Reinventing a property or brand that’s been in the marketplace for several years is a tried-and-true tack for juicing consumer, licensee and retailer interest, but Cartoon Network and its commercial arm CN Enterprises took a real gamble with Ben 10 last year.
Just two years after CN original series Ben 10 launched in 2006, the second, Ben 10: Alien Force, went on air in April 2008, aging main character Ben Tennyson up five years to 15 and introducing a new cast of characters. Rather than turning fans of the original off with a seemingly abrupt and early change, the move has paid off both on the ratings and merchandising fronts. Not waiting for people to ponder what’s next, it seems apt that CNE is doubling down on the IP as it heads to Licensing Show in Vegas with third iteration Ben 10: Evolutions (working title) in tow looking to push the hot IP into evergreen territory come 2010.
CNE VP of consumer products Christina Miller says the introduction of Ben 10: Alien Force and its related product rethink that saw the infusion of new characters and play patterns grew product sales by 50% across the board. Performance of Ben 10: Alien Force on air hasn’t been too shabby, either. According to Nielsen Media Research data, ratings with boys six to 11 for Alien Force‘s first month of broadcast were 55% higher than the same stat for the first season of Ben 10. By the end of 2008, the second series was averaging a 4.4 rating with boys six to 11 in its Saturday morning 10 a.m. slot on Cartoon Network US.
Alien Force will get a major push this fall on air with new eps and a live-action original movie Alien Swarm, and in-store with new product lines and promos, led by master toy licensee Bandai. And the plan is to transition into the launch of Evolutions on-air in spring 2010 with related product launching at retail that fall.
As for what’s evolving, Ben will celebrate a birthday in the third series, turn 16 and start driving his own car, rather than having to rely on his pal Kevin to drive all the time. Additionally, Ben gets a new Omnitrix and discovers it contains DNA that produces even more aliens. (Miller hints that the full capabilities of the Omnitrix have yet to be discovered.) He also becomes an international superstar, now recognized and loved by kids the world over as a superhero, but distrusted by many adults. The newfound fame, coupled with the revamped Omnitrix, will take the series’ action out of Ben’s hometown and into the wider world.
On the consumer products side, Miller says the third iteration of Ben 10 should help the property continue to maintain its current consumer sweet spot of eight-year-old boys, while expanding the size of the audience. Bandai, along with other current licensees like D3 (interactive), Warner Home Video (home entertainment) and Freeze (apparel), are working on Evolutions products for fall 2010 that will feature the new look, design and alien life of the third series. She’s also exploring new possible product categories, but says a lot of terrain (think tween-skewing consumer electronics) opened up when Ben entered teen territory with Alien Force. ‘A healthy brand attracts new opportunities, and that’s how we’re looking at it,’ says Miller. One thing’s for certain, Evolutions product will not sit alongside Alien Force items; they’ll be phased out of US licensee offerings by fall 2010.
By the time the IP turns five in 2010, Miller contends the three versions of Ben 10 will leave her team with a well-stocked vault, opening up the possibility for product segmentation strategies that include bringing back the more popular aliens from the earlier iterations, for example. In the meantime, she’s looking at Fall Toy Show in Dallas as a deadline for firming up creative and product direction for Evolutions. LC