The week Christina Miller was appointed to run Turner Broadcasting’s kids and young adults businesses, Adult Swim announced the network would be airing a new show, Black Jesus.
Black Jesus was controversial. It generated attention. Most important, it was a hit and recently was renewed.
“I often think of it as my welcome gift,” says Miller.
The gifts have kept coming. Cartoon Network, which also reports to Miller, has seen its ratings rise while its major competitors, Viacom’s Nickelodeon and the Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Channel, have suffered steep declines. That puts Miller’s collection of networks in good position as the upfront market approaches.
Turner parent company Time Warner sees the kids and young adult business as one of its growth areas. Boomerang has been relaunched as a second global kids brand and Turner is expected to work more closely with Warner Bros. to develop fresh programming for its networks.
But at the same time, the challenges facing other parts of the TV industry are impacting networks with young viewers faster and harder.
“The rate of change is accelerating,” Miller says. “It’s not disruption. It’s just the speed of business. I think adapting to that is kind of the fun part.”
Cartoon Network is in a unique position because while its ratings are growing, it’s also adding video-on-demand viewers and fans are downloading its apps, according to Miller.
Growing across multiple platforms is a necessity in the current media environment, she says.
“I think of the business as growing overall consumption and making sure that we’re able to do that in more than one place because that’s what this generation of kids and fans expect from us—choice,” she says.
On one hand, young viewers demand the content they want, when they want it and on the device they want to use. But they’re also willing to share content and evangelize for it. They build profiles and personalities around content that resonates.
“So our role as a brand and a content provider is to give them content that they relate to, they identify with and they care about,” Miller says. “The reward for doing so is more consumption.”
One new way Cartoon is providing content is through its CN Anything mobile platform, which offers snackable content aimed at viewers who are not only digital natives but mobile natives.
She points to an interesting statistic when it comes to CN Anything: Users spend 10 minutes or more engaging with that platform. Since most of the content is only 15 seconds in length, that means users are making a very conscious decision to interact.
McDonald’s was an early sponsor of CN Anything, using special shorter-length ads to fit in with the content format.
In the absence of a ratings system that measures TV, digital and mobile viewing the same way, networks such as Cartoon will need to work harder to monetize their audiences.
“In the near term, we continue to make sure that we’re innovative, that we’re having a dialog with all of our clients and partners, and that we’re able to deliver them flow of audience, engagement across these platforms and prove it based on the metrics that we have,” Miller says.
Miller is pleased with the early results at the relaunched Boomerang. “The air looks fresh and like a real companion to Cartoon Network,” she says. Coming up soon are original series for Boomerang. “That would be a next natural step,” she adds.
And after 10 years, Adult Swim rolls on as a brand that resonates deeply with its fans. That engagement also makes it popular with advertisers.
Last year, Turner executives hinted that Adult Swim’s original content might serve as the basis for an over-the-top product, but Miller didn’t have an announcement to make yet.
“Like everyone else, we’re all looking at what the opportunities are and what our approach should be in that space,” she says.