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India, Meet Galli Galli Sim Sim - Part 2

India, Meet Galli Galli Sim Sim - Part 2

October 09, 2010

How does Galli Galli Sim Sim compare with its US counterpart, Sesame Street?

In part 1 of my interview with Shari Rosenfeld, International Vice President of Sesame Workshop, we chatted at the beginning of Galli Galli Sim Sim, India’s local version of Sesame Street. Today, we’re talking specifics.

Wondering if Galli Galli Sim Sim is as good as its US counterpart? Pop over to Amazon and try it out, or keep an eye out for our last installment of this series--14 month old Mir's review.

How has Galli Galli Sim Sim been received, by not just its demographic, but by parents?

I think overall the reception has been very very strong. It’s a complicated question because it’s a mixed demographic and - for example, the initial Pogo cartoon audience was largely the upper socioeconomic class, really the upper upper socioeconomic class. Over time as cable penetration started to expand we’ve gotten a very different audience base. And I should say we also have the audience base for Doordarshan as well.

I think the whole idea of television to teach is a fairly new concept. There hasn’t been a rich legacy around that. Public television like Doordarshan, that’s not where its roots are. And certainly commercial television, with the exception of a few shows here and there, have not really used television as a way to engage as well as it’s been a while to bring the Sesame brand ethos to India, but I think that the reception has been really really strong. Galli Galli Sim Sim, it’s really become very much of a household word...and in fact on many occasions when I’ve been in India, I’d see a bunch of kids and I’d tell them somehow, I’d say Galli Galli Sim Sim, they would break into the theme song, so it’s clear that kids are watching it.

Music is very important in the Indian community, and the show has a great focus on music. How did that come about?

We put a lot of focus into everything that we do, so there’s nothing that happens - and I say that for better or for worse - but there was a lot of attention paid [to music.]...There’s some Bollywood type segments so there’s Bollywood type music and there’s an array, sort of showing the diversity of Indian music and that was done very deliberately but even...the opening song is a very catchy tune.

I’ve been working for Sesame Street for over 20 years and I’ve never had a situation quite like it, where I would go [somewhere] and people would immediately start singing the opening song. I was in a bar in Goa and the guy who was like playing guitar up on the stage, one of my colleagues like threw out a request [for] Galli Galli Sim Sim and he immediately played the Galli Galli Sim Sim theme song! I was just in shock. It takes a while to enter the popular culture like that but I think the music is - and music is often the best way to do that.

India has a lot of languages - how did you settle on just one?

That was a complicated discussion and we’re still grappling with it because our hope is to dub the series into several local languages. Right now on the slate [are] Tamil and Telugu.

Galli Galli Sim Sim national is a Hindi broadcast and Pogo and Cartoon were Hindi feeds and we had to make a choice so we chose. In the first 2 seasons we created an English language version for the South, knowing that that’s not mother tongue but it would at least have more resonance than Hindi language. But we’re still experimenting with language and through our outreach activities we dub materials into local language so that it’s more accessible, relevant, and meaningful on the ground level. But the language remains...language diversity is a big challenge for us and we still feel like we have a lot to do on that front.

There’s been a lot of controversy about letting children watch TV. How does Sesame Workshop respond to that?

The pendulum swings and what we like to say is that and what our the founder Joan (Joan Ganz Cooney) is quoted as saying,“It’s not whether television is good or bad for kids, the fact is that kids are watching television.” And so our mission is to use media to educate kids and we’re just trying to harness the power of the media. ‘Cause we know kids are learning from television and they sing the jingles from television commercials.

In fact we say we’re platform agnostic, we don’t care what the platform is (the Sesame Street website was just named one of TIME magazines top 50 websites), we’re about the content and we just try to reach kids where they are.

Kids are definitely learning from television. It’s just a question of what they’re learning from television...Sesame street [was] started by a researcher and a foundation executive as well as a television producer who were looking at the way kids were learning from television commercials as well as some evening, adult sitcom type television shows and they said what can we do to harness this power so that kids are actually learning something?

Where do you see Galli Galli Sim Sim in 5 years?

Well, we’re hoping to expand our on ground activities to more rural populations. And to reach further into the south because it has been primarily the sort of northern Hindi belt program.

We’re looking at ways to achieve greater financial sustainability because right now up until now the program has relied largely on donor funding as well as co-production funding and that’s not a sustainable business model for the long haul so we’re looking for both new revenue streams as well as new sources of philanthropy.

Will Galli Galli Sim Sim air in the US?

We are...we do have it now available as just a free video on demand offering through Amazon. We would like to get a sense of whether or not the show has resonance with the NRI community, whether there would be demand there. The real question is whether there are distribution channels to reach that audience. And...we’ve done a little bit of homework on that front but by putting it on the Amazon, I think that’s a way to track whether there’s sufficient interest to launch it commercially, to make the DVDs available for sale.

Want to contact Shari to show your support for Galli Galli Sim Sim, and encourage Sesame Workshop to put out DVDs in the US? Hop over to our LinkedIn thread and let us know what you think, and I’ll forward feedback to Shari.

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