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Cue the explosions! Turner returns to boys action with Toonami

Though it may seem a tad hasty to pull the plug on a channel less than a year after launching it, Cartoon Network International's head of program production Finn Arnesen felt justified in nixing the company's male teen-skewing U.K. service CNX. The net, which Turner will replace on September 8 with a full-on Toonami boys action service, simply couldn't find its footing in the British market.
September 1, 2003

Though it may seem a tad hasty to pull the plug on a channel less than a year after launching it, Cartoon Network International’s head of program production Finn Arnesen felt justified in nixing the company’s male teen-skewing U.K. service CNX. The net, which Turner will replace on September 8 with a full-on Toonami boys action service, simply couldn’t find its footing in the British market.

‘With CNX, we were playing in a live-action space for the 16 to 24 demo, and to be successful there, you need an abundance of high-quality live-action programming,’ says Arnesen.

Without a live-action inventory and facing steep competition from well-entrenched rivals Bravo, Challenge TV and Paramount, CNX faced an uphill battle for traction with its target demo. That the top-rated prime-time programming on CNX consisted of boys toons like Samurai Jack, Justice League and X-Men: Evolution confirmed the logic of launching a boys action channel, says Arnesen.

Once the change in formats occurs, Turner will have a three-pronged channel strategy in place in the U.K., encompassing comedy (Cartoon Network), classic animation (Boomerang) and boys action-adventure (Toonami).

Like CNX, Toonami will be available on the Sky satellite platform, which reaches 33.3% of U.K. households (8.26 million). However, unlike CNX, Toonami will be listed as a children’s channel in Sky’s Electronic Programming Guide. Arnesen predicts the change will immediately double the size of the channel’s target audience of boys eight to 12, since they’ll no longer have to migrate to the entertainment section of the EPG as they did with CNX.

Transmitting 24 hours a day, Toonami will run eps from 15 shows featuring a mix of anime (the Dragon Ball franchise) and superhero genre programming (Justice League, He-Man and Samurai Jack). The net will launch with seven new programs, including Ultimate Muscle (distributed by 4Kids Entertainment) and Star Wars: Clone Wars (Cartoon Network and LucasFilms). Initially, the bulk of the schedule will be devoted to acquired programming (50%), with the remaining fare coming from Warner Bros. Animation (40%) and Cartoon Network (10%).

The most important battlegrounds, says Arnesen, will be weekday mornings (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and afternoon to early-evening prime time (3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.), during which Toonami will gird its grid with the latest episodes from its newest and most popular series. The net’s biggest competition in the afternoon to early-evening period will be specialty satellite channel Sky One, which won Q2 2003 with an 8.77 share of boys eight to 12. For the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. period, Toonami will to go up against its top-rated sister net Cartoon Network, which drew a 10.83 share of boys eight to 12 in that daypart in Q2. (This measurement includes CN’s timeshift channel.)

Though Arnesen expects some cannibalization to occur, ‘because we have a clear channel proposition across all three services, it will help us enhance our overall rating for all of the channels,’ he says, noting that ratings for Cartoon Network UK increased when it moved its action-adventure shows to CNX.

For 2004, Arnesen plans to add four or five new series during one of four windows – February mid-term break, Easter, summer and Q4. Traditional 2-D animated, action-laden superhero shows (like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and saga-led series (such as Dragon Ball Z) top Arnesen’s wishlist. However, producers or distributors pushing older-skewing anime with intricate story lines (like Yu Yu Hakusho and Gundam) need not apply. The same goes for CGI series, unless they have an amazing story and great characters. Since action-adventure shows have less repeat value than comedies, series should ideally have 52 episodes in the can (26 episodes at an absolute minimum), says Arnesen, who adds that a half hour of animated programming on Cartoon can fetch up to between US$15,000 and US$20,000 (for a red-hot series).

Arnesen is also open to co-producing shows with third parties for Toonami. On that front, Turner is in early talks with Japanese companies and is also looking to work with Warner Bros. Animation. Producers wishing to pitch co-pro projects should contact Arnesen (finn.arnesen@turner.com) or Cartoon Network Europe’s director of animation Daniel Lennard (daniel.lennard@turner.com). Producers hoping to sell their series can contact Arnesen or acquisitions manager Jo Sweby (jo.sweby@turner.com ).

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