Cartoon Network is leveraging the Upfronts season to make a multi-platform splash beyond just the television screen with a slate of digital and mobile content featuring six new series, seven returning shows and more than 20 original mobile and console games.
As the viewing habits of kids evolve by each passing day, Turner’s youngest brand is focused on cracking the code to reimagine TV and engage with fans through true total consumption.
Cartoon Network, which boasts a mobile portfolio of 44 apps and 400 free-to-play online games, is using its cachet as the number one video-on-demand choice in TV to push into hiring indie game developers to translate hit TV shows into games, and also to create original games with show writers.
Later this year Cartoon’s flagship app will get an expansion to Chromecast with at least nine more games being added to its slate. It will be complemented with two integrated game consoles.
Jill King, senior vice president of marketing and partnerships for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, joined AListDaily to detail how they are creating new ways of developing content and telling stories that converge creativity and technology.
How are you innovating the brand through marketing?
Our overall brand promise, position and strategy is to engage with kids at the intersection of technology and creativity. That’s at the core of our DNA. This generation of kids is the creator and maker, and all about participation. We want to break new grounds and deliver new ideas to kids for them to creatively express themselves. A good example is The Powerpuff Girls activation of the avatar maker, called “Powerpuff Yourself.” Within the first week, we had 12 million avatars created. I say that very proudly because I think that’s a great example of us really speaking to them. I think it speaks to the insight that we know, that they want to see themselves reflected in an IP that they love. So that’s one way of doing it. We launched the series. It was a good look for the franchise. We really wanted to give new fans, and existing ones for The Powerpuff Girls a cool chance to see themselves reflected in it. I think that was marketing engagement that really was successful for us.
How has your content development strategy shifted?
Our chief content officer, Rob Sorcher, fundamentally changed the way we develop IPs. People would create shows, and then a game, and digital content would follow after. Now, at Cartoon Network Studios, which is also the case for some properties on the Adult Swim side, a multifunctional team of creatives are thinking about the digital side as they are coming up with the stories. An example of that is Mighty Magiswords, which launched as digital content and became a series much later. From a marketing standpoint, what’s important to us for that shift is that we are launching IP, like the February-launched OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, like never before. Because if we’re going to get out there and be in front of the kids, we have to be where they are. So we’re developing more native content everywhere where children are. The old days of telling them to “tune-in” and watch live are gone. For us, it’s about driving affinity from the first day and putting the IP in front of them. That’s definitely a key strategy and shift for us.
How was that the case for OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, which was originally a video game?
Our approach to content development and IP is multi-platform from the very beginning. For OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, our team almost open-source developed it. They had game jams around the country and invited game developers to come and iterate with them and come up with different ideas. It allowed them to influence a real concept for the show. By the time that show hits the air, we’ll have more content than ever before.
What kind of content and experiences are kids currently consuming?
I would say it’s a mix of gaming, self-expression and short-form video. Behind-the-scenes and the “making-of” is big, too. It certainly depends on the kid and the age, but what we’ve learned is that you have to deliver in different ways. This way, we allow for them to understand and participate by giving them ways that they can express themselves.
How do you leverage the fact that you’re an all-animated network versus live TV?
With animation, there is almost a deeper experience for kids because it’s such an artistic form. You can create a concept of different worlds and environments through animation more so than live action. That gives us an opportunity to go deeper with stories. Our CN Sayin’ App asks kids to upload video and we put them on the air. The whole idea is that we are a network for kids, and we want to see themselves reflected. When we do have live action on the air, it’s our fans and the kids who are watching Cartoon Network. It’s something that’s important for this generation of kids.
How are you introducing “different worlds” to your experiences?
Mighty Magiswords and OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes are the two fruits of this new development process, approach and strategy. For Mighty Magiswords, kids are able to open their app, watch a TV show, collect swords and play games. We had a really big learning from that. Almost 35 percent of kids who tuned in to watch a show participated in this multiplatform experience. We took those learnings and applied it on-air during weekends for ‘collectathons’ where they could tune in to collect digital prizes. We know that it’s now a behavior that is second nature to this mobile generation.
What are you looking to accomplish in OTT with your deal with Warner Bros.? How is OTT changing your programming approach?
We wanted to be in that space, so we jumped in it. That was our first foray into an OTT-type product. This creates options for both us and our consumers, where they can get deeper libraries as a result of subscribing into that kind of service. The linear channel is still there. A lot of people are thinking it’s replacing it, but it’s not. It’s about creating options. We haven’t formally announced results yet, but we’re thrilled about it. I think it matters. The future is bundled, and unbundled—but I’ll leave it at that.
What are the branded content avenues advertisers are trying to take advantage of?
Adult Swim is a huge opportunity for us. Advertisers come to us because they want the same people who make content for us, to make it for them, too. A really good example is our partnership with Carl’s Jr., where we made a Rick and Morty branded content piece. It was a really cool example because we came up with the idea and aligned the content. The fans loved it and were engaged. What that told us was that people were super hungry for Rick and Morty content. It literally broke the internet for us because fans were so excited. What makes branded content work is when you understand the objectives and messaging and give the creators complete creative control and freedom—and we worked with a partner who did that.
What is one marketing strategy that is of focus and emphasis throughout the remainder of this year?
We learn from kids every single day. What we bring to the table, especially, is reach and relevance because we connect with huge amounts of kids across our linear and digital platforms. We have over 135 million app downloads, but we still need to tap into communities outside of our ecosystem. It’s more about working with best-in-class partners as it relates to innovation and technology. We have a really dynamic ecosystem. I think that for kids, it’s about giving them the opportunities to express themselves. If you we give them tools to express themselves through our content, then they are going to evangelize for us. For us, it’s about being with them, and being ahead of them, too, by learning from them. I think that is a key business practice of ours because it’s this generation that is shaping the future of consumption habits. So that is our strategy—to turn our IP over to kids.
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan