Cartoon Network's Non-Animated Push Comes With Risks
Turner-owned network know they risk alienating their core audience, a big gamble in any environment
By Alex Weprin -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/15/2009 2:00:00 AM
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'Is this appropriate?'
A ghost-hunting show following a team of paranormal investigators, a reality series about outdoor novices exploring the jungle and a game show set aboard a fast-moving roller coaster. While the premises sound like something you might find on Discovery Channel, it is actually Cartoon Network that will be rolling out those shows.
And while the network is betting its new live-action slate will help redefine the channel as a destination for youth culture, executives at the Turner-owned network know they risk alienating their core audience, a big gamble in any environment.
'Is this appropriate?'
“Anytime you do something new at a network, particularly at one with a very specific niche, there will be a reaction. People will say, is this appropriate?” says Cartoon Network Chief Content Officer Rob Sorcher. “We are doing something that is very different than anything in the nearly 20 years of history of the channel. It is possible that this is going to take a while.”
The new shows will air on Wednesday and Saturday beginning June 17. They include ghost-hunting program The Othersiders, outdoor survival show Survive This and original concepts such as Destroy Build Destroy.
The strategy is to target a slightly older crowd than the 6- to 11-year-olds the network courts during much of the day. The network wants to lure advertisers from categories such as electronics and cellphone companies, which may be reluctant to market to younger kids.
“I think these new shows, whether reality or live scripted, really open up and broaden the audience, so you can be thinking about new advertising categories,” says Stuart Snyder, executive VP and COO of Turner animation, young adults and kids media. “It opens up more categories for us than just being in shows specifically [targeting] 6- to 11-year-olds.”
According to Snyder, the possibility of moving toward more live action was one of his priorities after he came on board in 2007. “We did all the research in terms of what kids wanted to watch, what they were watching on TV at the time, on our network and across all networks,” he says.
It is no surprise, then, that many of the initial formats being launched as part of the CN Real block are familiar, like ghost-hunting shows. As Sorcher says: “That is a part of the strategy, for us, as executives who are betting on shows to work; it is helpful to know that a format has been seen and responded to.”
One of the biggest challenges Cartoon Network faces with its CN Real block is getting its audience to accept live-action alternative programming on a channel known primarily for animation. To that end, the network is planning what it calls a “360 degree” marketing campaign, spanning every platform, in an effort to get its product in front of as many people as possible.
The campaign will include in-theater advertising and promotions, including previews of the new shows on movie screens before trailers, as well as a major print buy in publications that appeal to the 6-14 demographic the network is targeting with the new programs. That would include buys in Sports Illustrated for Kids, Boys’ Life, and even Nickelodeon Magazine. Those are in addition to more standard buys such as spot TV and out-of-home in major markets.
But in many respects the heart of the campaign is online, where the network is expanding its marketing in a way it has never done before.
“We wanted to have a media plan that would appeal to our core [6- to 11-year-olds] but also had the breadth and depth to perhaps bring in 12- to 14-year-olds,” says Brenda Freeman, chief marketing officer of Turner animation, young adults and kids media. “That is one of the reasons we are doing more social networking aspects to our marketing plan than there would have been in the past.”
Cartoon has set up a Facebook fan page, which will be used to promote the alternative lineup, and is making buys on search engines such as Yahoo and Google as well as video site YouTube. It is also buying advertising on gaming sites that appeal to kids in its target demo.
“This is where some of the new innovation comes in terms of trying to bring in the broader audience, some of the older kids,” Freeman says. “Search and social networking to go along with more traditional banner ads.”
That innovation includes D-cast technology, an application that kids (or their parents) can download to their computer. The application lets Cartoon send brief messages about new programs straight to the computer. An icon on the home screen blinks whenever a new message is available. At launch, D-cast will feature host Bobb’e J. Thompson in a brief video clip previewing the alternative programs.
