Checking in on the Bravest Warriors

Via: Flickr
Via: Flickr

It’s been about four months since we wrote about the innovative attempt by Frederator to bring high-quality animated content to the online masses with the Bravest Warriors. With the first season coming to an end it makes sense to pay them a visit and see how well they’ve done.

The Numbers

As with every form of media, the numbers are extremely important and Bravest Warriors is no exception. Although it is still very early to say, the numbers are nonetheless impressive for a web series. The most viewed episode was number 3, Butter Lettuce with 2.068,624 people having watched it as of writing with the current average views per episode coming in just under the 1 million mark

The Viewing Pattern

Just as important as the viewing numbers has been the viewing patterns. Just check out the graph for the first episode, Time Slime:

time slime views

Notice something interesting? Yes, it’s spectacularly linear! traditional TV broadcasts only measure spikes when each episode is broadcast, and that only occurs once a week. With the internet, viewers can watch and be measured at any time, and the chart above should be of interest to anyone in content.

The fact that it is so linear means that viewing is fairly constant. Naturally, the audience consists of new and repeat viewers, the data for which is not publicly available. However, one would expect to see a sharp slope at the beginning followed by a long plateau. That is not the case however, and suggests that people are using the freedom of the web to view whenever is convenient for them. The result is a stabler, more predictable viewing pattern.

The Totals

In total, Bravest Warriors has so far pulled in over 10.6 million views. That’s awesome! How many cable (maybe even broadcast networks?) would like those kinds of totals for their shows? The best part is that number is far from final. Since the last episode isn’t even a week old, you can be certain that it will garner close to the average for the earlier episodes which is between 800,000 and a million viewers. That would put the final figure for the series at over 12 million views.

Twelve. Million. Views.

Even just two years ago, that kind of number would have been pie in the sky for an animated web series (an original one, not a one-off or a Charlie the Unicorn-like now-and-then series.) They exemplify how far the shift to online viewing has come. Remember, YouTube is barely seven years old and it still hosts a lot of cat videos.

The Future of the Bravest Warriors

What does all this hold for the future? Well a second season is a foregone conclusion at this stage, but in the broader sense, it proves that it is possible to succeed online with an animated series. Oh sure, a lot remains to be seen and the studio is keeping tight-lipped on how the financials look, but given how well the series is promoted, how well Frederator has been at getting the merchandise out and the generally positive reviews the series has received (<2% thumbs down), it’s safe to say that Bravest Warriors has been a hit.

Would you call Bravest Warriors a hit? Could it have done better? Let us know with a comment!

Frederator Aims High With Cartoon Hangover and Bravest Warriors

Perennial innovator Frederator Studios is currently firing on all cylinders as they gear up for the big push to launch their latest venture, Cartoon Hangover. In times past the studio has been a prime online outlet for animation through their Channel Frederator series’ and with a close relationship to the former Next New Networks (now the YouTube Next Lab), it was inevitable that the studio would continue to play a role close to the forefront of online video.

Which leads us to Cartoon Hangover, which is described as: “the home for cartoons that are too weird, wild, and crazy for television. It’ll have you saying “What a #$@!?* cartoon!” but in the good way.” In other words, the kind of content you couldonly get away with on the internet; veering near the edge but trying hard not to leap over it.

The channel has been around for a while but it was only earlier this year (April 2012) that it began streaming animated content. In addition to the series discussed below, the studio also actively solicited for ideas and/or completed animation; Elliot Cowan being one who dutifully complied with the request for wild and crazy content.

However, what really makes Cartoon Hangover stand out that we bit higher than other animation channels on YouTube is the fact that they are betting on higher quality content than others. What I mean is that in addition to the short, silly stuff, they are also producing a few original series from established creators with fairly high production values (at least for those with a sole online presence).

Two of the series’ in question are Bravest Warriors and Superf*ckers. The latter (based on the comic by James Kochalka) has yet to premiere, the former premiered yesterday with the episode ‘Time Slime’:

Bravest Warriors is created by Pendelton Ward, erstwhile genius behind smash TV show Adventure Time and is traditionally animated (believe it or not). The first episode is fairly funny and shares similar themes and styles to Adventure Time, but what’s interesting is that outside of it’s short length, it is hard to differentiate it from a traditional TV show. The production values are there, the plots are there and the vocal talent is there for all to hear.

This is undoubtedly deliberate; although the upfront cost is higher, the payoff is in the longevity of the series. Cartoons from the 90s are still paying dividends almost 20 years later; there is little reason to assume that being streamed via the internet will change that in any substantial way. Heck, the presence of so much old content on YouTube itself should evidence enough of that.

