Cartoon Targets All Ages With ‘Star Wars’

Apr 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

When it comes to engaging children, kidding with kids and luring viewers to sample its programs on television and across its multiple platforms, the force is with Cartoon Network.
The new leadership, including Stuart Snyder, president and chief operating officer of animation, young adults and kids media, and Chief Content Officer Rob Sorcher, is implementing a dynamic strategy that began in 2007. That strategy is exemplified by the highly touted acquisition of the series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
“When George Lucas decided to do a full-length animated CGI series based on ‘Star Wars,’ we were very excited and thought it fit perfectly for our demo and our audience,” Mr. Snyder said. “We believe ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ is going to be must-see, multigenerational event television.”
More than merely must-see, both Cartoon Network executives see “Clone Wars” as the vanguard of their new strategy. “It’s really going to anchor our fantasy/adventure lineup, and I think this connection is a game changer,” said Mr. Snyder.
“Friday nights are going to become fantasy-adventure night,” Mr. Sorcher said. “‘Star Wars’ is all CG, brilliantly done, and I think that’s opening the door, as is the ‘Ben 10’ live-action stuff. Cartoon Network is really at the beginning of reaching what’s its true potential is. As the year goes on, you’re going to see us go into other types of formats.”
Mr. Snyder concurs. “More than any time in recent history, I think we’re going to get new eyeballs, bring new kids and parents and other demos to the network, so that truly expands us and that fits perfectly in terms of our expansion strategies.”
The key to Cartoon Network’s success is its appeal to children. “Cartoon Network is inventive, escapist entertainment for kids,” said Mr. Sorcher. “That’s its appeal. We’re the original all-cartoon channel. I think that over time we’re evolving in a variety of formats and developing multiplatform programming and really associating ourselves with first-rate brands across every category.”
Since joining the network in 2007, Mr. Snyder has brought in new personnel as well as new ideas. Mr. Sorcher was one of his hires. “It’s been about setting the foundation, the groundwork,” Mr. Snyder said. “At the same time, in 2007, we had some great success that we’re very proud of.”
The most successful was the live-action original movie “Ben 10: Race Against Time.” The TV movie was based on the animated hit “Ben 10,” the story of a kid who has 10 different super-alien powers thanks to the Omnitrix, a powerful artifact he found.
Cartoon Network broadcast the film in November, and the results were staggering. “It became the No. 1 telecast in Cartoon Network history,” Mr. Snyder said. “We had over 13 million viewers, and that is really phenomenal success for ‘Ben 10,’ because it’s an expansion of the brand. Frankly, it sets up the continuing journey for ‘Ben 10.’” That expansion continues this month with a new series, “Ben 10: Alien Force.”
Another big draw for Cartoon Network is “Chowder.” Set in a magical, food-based world where a young chef’s apprenticeship places him in unusual situations as he attempts to become a full-fledged cook, the program has taken off. The animation is hand-drawn by Hong Ying in China, which was recently selected as the official animation studio of the Beijing Olympics. “After six months on the air, it’s still the No.1 show on our network,” said Mr. Snyder. “We’ve always been very big believers in brands and our programs. That show was enjoyed by millions of people.”
“Ben 10” and “Chowder” represent the two aspects of Cartoon. “The network has in its DNA two primary things within it that distinguish the network,” said Mr. Sorcher. “One of these is comedy—a particular kind of comedy that resonates with viewers. You’re going to see us traveling down this track for development and expanding upon that.
“Second is the notion of fantasy and adventure. CN delivers a kind of immersive, layered storytelling and a way of presenting a variety of worlds that are all very visually distinctive that separates itself from its competition on the dial.”
Advertisers have recognized the success in the CN brand and they’re responding with keen interest. “We took a risk doing a live-action movie of ‘Ben 10’ and some people said, ‘Why are you doing that? You’ve got an animated hit. Why do that?’ Then it becomes the No. 1 show in the 15-year history of the network. It has really gotten advertisers’ attention,” said Mr. Snyder.
“The positive momentum that we started in 2007 will continue because we will be doing more things down the line at our upfront and beyond about where we’re headed, not only with our shows, but where we are headed with content on our scheduling as well,” he said.
Whether appealing to older kids with the fantasy adventure of “Ben 10” or the upcoming “Star Wars,” or to younger children with “Chowder”—and even younger ones with “Mr. Men”—the demographic aim for Cartoon Network is clear. “We’re kids, kids and kids. Kids are always going to be our main focus. So, it’s kids 6-11, but it’s also kids 6-14,” Mr. Snyder said. “We are committed to giving kids what they want. They want familiar brands, great shows that they can relate to. They want a variety of entertainment.”
There’s good reasoning behind Mr. Snyder’s words; research. “After I joined the company, we commissioned the largest research project in the history of Cartoon Network. We wanted to know more. We already know a lot about kids, but we wanted to continue to expand our knowledge.”
Most of the programming on Cartoon Network is cartoons. “We have a nice blend of newer content such as the ‘Ben 10s’ of the world. ‘Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends’ has been a hit for us for six, seven years. We have ‘Camp Lazlo,’” Mr. Snyder said. “But then we still run ‘Scooby-Doo,’ we still run shows like ‘Tom and Jerry.’ We have a great hit show now called ‘Mr. Men,’ which is running in the daypart for the younger kids. In the day, our demo is more 4 to 7 years old.
“Animation will always be at the core of what Cartoon Network is. We also plan on showing kids more variety, like getting the No. 1 brand in the entertainment industry, ‘Star Wars,’” he said.
The ‘Star Wars’ connection is important for Mr. Snyder. “This is a personal passion for me. When I first heard about this series that the Lucas company was working on, I was very excited about it. … I absolutely believe that ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ belonged on Cartoon Network.”
“You cannot argue against ‘Star Wars’ and how big a phenomenon it is: $4.2 billion worldwide box office, 180 million DVDs and VHS sold. It’s the Internet’s most searched-for entertainment franchise,” said Mr. Snyder. “We’re so proud that Lucas chose CN, and advertisers have reacted extremely favorably because they understand what the brand means. They understand what ‘Star Wars’ means as a brand, and they understand what it means to Cartoon Network. We thought it fit perfectly for our demo and for our audience. … I’ve seen the series, so I know the series delivers. Having seen the episodes, I can tell you that each episode is truly a mini-movie.”
The plan for CN is to take what Lucas has created and make the most of it across the network’s various platforms. “What George and his team have done is just incredible. And when you tie that in to what we can do in terms of our 360-degree multiplatform and two-prong programming and marketing approaches, we’re going to be looking at making sure that everybody on the planet will know that ‘Star Wars’ is on Cartoon Network, and it’ll be tough to avoid that message. If we do everything on our end, it’s going to be appointment television. We believe that kids and families of all ages are going to sit down and watch this ‘Star Wars’ together,” Mr. Snyder said.
Mr. Sorcher added, “We’ll be sending kids back and forth across every platform and engaging viewers in the very particular way that Cartoon Network can do.”


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