With pay-TV feeds into 145 countries and on-the-ground teams that have succeeded in cementing relationships with local retailers and licensees, Cartoon Network’s colonial approach to global expansion has served it well to date. But the increasingly Byzantine nature of the company’s operational structure isn’t particularly well-suited to its next goal – launching cohesive programming and merchandising initiatives that involve all of its territories.
‘We want to be ubiquitous, we want to be top of mind, and we want a brand that’s so well-defined that when people turn on Cartoon Network around the world, they know what they’ll find,’ says executive VP and GM Jim Samples. ‘Just as people think of Coca-Cola when they think soft drinks, I want them to think of Cartoon Network when they think cartoons.’
To get there, the Network has shifted some key execs into new roles designed to bring the teams together and shepherd global projects. On the programming side of things, Cartoon Network Europe’s veteran VP of programming, development and acquisitions Finn Arnesen will now also serve as head of program production for Cartoon Network International.
The new part of Arnesen’s remit puts him squarely in charge of working with the international channels to source and develop original shows that could air globally. ‘I’m excited about being able to club together and actually make some more forward-thinking and strategic decisions about what we buy, make and do.’ Global opportunities sometimes used to fall victim to the lengthy consulting process that was involved in getting all of the channels on-board a project, says Arnesen, ‘and I didn’t always feel that we were cohesive.’
Although he’s looking forward to surveying the Asian-Pacific market for new concepts and partners in the coming months, Arnesen also feels that Europe’s potential hasn’t been completely tapped. ‘I think the animation and idea talent is not being fully exploited in France, Spain and Italy.’ Concepts often originate at small studios that don’t have the resources to flesh them out and market them, and that’s where Arnesen thinks Cartoon International could step in.
Besides working on a second series of The Cramp Twins with TV-Loonland and Robotboy (the first international co-pro that Cartoon Network US is involved in) with Alphanim, Arnesen and his team are currently evaluating a couple of new pilots commissioned by CNE – My Best Friend by Gorillaz creator Pete Candeland and Stu Connelly, and Good Kid Bad Kid from Chris Garbutt and Dave Needham.
Cartoon Network has earmarked US$500 million over the next five years for producing more original programming, and that commitment should give John Friend lots of material to work with as senior VP of Cartoon Network Enterprises, a new unit that’s been set up to coordinate the company’s merchandising activities on a global scale. The latest original property – Codename: Kids Next Door (currently rolling out internationally, with 52 episodes in production) – will be one of Friend’s initial focuses. He’s currently working with linchpin partner Warner Bros. on nailing the brand positioning for a program that will target kids six to 11, and interactive games will be an early driver category when product starts to trickle out early next year.
Friend will also be working to synchronize the master plan for Powerpuff Girls, which is tricky since it’s is in several different merch life cycles around the world. ‘I’m trying to get past the concept of ‘regional,’ but we also need to have enough flexibility to allow for country-specific tailoring of strategies as appropriate.’