How will the series pan out? At this very early stage, it is hard to say (as of writing, the episode has been up mere hours but has garnered thousands of views; no stats are available yet) but Frederator are normally quite good at getting the word out through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. In this regard, they are putting their experience with the Adventure Time tumblelog to good use.

Frederator have also been busy ramping up the ancillary revenue generators with T-shirts and comics. Both are designed to engage the fans and the strategy has proven to be very successful with Adventure Time.

What will be interesting to watch is not so much how successful the show is or indeed how many views it attracts but rather how the viewers behave and indeed, what demographics they fall under. This is the silent draw of online streaming, the ability to know much more about your audience. So much, in fact, that it would make a traditional broadcaster weep. No doubt the folks at YouTube and Frederator will be paying close attention to all those views in the weeks and months ahead to see exactly what viewers are watching and how they are reacting to the show (for example, writing blog posts about it).

What will make those months even more interesting is the premiere of Superf*ckers. Although there’s no date set (yet), the theme song and heck, even the title should point out that this series has a distinctly more mature tone. With Bravest Warriors aiming for a crowd slightly older than Adventure Time, Superf*ckers aims even older, possibly starting at the mid to late-teens. The strategy employed by Frederator and Cartoon Hangover is a bold one. They are muscling in on [adult swim] territory but lack the traditional TV presence.

How Cartoon Hangover plays out is still relatively unknown, however if successful, it will provide the blueprint for all other original web series for some years to come. Here’s hoping that’s the case.

7 Reasons That My Life as a Teenage Robot is Undervalued

It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my very favourite animated TV shows, but it would seem that it’s in the company of many other shows that are also my favourite in that never seemed to catch on with the mainstream crowd (like Futurama, Dilbert, etc.). So why is this so? Here’s a couple of reasons why My Life as a Teenage Robot is currently undervalued.

1. The Plots Are More Complex Than They First Appear

One of the things levelled at the show is that the stories aren’t overly complex; that they’re too simple and pale in comparison to some other shows out there. Well, that is certainly the case, but it is on purpose. The show just happens to be one that doesn’t rely on overly complex stories and is none the worse for it. It’s a fun show, not an epic one like say, Avatar. There is some continuity with the likes of Vexus and the Space Biker Gang that plays out over the seasons, but the stories themselves are complex in how they are resolved. Jenny doesn’t rely on her abilities near as much as you might think.

2. A Kick-Ass Heroine Is Still Quite Rare In TV Shows

We’re starting to see more of these (Korra being the latest) but a lead female protagonist is still a rarity in TV shows, especially animated ones. My Life As A Teenage Robot helped break the mold, and with a robot at that! Jenny is a very strong character that shows how it is possible to avoid the most egregious of stereotypes and still maintain her identity (and a few laughs along the way).

3. The Strong Emphasis On A Cohesive Show Design

One of the things that initially attracted me to the show was it’s sheer focus on design. The creator-driven shows of the 90s are well known for their focus on a strong sense of design; harkening back to the cartoon modern shows of the 50s and 60s, where style was the be all and end all of a show. MLaaTR continues the trend but does so with a heavy emphasis on Art Deco. While it isn’t as strong or forward-looking as Carlos Ramos’ The X’s, it does complement the show nicely and it is great to see one of the revolutionary 20th century styles used to effectively; giving the show a modern, contemporary look but retaining the appearance of class. It’s no coincidence (or hinderence) that the use of Art Deco also echos back to the vintage cartoons of the 1930s like Felix the Cat and even more so the Fleischer Bros.

4. The Use of Colour

This is a topic that will necessitate a full post in the foreseeable future, but needless to say, the show made excellent and effective use of colour that puts it on an entirely different level compared to other shows. It’s something we haven’t really seen since.

5. The Subtle Jokes

Yes, they are in there, and they’re even more subtle than you can imagine. While this may not do much for some, it’s the fact that they are just as knowing as the more blatant examples that makes them funny.

6. The Not-So-Subtle References

The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference

Like just about every show that came along after The Simpsons, MLaaTR has its fair share of pop-culture references. These are much more blatant that the jokes but are nonetheless entertaining. Chief among them is Wizzly World and Uncle Wizzly, and all-too noticeable nod to Disney World and Walt Disney. Besides that, there are also plenty of nods to super heroes (how could there not), other TV shows (Samurai Vac anyone?) and Japan and Japanese culture.

7. The Cast

Not to go unnoticed are the voice cast. There are your usual suspects but two stand out in Candi Milo doing a great turn as Mrs. Wakeman and the late Earth Kitt who brings a surprising performance as Queen Vexus with a perfect menacing undertone.

