Cartoon Pushes Digital, Boys 6-11 Dominance

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New York -- While the backdrop at The Allen Room at the Time Warner Center was snowy -- the ice-filled skies of the metro area’s first real brush with winter -- there was no mention of the recent storm that engulfed Cartoon Network’s late-night block up in Beantown.

At the network’s upfront presentation here on Valentine’s Day morning, the word Adult Swim wasn’t mentioned, nor was the fact that Cartoon general manager Jim Samples resigned his position Feb. 9 in the aftermath of a controversial marketing campaign for the late-night spinoff service’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force series.

The campaign -- in which 38 light boards shaped like Mooninite characters were placed around the city -- resulted in an anti-terrorism response in Boston Jan. 31 that brought traffic and commutation in the city to a halt and cost parent Turner Broadcasting System and Interference, the agency that executed the stunt, some $2 million paid to local, state and national agencies to avoid prosecution.

Adult Swim is scheduled to hold its own upfront here in late March.

The only allusion to the high-profile recent events came from Mark Lazarus, president of Turner Entertainment, who is directing the network until a replacement for Samples is found. Lazarus opened Cartoon’s presentation by saying: “This business changes quickly, very quickly -- so quickly that I’m unexpectedly here today.”

He then turned the message around to the assembled media buyers and planners, noting that what won’t change is that Cartoon and its many platforms will continue as prime vehicles to “reach kids and bring your products to bear.”

As for the presentation itself, Cartoon executives extolled the virtues of its continued push into digital with broadband networks Toonami Jetstream in July and Cartoon Network Video, which began screening original-series episodes in the fall. Together, those services are producing 20 million monthly video streams.

Executives also discussed the popularity of Cartoon’s online-gaming services, which they said collectively attracted 2 billion game plays in 2006. No doubt, there’ll be more on the way with the introduction of Gadget Games, which features a Web cam so players can get inside the contests, and Mini Matches, which aspires to be a user-generated community when it debuts in the summer.

The network also provided a sneak peek of its Massively Multi-Player Game, which is scheduled to launch in the United States in the summer of 2008 before being rolled out in other territories thereafter.

Senior vice president and general manager of new media Paul Condolora introduced and demonstrated CallToons, a new mobile application integrating smart technology with the voice of Cartoon characters on the cell.

The product -- which is expected to become available in the fourth quarter through patent-pending technologies from Ericsson -- replaces typical cell-phone ring-tone and wallpaper functions with more personal and interactive elements via the selected character’s personality taking over the mobile instrument. No carrier deals have been struck, according to a spokesman.

On the programming side, the network will keep a focus on boys, particularly those aged 6-11, where Cartoon said it is the dominant player with a 43% share of that audience.

Senior VP of development and creative direction Michael Ouweleen said 2007-08 would become Cartoon’s biggest year ever: There will be 662 new half-hour episodes of returning series and two-dozen new premiere specials and movies.

Among the latter: Props, a multimedia event this summer in which 16 kids, engaging in sports, music, art or hobbies, will be profiled on-air and online, with six finalists being chosen online and then becoming the subject of a one-hour TV show in September; and Ben 10 Live-Action Movie, stemming from the series.

Five new series are also on tap: Santo (working title), an action-packed adventure based on the legend of real-life wrestling hero Santo, El Enmascarado de Plata (the silver masked man); Chowder, about the misadventures of a very hungry young chef’s apprentice in the fantasy city of Marzipan; The Secret Saturdays, centering on a clandestine network of scientists who protect against all of the hidden and terrifying things in the world; The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, which explores the trail and treasure of a magical dessert-ed island filled with lollipop flowers, lemonade springs and licorice bark; and Re-Animated, based on the network’s first telefilm combining animation with live-action that debuted in December as Cartoon’s highest-rated movie among kids 6-11.

Cartoon also announced that a second season of Class of 3000, from Andre “3000” Benjamin and Tom Lynch, has been green-lit and will hit the air in June, accompanied by a CD of series-inspired songs from the artist.

The network also showcased a new after-school franchise that it will cede to its viewers come fall. Under Master Control, teams of kids will vote online to determine what the network’s lineup will be for a particular afternoon.

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