The seamless blending of real-time images and virtual reality, otherwise know as the somewhat futuristic-sounding Augmented Reality (AR), is starting to find its feet as an online marketing tool, migrating to the kids entertainment space.
Turner Broadcasting has become the first kidcaster in the UK to roll out the next-gen technology to create an immersive 3-D virtual gaming experience as part of its brand-boosting Incredikids initiative for Cartoon Network, which launched on July 15.
The main thrust of the Incredikids campaign, a multi-platform endeavor that features a number of short-form linear interstitials and an online narrative component, is to take children beyond passive observation and into active participation in an
all-encompassing world. Consumer marketing manager Sally Bezant sees the AR segment as the first step in growing an even more robust online presence for the CN brand.
As such, the Incredikids mini-site has an overall narrative in which users must combat arch villain Syracticus Lazarus on various battlegrounds. The first trio of 3-D AR games features an urban racing scene (pictured above), an underwater submarine pursuit and a futuristic space chase. The software interacts with individual webcams to create a virtual reality experience that brings to mind scenes from Minority Report and The Lawnmower Man.
AR requires users to print out markers and then hold them up to their webcams. Once the software recognizes the shape, a 3-D world, complete with holograms, appears and seems to spill out from the computer screen and onto the space around the monitor. In CN UK’s case, kids create an Incredikids ID by building their own avatars and sharing them online, thus placing their own images in the games. The games, developed and designed by UK-based The BIO Agency, are free of charge and require only a webcam and an internet connection with minimal bandwidth to participate.
The idea to utilize AR was born from an extensive six-month-long Turner Broadcasting research project that categorized the play patterns of its core-kid demo. ‘We identified that kids who watch this type of action/adventure programming really live the adventure in their heads after the show is over,’ says Bezant. So now, with the Incredikids games, they have the power to actually experience the adventure in the physical world.
‘We aren’t building a sub-brand here,’ notes Bezant. ‘It’s early days now, but we have invested in producing this technology and expect it to crossover to all the other Turner products.’
The investment in AR is certainly not a move brought on by ratings desperation. CN has grown its UK ratings for the key boys four to nine demo by 7% over last year, thanks in large part to the popularity of Ben 10: Alien Force and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Expect the broadcaster to leverage its ratings success by developing and expanding the use of AR technology with more features, including forays into social networking and MMOGs. Other Turner IPs are also likely in line for the AR treatment.
‘It’s going to move fast,’ says Bezant. ‘All households will be familiar with AR by the end of the year.’