Seven Superb Title Cards From My Life as a Teenage Robot

The other day, I cam across the blog of Steve Joseph Holt, a rather talented artist whose worked on some of your favourite cartoons from the last decade or so. Long story short, on his portfolio, I noticed that he was responsible for a couple of title cards for My Life as a Teenage Robot.

So of course, I couldn’t resist going back and looking through them all and I once again realised how awesome they really are. I mean, fair play to Fred for insisting upon them on all of his shows, and then following up with an entire book devoted to them.

Anyway, here’s 7 of the best from the entire series’ run.

 

The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference
Daydream Believer - surely a reference to The Monkees

The Wonderful World of Wizzly – perhaps a reference to…oh, we all know who it is.

Teen Team Time
Dancing with my Shell - Don't you just love the subtle use of the clef symbols?
Girl of Steal - A great play on a familiar title
No Harmony With Melody - There's only one great reference, but it's done twice.

“The Revolution Is Here. What Are You Waiting For?”

This morning, Fed Seibert has a great post about the ongoing revolution in video we’re seeing thanks to YouTube and he has this choice quote (emphasis mine):

But that’s not where the action is. Remember, Adventure Time first blew up on YouTube; we absolutely never would have sold the show without the explosion of interest from their community.

That’s the money quote right there, and the secret to any piece of entertainment’s success. A community will do more to make you money than any advertising can ever hoper to achieve.

He follows it up with this advice:

There’s ways to make money if you’re popular, and more importantly it’s where the audience is.

The old ways of doing things are falling. You simply cannot expect to make money or reach an audience  the same way they did in the old days.

Thankfully, the tools to do so are so readily accessible and cheap, like Fred says:

Any of you making films should be making more and posting them.

 

How Not to Get Your Favourite Show Un-Cancelled

 Via: Fred Seibert on Flickr

While there are a few cartoons could be said to have re-ingnited my passion for animation, one had a bit more of a profound effect than others. And while My Life as a Teenage Robot may have lacked the smarmy humour of SpongeBob Squarepants, it is nonetheless a great show. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing a robot girl kick ass within a universe where Art Deco is the prominent architectural style?

The series lasted just about three seasons on Nickelodeon before the network decided that it would not be ordering additional episodes. Officially the reason given was the low ratings however I would argue quite strenuously that having the show’s timeslot bounced all over the schedule couldn’t have helped matters either.

As is (almost) inevitable when a show gets canned, the fans (not I) reacted in the manner that is most common for TV shows; they created a petition:

To:  Nickelodeon

Petition to Save “My Life as a Teeanage Robot” from Cancellation. Note: My American-English is not good because I’m Italian…

“My Life as a Teenage Robot” is one of the most underrated Tvshows on Nickeloden. This TvShow is about a robot, Xj9 (a.k.a. Jenny), who wants to be a normal Teenage girl, hang out with friends etc. Brad Carbunkle is Jenny’s best friend. He’s your average high-school student; Brad’s younger brother, Tuck Carbunkle is often scared by robots, but he likes Jenny as a friend. Jenny’s “mother”, Nora Wakeman, is one of the best characters in the show: plus, she’s voiced by Candi Milo, she’s great.
Since Jenny was built to protect the Planet Earth, there’s an evil-alien empire, the Cluster, who wants to take over our world. The Cluster Queen, Vexus, is Jenny’s arch enemy.

“My Life as a Teenage Robot” won a few Annie-Awards too.

OK. I’m just saying this, WE MUST SAVE “MY LIFE AS A TEENAGE ROBOT”. It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation. We want a 4th Season. Alternatively, since the 3rd Season will be (maybe) the “Final Season”, I think we all need a “Series Finale” (Jenny & Brad ending up together, for example…).

If you are a fan of the show, sign this petition. If you don’t like Jenny and you don’t care about her, please sign this petition equally, because we need your help too. Alternatively, you can try to help the show with other petitions or sending E-mails to Nickelodeon.

Note: There are other awesome Nick-Toons who are going to be cancelled: “Danny Phantom” and “The Fairly OddParents”. Nick will just never learn.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

Now in fairness to the guy (or girl) English isn’t their first language so let’s cut them some slack for that. However, this petition still makes all the rudimentary errors that most fans make when crafting petitions so we’ll judge it on those.

Firstly, it completely and totally neglects to speak directly to the network. It reads as more of a plea than an attempt to persuade the network to change its mind. Anyone can call a show “underrated” but in the network’s mind, if it has hopes and dreams for viewership numbers and the show doesn’t make them, the show is considered “underperforming” and might be costing the company money as a result.

