Cartoon Network Embraces Live-Action Shows

Road to the Upfront: Network Enters Phase 2 of Rebranding

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The Player: Cartoon Network
The Date: March 25, 2009
The Venue: Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York
(From l.) Rob Sorcher, Cartoon Network chief content officer; John O'Hara, Cartoon Network exec VP-ad sales and marketing; Stuart Snyder, president-chief operating officer of Turner Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media; and Cartoon Network Chief Marketing Officer Brenda Freeman.
(From l.) Rob Sorcher, Cartoon Network chief content officer; John O'Hara, Cartoon Network exec VP-ad sales and marketing; Stuart Snyder, president-chief operating officer of Turner Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media; and Cartoon Network Chief Marketing Officer Brenda Freeman.
Key Execs: Stuart Snyder, president-chief operating officer of Turner Animation, Young Adults and Kids Media; David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting Sales; John O'Hara, exec VP-ad sales and marketing, Cartoon Network; William Blair VP-brand activation and media partnerships
The Food: A variety of breakfast-themed amuse-bouches, including miniature French toast and fresh-fruit skewers.
The Swag: None. When even Nickelodeon isn't handing out swag bags, why should its top competitor bother?

Last Year's Take: $234 million in measured ad spending, according to TNS Media Intelligence

The Ratings Game: 2008 was a record-breaking year for Cartoon Network on a number of fronts, most principally its fourth-quarter premiere of "Star Wars: Clone Wars," which became the network's highest-rated series premiere and the top show for boys 6 to 11 on all of TV. The network has continued its growth in 2009, up 10% among kids 6 to 11 as Disney Channel is down 9% and Nickelodeon is down 3% among the demo.

Buyer's Verdict: Chris Boothe, president-chief activation officer for Publicis' Starcom USA, told Ad Age in February that with Disney Channel and Nickelodeon's continued lock on girls, Cartoon and its newly rebranded competitor Disney XD are smart to focus on the boys, as well as more live-action programming. "Kids are responding to real people today, and cartoons that are still the essence of live programming. I think we'll see more of that," he said. Cartoon's focus on live-action scripted and reality series that focus on aspirational aspects of kids' lives is also currying favor. "Cartoon's new nightly programming strategies and shows like 'Star Wars' and 'Ben 10' and 'Total Drama Island' have been successful as the network is showing ratings growth. Its commitment to new programming and online should help."

The Scene: Cartoon Network may have built its brand and business on animation, but in order to super-serve its target audience of boys 6 to 11, the network is investing in more live-action programming than ever before.

At the Turner Entertainment network's upfront presentation to advertisers and agencies in New York Wednesday, Stu Snyder, Cartoon's president-COO, described 2008 as the year the network began its "initial phase to reinvent the network and reinvent the brand."

Phase Two involves an evolved approach to new boy-targeted programming that began with shows like "Ben 10" and "Star Wars: Clone Wars," and will continue in 2009 with six live-action "alternative" half-hour reality series, three original live-action movie specials, and two hour-long scripted live-action pilots.

Cast members from several new live-action series and movies announced at the event.
Cast members from several new live-action series and movies announced at the event.
Anchoring the network's new direction is a partnership with the National Basketball Association, an extension of the league's 25-year partnership with Turner Sports that brought sales and marketing duties for NBA.com under the Turner umbrella last year. NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "Now that NBA Digital is in the firm hands of Turner, we very much want to grow that audience in the future. And how do we grow that? Boys."

"My Dad's a Pro," the first series to launch under the new NBA partnership, will be a short-form lifestyle series centered around Boston Celtics guard Eddie House and his 7-year-old son, Jaelen. The show's docu-series format will be echoed by a block of Cartoon Network's first forays into reality programming, dubbed "CN Real," with shows such as "Survive This," "Destroy Build Destroy" and "Bobb'e Says" slated for an early-third-quarter debut.

John O'Hara, exec VP-Cartoon Network ad sales, told Ad Age the new programming approach has already sparked interest among advertisers looking for ground-floor sponsorship opportunities, particularly since Federal Communications Commission restrictions prevent brand integrations on kids' networks. "The canvas is open, and we'll be able to paint it any way we want. We're looking for new opportunities to do things differently with these new shows, and clients are looking for new ways to stand out."

Also coming to Cartoon is a revamped live-action "Scooby Doo," with an all-new made-for-TV movie premiering later this year. Acclaimed director Wayne Wang will also make his TV-movie debut with a live adaptation of "The Tiger's Apprentice," while hit franchise "Ben 10" will debut its latest TV movie, "Alien Swarm," in the fall. "Today marks the first step forward in an evolution that is helping us reach our goal of becoming a dominant youth culture brand," Mr. Snyder said.

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