Digerati50: Educating through entertainment

  • Stumbled upon market gap in children’s nursery rhymes in Malay
  • 6.6 million YouTube views later, signs co-production deal with Astro

Digerati50: Educating through entertainment

This article formed part of the Digerati50 magazine that was published in Feb 2016. The digital version of that publication can be downloaded from the links at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s broadband champion.

HE may have graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, but Sinan Ismail (pic) found that his passion was in 3D animation, which he learnt how to do on his own by using resources on the Internet.

After spending several years in the multimedia industry, he founded Malaysian independent animation studio Digital Durian Animation Studio (DD Studio).

The vision was to do 3D animation, but the company ended up doing a lot of other things as well just to stay afloat. It was hard going, but a key breakthrough came about five years ago, and the catalyst was his then one-year-old son.

Sinan and his wife were getting their son to enjoy nursery rhymes on YouTube, but were struck by the fact that they were nearly all in English.

“We wanted something more local, nursery rhymes in Malay,” he says. “We managed to find a few on YouTube, but they were all really outdated.”

Sinan also found that there were more than 10,000 searches for local nursery rhymes.

“That’s a huge gap waiting to be filled!” he exclaims.

He decided to do something about it, and this ultimately led to Didi & Friends, a series of two-minute edutainment video clips on YouTube targeted at children aged between two and five.

“What we hoped for was that when Didi & Friends achieved a certain milestone on YouTube, traditional broadcasters would come looking for us,” says Sinan.

“And if this TV show plan did not work out as planned, we would go into merchandising,” he adds.

2012 turned out to be a life-changing year for DD Studio, with Didi & Friends winning the Intellectual Property Creators Challenge (IPCC) organised by national ICT custodian Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

That was the third time DD Studio had participated in the contest, and Sinan admits that he was on the verge of giving up.

“But I decided to give it another try and thankfully, we finally made it that time,” he says with a smile.

The huge traction, with 6.6 million YouTube views (as of end 2015) for Didi & Friends prompted Sinan to monetise the intellectual property with self-produced DVDs, lyrics books and t-shirts. Didi & Friends is also available in Indonesian and Thai, and the team is working on dubbing the series for Mandarin and Tamil.

More importantly, Plan A has also finally worked out. In August 2015, DD Studio inked a deal with broadcaster and satellite-TV operator Astro to co-own Didi & Friends. The co-production deal saw 26 11-minute episodes air in 2016 on children’s channel Astro Ceria.

But it’s not just about business. As a father himself, Sinan believes the impact of Didi & Friends goes beyond the screen, allowing parents to bond with their kids.

“It’s not just for the kids – parents are involved in the process because they enjoy watching it with their children. It’s important to find a balance between education and entertainment for this,” he says.

Having journeyed so far, Sinan is thankful that his wife and family have been supportive of him since Day One.

“I became an entrepreneur a year before I got married so that I could spend more time developing the business,” he says.

“Starting early also meant more time for me to make mistakes and learn from them.

“Thankfully, my wife and family understand that being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs, that I would be occupied with work most of the time, and most importantly, that they believe in my company’s vision: To give value to millions of kids in Malaysia and around the world,” he adds.

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