Secondly, giving a description of the show’s characters is superfluous at best. The network knows which show you are talking about and the only time such descriptions would ever be called for is when the letter discusses a show on another network.

Only in the third paragraph do we see the first hints that the show is worth saving in that it won a few Annie awards. A prestigious accolade in their own right, but the letter fails to tie those awards to anything meaningful. such as say, having an Annie-award winning show in your portfolio will draw more astute/affluent animation fans to your network thus increasing revenues on it and other shows alike.

Then there’s this line:

OK. I’m just saying this….

Well of course you are, that’s the whole purpose of the letter! It also alludes to the belief that the network doesn’t know what the letter is about, when in fact, if it were an actual letter, would probably be in the bin by now.

It may be not the best show on the planet, but it has a lot of fans who are really upset for the cancellation.

While this statement may be true, it does nothing to further the cause. Upset fans of a cancelled show mean nothing to a network unless they can prove conclusively that their upsetness will affect the networks other properties. For example, if, when the show was cancelled, the fans also stopped watching other Nickelodeon shows and buying related merchandise, then the network would have a concrete reason to bring the show back. Saying your merely ‘upset’ will have no bearing on the network’s quarterly results and thus will be deemed irrelevant to the discussion.

However then we get to this line:

We want a 4th Season.

A flat-out demand! Well heck, I want a million dollars but it sadly isn’t going to happen any time soon. This line also comes off as being brash and unsympathetic to the networks position; something that you should be trying to achieve as much as possible.

The second to last paragraph pleads for anyone and everyone to sign the petition whether they like the show or not. Now this is problematic for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that it seriously blurs the lines between who really wants the show back and who’s just singing it for shits and giggles. Secondly, such practices make it extremely difficult to trust the numbers. For a show with as devoted a fanbase as MLaaTR, it’s likely that they aren’t too far off the truth. However, the fact remains that if there is any uncertainty in the data, more often than not they are presumed to be faulty and will be excluded from any formal analysis.

The last paragraph is more of a side note that states that other shows on Nickolodeon are being cancelled as well but it is the last line that’s the killer:

Nick will just never learn.

That one line single-handedly destroys the entire argument for the letter because it states that the network is doomed to repeating its ‘mistakes’. Why is this a problem? Well the whole purpose of a petition letter for a soon-to-be-cancelled show is to enlighten and persuade the network to change it’s ways in the hope that it will be more careful about cancelling shows in the future.

Bluntly stating that it “will just never learn” implies that the network is too stupid, dumb or ignorant to listen to advice. Which begs the question of why then, should it listen to this petition? If you already think I’m dumb, do you really think I’m going to value your opinion and judgement on matters? Of course not, you called me dumb!

Overall this is a pretty typical fan response to a hard business decision that plays on emotions rather than corporate common sense. A truly efficient letter would see the signatories sympathise with the networks need for viewers in order to keep ad revenue up and would emphasise the many ancillary benefits that the show brings to the network in terms of viewers for additional programs, merchandise sales, etc. Such a letter would do much to encourage the network to retain the show based on its actual merits, not the perceived ones.

This letter, for what it’s worth, isn’t all that bad, I mean, it did garner a few thousand signatures, many with individual responses to the show and how much it was loved. However, when it comes to influencing some executive in some far corner of Viacom’s vast headquarters in New York, it has zero potential and that’s why it’s not going to bring My Life as a Teenage Robot back from the dead.

Did The ‘Rule 63’ Episode of Adventure Time Boost Female Viewer Demographics?

Via: Frederator

[Updated below]

So here’s what I’m curious to know: Did this past week’s episode of Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake have an increased number of girl viewers compared to a normal episode and if so were the numbers of male viewers impacted?

I ask this because I’m curious to see whether the gender of the lead character can impact viewer demographics. Considering that the show is a male-leaning one anyway, did the number of girl viewers pick up because of an episode with a female lead character?

Also, how about the number of total viewers? Arguably if more females were watching and all the usual lads had tuned in, we should see an increase, right?

What are your thoughts?

Update: And the numbers are in, but curiously their only broken out for boys, not girls. Overall, 3.3 million viewers tuned in to see Fionna, Cake and Prince Gumball.

The press release only provides numbers compared to last year, so that’s not a lot of info to go on unfortunately. However seeing as it is the highest rated episode of Adventure Time of all time, which would suggest that its performance in each demo is up.

In any case, it would appear that this one-off, gender-swapped episode didn’t scare away male viewers in the slightest, which, if the wags are to believed, was nothing short of impossible to achieve.

