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Part 2: ACK Media CEO Samir Patil On Comics On Mobile, The Glut Of Animation Movies, 3D Suppandi & E-Books

ACK Media CEO and co-founder Samir Patil talks to MediaNama about the right content for mobile platforms, issues in the animation sector, competition and e-books. Earlier, in Part 1, he talked about various segments, challenges and why he feels the promise of new media has not worked. Read on for the second half of the interview.

Do you expect comic books on mobile to do well?

In Indian mobile launches – gaming and wallpapers were big, comics books are not. Fundamental assumption on my part is that we have to design the products for mobile. I dont know why, comics, anyone would expect them to be anything. I mean, we can put them on, but just because I have comics doesn’t mean I have to put them on the mobile. What works, from data we have from Vodafone, is text content, wallpapers and audio content.  We don’t have much of audio content but we tried to do it with Karadi which seems to do okay. Games are new, emerging. Comics will only work when we have enough large format smart phones like the iPhone or the Google Phone. If we are going to be serious about mobile, we need to develop new mobile content that is tailored for this platform.

How exactly are you tailoring content for mobiles?

When we first started out we created a whole text database called Heroes of the Day. You could subscribe to the service where you would get a text message say “Hero of the day is Harshavardhan” and a little text about him. (Vodafone’s VAS charges Rs. 49 for 2 months for daily alerts). Same thing with rich media messages – image and  a little bit about, say, Ashoka. Those are the things that will work.  With comics, we are taking snippets. What will work is a one panel joke rather than 32 pages. We are currently doing this with multiple VAS providers. I dont know if we have made the announcement yet, so cant name them. We also work directly with operators.

What are your mobile initiatives?

Mobile comics have been launched: Tata DoCoMo’s Comix On The Go was last month. But greatest traction we have seen is on the iPhone – where we get 100,000 downloads per week. We have expanded our offerings to more mobile carriers – we started with Vodafone now we are going to launch a bunch of games via Electronic Arts and will be distributing them ourselves. The mobile game Arjuna (for which ACK Media tied up with Mumbai-based Synqua Games in April 2009) has become the #2 game in Vietnam. We are about to launch something on Android; this is all about experimentation. Relative to our other business, it is small but is all very profitable because we are exploiting the same content in multiple formats.


How is the 3D Suppandi movie coming along?

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It’s in production, right now it still looks like we can meet our October-November deadline but we will keep our fingers crossed, animation is a complicated piece.

What are your expectations from the two animated films being planned for launch with Turner – Tripura: The Three Cities of Maya and Sons of Rama?

Our expectations are largely based on the TV world – for a TV movie, but we are now scaling it up for theatrical release. But largely it is a deal where we are sharing the risks and we have brought the broadcaster upfront rather than later so we can benefit from their experience. We will probably come up with another two movies this year.

How are animated films doing in India?

It’s kind of a bubble – we saw success of maybe 1 or two out of 80. In the US there are 5-6 animation movies a year: that’s for a market 5-10 times the size of India but even the US can not absorb 5-6 movies a year. So I dont know why we were producing 80 – there was a glut.
Animation movies take time, they are more complicated and expensive than a live action film. We just do not have the time, patience and money to support local animation content yet. It will take time. But the learning has come and people are being more pragmatic how they choose and do deals. In terms of capabilities, we have it all but our local world does not support those economics. We are still in that transition phase.

How are global publishers viewing India – Archie Comics set up office and Marvel visited. Do their deeper pockets help?

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We are living in a very different financial world and everything needs to have ROI. They may have deeper pockets but will have to do distribution physically so pockets wont help. Most have burnt their money otherwise. Liquid Comics never really pushed much in India and it never took off. Anyone who wants to do business in India will have to localise. You have to have the McAloo Tikki before you can scale up.

Talking about India, what are your Indic language initiatives? Chandamama has 5 different language interfaces on its site.

That we haven’t done yet. I am not sure. If you see traffic comparison between Chandamama.com and Tinkleonline.com, our kids site, we are much bigger. We have comics and to put them online seems to be harebrained. Internet is good for social networking, gaming, learning, it’s not a place to read comics. Yes, people will read comics online but that will be a niche market. Just because I have comics why should I put it online? That’s not the best way for the consumer to consume it, I feel. So if I want to be a player on net, a) I want more traffic, b) I want to do things that are for the net, not keep putting my comics everywhere.

So we cant expect e-books from you?

We already have Amar Chitra Katha comics on iTunes which you should be able to read on a Kindle. Let there be enough of an installed base and it’s a press of a button for us. It’s too early but like I said the main lesson of new media is we have to create content tailored for that. iPad is meant for reading too, so we will have comics on it but iPhone, on the other hand, is much better for gaming.


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