By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
It’s an action figure, it’s a beach towel … no, it’s “Ben 10,” the latest Cartoon Network property to go into marketing overdrive.
Cartoon Network brought consumer licensing back in-house a year and a half ago, and “Ben 10” is proof that it’s working. “I think `Ben 10′ is our first program that we’ve put through the entire process, and that includes gaming via video and DVD and licensing,” said David Levy, Turner Entertainment president of entertainment ad sales. “And it’s doing extremely well. When Wal-Mart puts it in their guides as one of their top toys during the … holiday season, you know you’ve got something going.”
Ten-year-old Ben Tennyson, who finds the Omnitrix, an alien device resembling a wristwatch, is the hero of “Ben 10.” The device is permanently locked on his wrist and Ben discovers he can transform into 10 different alien beings, each with unique powers, but only for 10 minutes at a time. That’s 10 times the marketing possibilities, and Cartoon Network has gone full tilt. “We have manufacturers and gaming companies coming to us looking for opportunities,” Mr. Levy said.
“Ben 10,” which is greenlighted for seasons 3 and 4, is a hit on Cartoon Network’s Web site, which offers webisodes and games, the latter of which Mr. Levy characterizes as “one of the stickiest areas” of the site. A deal with Bandai America in November 2006 led to a set of action figures for the 10 aliens, each of which comes with a collectible lenticular card and an exclusive animation disk of eight cels. The deluxe playset is an RV that houses an alien laboratory where kids can conduct experiments (supplies included), an Omnitrix that mimics the device that Ben wears, and alien rocks that dissolve to reveal a translucent miniature alien figure. Hot for the 2006 holiday season were 8-inch alien figures that morph into toys including a working flashlight, binoculars and a squirt gun.
One of the latest toys from Bandai is a voice changer, shaped like the Omnitrix, with a microphone that can be attached to a child’s shirt. When he or she speaks into the microphone, the modulator distorts the child’s voice to sound like one of the aliens. Character glasses and custom stickers complete the package. For the avid “Ben 10” fan, there will soon be games and puzzles based on the series, the result of a multiyear agreement between Cartoon Network Enterprises and Pressman Toys. A line of games, card games and puzzles is expected for spring 2007 with integrated DVD board games for fall 2007.
Pajamas, robe, sheets and beach towels will soon be available, thanks to another agreement with Jay Franco, a manufacturer of licensed home furnishings who has 3-D character pillows, sleeping bags, shower curtains, toothbrush holders and wastebaskets on his to-do list.
“Kids today aren’t just watching TV, they’re using the Web, shopping in stores, using VOD,” said Mr. Levy, who reported that the Web site gets 7 million unique users a month. “If you’re not in those areas, you’re not reaching the customer. And if you’re an advertiser on the linear site and not on cartoonnetwork.com, you’re missing a good part of your audience.”