, which are all exclusive to DD Free Dish. DD Gyan Darshan has been on air since 2000, except for a period between 2014 and 2017; there were originally two DD Gyan Darshan channels on DTHs, which was reduced to one later. Most of its content is significantly outdated and ignored by the masses, since it is produced by IGNOU, NCERT and other institutions, and is exclusively for higher education, not catering to school students.
More popular and recent are the 34 Swayam Prabha channels, launched in July 2017 by the MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development), which air on DD Free Dish and cater to students across all ages and educational levels, from primary school to post-graduation. In the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, three of them — Panini, Sharda and Kishore Manch — were added by private DTH platforms to aid online learning for schoolkids, only to be removed thereafter. Nevertheless, they are crucial for lower-income households that rely on DD Free Dish, even in the age of Byju’s and Unacademy.
State governments’ channels: Some state governments in South India have been operating a few educational channels of their own, namely Kalvi TV in Tamil Nadu, T-SAT Nipuna and Vidya in Telangana and KITE Victers in Kerala. The shift to online-based learning in 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic, accelerated their addition by private DTH operators. However, their existence has now been brought under question by an order by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in October 2022, which explicitly prohibited central or state governments from engaging in any broadcasting activities. It seems only Kalvi TV is being impacted by this order in the short term, as Tata Play has removed the channel out of fear that it might be forced to close, but the T-SAT channels and KITE Victers remain unaffected, despite also being run by state governments.
Private channel (Topper): Greycells18, a division of the Network18 group that is now owned by Reliance, has operated Topper TV since 2008 that caters to schoolkids, particularly high-school students from class IX to XII. It remains the only private educational channel when almost all others are run by governments, and it has held its own in the Unacademy and Byju’s era. It is available on Airtel Digital TV, d2h and Dish TV but not Tata Play (then Tata Sky), which removed it in May 2017, never to add it back — possibly in order to promote its own value-added services like Tata Play Fun Learn and Tata Play Classroom. Regardless, Topper is a useful and beneficial channel, not only for those in secondary school and/or preparing for competitive exams like JEE and NEET, but also little ones in primary school for which there are several educational shows as well.
Though the content of kids’ channels has largely become monotonous, loud and often detrimental to children’s growth — with most of them being Indian or Japanese cartoons that are shown repeatedly — there are nevertheless some that stand out from the crowd, like the ETV Bal Bharat channels, CBeebies, Nick HD+ and Cartoon Network HD+, with their niche and differentiated programming. Moreover, the Indian otaku fanbase finally has something to cheer about with the return of Animax to India on JioTV, and as for those (parents and kids) who are more inclined towards educational shows, both government channels and the private Topper TV have them covered and serve as an alternative to Byju’s. Having completed this comprehensive look at all the major kids’ and educational channels in India, we will turn to the lifestyle/food/travel and infotainment/knowledge genres in the next article.
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