Cartoon is also relying on decidedly old-school technology in an attempt to lure viewers to the new lineup: a fanzine. The network is printing eight million copies of the fanzine, which will blend pop culture tips with promotional messaging related to the new shows. The publication will be distributed at movie theaters, Six Flags amusement parks, the Essence Music Festival, Cartoon Network live tours and other events.
They should really revive Toonami considering it was their best block. The Othersiders has disaster written all over it. Survive This isn't popular in Canada and it isn't popular here.BrainRush is a show that should be on Nick rather than Cartoon Network.Finally, Destroy Build Destroy doesn't seem very much of a smart idea but it is their best show.Dude,What would happen is utterly without a point and should just be cancelled.However, Bobb'e Says is probally good as well but still no matter how good they are, they should be moved to another network. Long live Neo Toonami.
'M - 9/5/2009 1:51:19 AM EDT
g - 7/12/2009 12:23:20 AM EDT
Cartoon network should cancel its CN real block and replace it with another Anime block. Then they can premiere Naruto Shippuden with alot of other anime and that block will be ten times as successful as CN real I honestly think mthat no one like CN real. They aren't good shows and they are such a waste of programming time. litteraly no one has anything good to say about it. so please cartoon network bring anime back and get rid of CN real
G - 7/12/2009 12:18:11 AM EDT
" . . . describes the network’s “360 degree” marketing campaign to usher in live-action . . . "
As in they want to turn the network around 360 degrees? So . . . they'd be back where they started? Which means they'd continue to only show cartoons and not live action? Please?
Unfortunately, I believe they meant 180 degrees, unless that's the percentage drop in their ratings.
I remember one time when I saw Batman and Robin was on CN movie night and thought that was pushing it, though, truly, B&R was basically a cartoon. And at least the Ben 10 movie was based on their own cartoon show.
But this whole CN Real Block is out of line. It's on par with the Family Channel segueing to R and M rated programming in the name of diversifying their lineup. It just doesn't make sense. It is oxymoronic, or maybe just maybe just moronic.
“Anytime you do something new at a network, particularly at one with a very specific niche, there will be a reaction. People will say, is this appropriate?”
Well, I'll ASK (not say), "Is this appropriate?" In a word, no.
If you have a niche, um, people are watching your channel for that niche. If they want another niche, like a channel with both cartoons and live action, well, that's what Nickelodeon and Disney Channel are for. Cartoon Network has always been that safe haven where you could count on cartoons being on at any given time when you especially don't want to watch live action stuff. Especially teenybopper live action stuff.
Expanding the anime programming, adding more original Adult Swim shows, bringing back the shows that founded the network from the pasture of Boomerang, moving ~2 year old shows over TO Boomerang, those are moves that can either enrage or endear viewers of CARTOON Network. Adding fully live action shows is basically a slap in the face (heck, at least Out of Jimmy's Head had cartoons IN it).
Guess if they're going to change the whole point of their channel, I'll have no choice but to watch more Sci-fi, er, SyFy . . . *face palm*
All arguments aside, in the name of fairness I've watched the offending shows, and the best of the lot was The Othersiders, but a shiny turd among turds is still a turd.
Bottom-line, they're risking the alienation of their entire viewer-base to broadcast some pretty lame shows, live action or not. At least if this were quality programming some slack cutting may be in order, but it's just garbage that makes Hannah Montana look like an Emmy-worthy show (whoa, wait, HM actually got NOMINATED?! What is the world coming to?!!).
Terry Jacobs - 7/10/2009 12:36:23 PM EDT
I hope this reality crap crashes and burns. there are enough things targeted at 12-14 year olds. but they even likes the older cartoons like dexter's laboratory or powerpuff girls I even know people who are even older who loved that stuff.
If they continue to push it the whole channel with go under. but then again i wouldnt be surprised as it is coming from the same VP that screwed up the scifi channel.
mizv - 6/19/2009 4:47:22 PM EDT
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