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Heartfelt humor

How Cartoon Network’s multiplatform US strategy is bearing fruit, and big ratings.
January 1, 2016

Ever since Cartoon Network overtook Nickelodeon to rank second in total-day viewing among kids six to 11 this spring, the ad-supported network has continued to gain ratings momentum. It’s now turning up the heat on its digital strategies to keep its diverse original content lineup delivering.

“Changes that started awhile ago are now bearing fruit, and it’s not just one show that is working; it’s multiple shows like Teen Titans Go!, Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, Clarence, Regular Show, Uncle Grandpa and Steven Universe,” says Cartoon Network CMO Michael Ouweleen.

In fact, seven of the top 10 shows among boys six to 11 on all of television, when in premieres, are CN shows. “They’re all very different in texture and style, but the one thing that unifies them is a sense of humor and warmth,” Ouweleen says.

The programming While CN is still the dominant network with boys six to 11, double-digit increases among girls six to 11 through 2014 and 2015, driven by shows with strong female characters like Steven Universe, have helped the net ascend to the number-two position for the overall kids six to 11 demo.

Ouweleen points to comedy-action series Teen Titans Go! as an additional driver of the network’s new, broader audience. “The series is highly rated and very gender-balanced, which is a big change for Cartoon Network,” he says. “We also used its success as a lead-in and as a platform to promote our brand-new original series We Bare Bears (pictured) from creator Daniel Chong.”

The network devised a modest but smart social media and digital campaign, and according to Ouweleen, it was lucky to get bits of We Bare Bears content in front of a few blockbuster summer movies. “We used a simple icon from the show, which was the bear stack. We put that out there weeks in advance without really explaining what it was, and people really latched onto it,” he says.

San Diego Comic-Con was also used as a platform for launching the show from a marketing perspective, something Cartoon Network had never attempted before. The event featured panels, signings, giveaways, premiere screenings and an immersive booth experience where fans could take six different selfies with the show’s stars—Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear.

In the end, the strategy worked. We Bare Bears premiered on July 27 as the number-one show in its timeslot with all key demos, and total premiere-week plays of episodes reached a combined audience of more than 10 million viewers ages two and up. The numbers have been so good, in fact, that Cartoon Network ordered a second season last month.

On the digital side, the network’s strategy to make its content easily accessible across all platforms is beginning to pay off, too.

Digital growth Following last fall’s successful Cartoon Network Anything app launch, which earned the micro-network a spot on Google Play’s Best Apps of 2014 list, CN introduced an update to its flagship video app in July.

The new Cartoon Network App gives kids better access to content, lets them customize their viewing experiences, and is responsive in that it serves up streaming episodes, premieres, clips and original content based on individual user preferences.

“It’s a radical rethinking of what the app was before,” says Ouweleen. When the redesigned app launched on July 9, it generated 416,000 new downloads, translating to more than 589% growth over the previous week.

Cartoon Network’s mobile games also had a fruitful Q2 driven by three top-10 iPad titles on iTunes’ overall app chart—Attack the Light (Steven Universe), Blamburger (Clarence) and Formula Cartoon: All Stars.

The network’s total mobile portfolio generated 5.2 million downloads in Q2 and game play growth of 55% versus last year.

VOD penetration has been growing, too, on the heels of Cartoon Network besting all other kids channels for VOD transactions in November and December 2014 (Rentrak).

“The approach is still focused on giving kids an immersive experience with our content and making it easy for them to find,” says Ouweleen, adding that shows don’t necessarily have to premiere on the network first and can perform well across all platforms. “Our programming mirrors how the audience expects content to be delivered today.”

What’s next Looking at the 2015/16 slate, Ouweleen says the network is excited for its upcoming Q4 event programming led by epic feature Regular Show: The Movie and two miniseries—an Adventure Time eight-parter and Long Live the Royals, a four-part special from the Regular Show unit.

“It’s a funny mix of medieval and modern, and has a family dynamic we haven’t tried before on the network,” he says.

Additional new content will include reboots of The Powerpuff Girls and Ben 10, and more multiplatform content based on Magiswords, the network’s first original digital series that is currently available on Cartoon Network Anything and the Cartoon Network App.

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at jdickson@brunico.com.

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