Samir Patil knows both the IT and animation markets well. The 36-year-old started Vertex Software in 1997-98 as a wide-eyed wannabe entrepreneur; after struggling for a few years, he headed to MIT, Sloan, for a management degree.On graduating, Patil headed to consulting giant McKinsey & Co. for a six-and-a-half year stint with its media practice, before returning to once again pick up the reins of his tech start-up. And then last year, he sold it to NTT Data.
Patil has now pooled his expertise across these industries, to start ACK Media, a Mumbaiheadquartered media and animation company. The company’s initials reflect how Patil started his business: By acquiring Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) and Tinkle, two wellknown (and much loved) comics from its publisher India Book House. A long-time fan of both titles, Patil is now in the midst of redesigning the comics, to suit 21st century audiences and expand the scale and reach of these titles to kick-start its revival. “Sales were growing very slowly and there were very few value-adds to both ACK and Tinkle over the last few decades,” says Patil.
ACK Media hopes to tap the large captive audience in India for these titles and then look beyond to a sizeable diaspora, many of whom have grown up on these comics.
“We estimate that our target market is around 300 million people below the age of 16 in India and as many as 4-5 million households overseas. The latter hasn’t really been tapped by the animation industry,” says Patil. Besides digitising content and putting it up on the internet, Patil is also looking to monetise some of these characters by having games and other online content based on them. ACK Media is bank-rolled by Patil and his partner, Shripad Morakhia, a serial entrepreneur behind financial services firms such as SSKI and Sharekhan. The duo plans to build its one-year-old start-up and spread its wings into new mediums, including TV and the mobile phone.
Patil took the first step in this direction when he acquired Karadi Tales, which has some 45 titles in multiple formats (print, audio and video) and counts well-known artistes like Naseeruddin Shah, Gulzar, and Girish Karnad as narrators of its stories.
“Our brands share a lot of synergy and we have a similar target audience,” says Patil, explaining the reason for the deal. This deal will give Patil a wider distribution reach, with the combined entity having access to some 700 stores nationwide; both companies will be able to leverage this to broaden their reach.
Mobile phones are expected to be the next big eye-catcher in the animation market, says Patil, pointing to the 250-million-plus subscriber base in India. “Currently most commerce is focussed on SMS, wallpapers and ringtones, but the future will see the evolution of the mobile as the primary source of connectivity, enabling us to look at much wider options,” says Patil.
ACK Media is building individual centres of excellence for its nascent business, with Mumbai housing its animation studio, Bangalore its gaming set-up and Chennai focussing on children’s content (with Karadi). “Most of our revenues will come from consumer sales for the moment, but there is a large adbased stream that the company hopes to tap as more data-based offerings begin to gain popularity in the market,” adds Patil.