The 7 Things That Made Adventure Time A Success

Adventure Time Promo art

Soon to be premiering its third season, Adventure Time has been on a seriously roll since it was first broadcast all the way back in 2010. Is there some kind of secret sauce that Pendleton Ward and co. have been hiding from everyone else? The answer is no, but there are a few things that the team, the studio and the network have done to ensure the shows success.

1. It’s Premise

Two best friends living in a magical land called Ooo? How could that not be special? How about if one of them was a magical dog who could talk? Even more so of course! The setup for Adventure Time is the ideal cartoon setting in that it allows for plenty of room for story. Being magical and all that, there have been no shortage of stories that make full use of such a location.

2. The Diverse Characters

Adventure Time is chock full of quirky characters who fill an episode and make it all the more fun to watch. Besides that, the regular cast are a diverse crowd, with a human, a talking dog, a bubblegum princess, a vampire and a flying ‘rainacorn’. Much like the Land of Ooo, the core characters are suitably different and complex as to permit a wide array of stories to be centered around them.

3. The Original Short

The original short, was part of Frederator’s Random! Cartoons and was broadcast on Nickelodeon back in 2008. Since Nickelodeon declined to pick up the series, it could have sat on the shelf for a year and a half. Instead, someone (somewhere) was clever enough to ensure that the short made it onto YouTube. In no time at all, it had ratcheted up over a million hits and a pseudo-cult following.

Besides that, the short was also extremely effective at introducing the world, the cast of characters and the kind of situations they have to deal with in the land of Ooo. Such a solid base was perfect as the foundation for the show’s fans on which to grow.

4. Getting Picked Up

With a bit of internet popularity, there was already an audience waiting for a series, so it came as no surprise when Cartoon Network announced their acquisition of the series, that there were many fast-paced discussions on forums as to how the show would turn out. As a result, the show’s premiere was one of the highest watched in Cartoon Network history and the show has remained a top ratings winner ever since.

The key here is that thanks to the show being on YouTube, it already had a group of people who wanted to see it. As such, it was easier for the creators and network figure out which direction the show should go in and what made it so popular in the first place.

5. The Tumblelog

The good folks at Frederator have run production blogs for all their shows since My Life as a Teenage Robot so it is no surprise that they have one for Adventure Time too. Stretching all the way back to the original short, there is literally hundreds of bits and bobs from the show like character model sheets, colour studies, sketches, storyboards and promotional art. It’s a veritable treasure trove of Adventure Time paraphernalia.

Why this is so important is because until now, the vast majority of shows normally hide such stuff away and try and keep it out of the public’s eye until at least the show’s premiere (the common fear is ‘piracy’). Posting such a large amount of art on a regular basis only served to whet the appetite of the fans, however, and when the first series was broadcast, many fans were already familiar with the episodes and were anticipating them even more.

6. The Secret Sauce of Awesomeness

[Shhh, don’t tell anyone]

7. Actively Engaging The Fans

I wrote about this last year sometime, but it is still something of a rarity in the cartoon landscape in that the producers actively engage fans and encourage them in many ways. Of note is the original tumblelog but also the many many fansites that have sprung up. The official tumblelog also requests, accepts and posts fanart and pictures of people either cosplaying or wearing Adventure Time clothing. No other show (outside of Frederator) seems to be doing this even though it has immensely helped cement the show’s reputation as being fan-friendly.

Conclusion

So there you have it, seven things that have helped Adventure Time become the success it is today. It should serve as a role model for other shows on how to successfully grow your viewer base into a fan base.

 

http://twitter.com/#!/buenothebear

Do You Know How Many Hoops A Storyboard Has to Jump Through?

I sure didn’t, and the answer surprised me. The snapshot below is taken from the storyboard for the Adventure Time episode “Guardians of Sunshine” which was recently posted over on the Frederator Blogs. Study it for a minute before continuing.

Guardians of Sunshine Approval boxesYup, that’s nine steps in total before the episode goes into actual production. Is it too many or too little, I don’t know. Although being on a mainstream network, I’d say that this is about as complicated as you can get before crossing over into feature films.

Of course, smaller and independent works won’t have near the same number of steps but it certainly struck me that just the storyboard alone would have to go through so many levels of approval just to get into production. It’s certainly another sign of the complexities of animation!

An Adventure Time Title Card That Caught My Eye

Today is a short post, because I spent all day yesterday putting together some new furniture (hence no post) and this morning, I have to get a craigslist ad out for the piece they replace. Seriously, if you live in Baltimore and want a TV entertainment centre, check out the ad and get in touch, mention this blog and get it for free!

Below, is something that caught my eye last week and this seems like as good a time as any to post it. The dense layers of artistic skills in Adventure Time continue to stun the mind of viewers and fans alike, and the title cards are no exception.

So much so, that Fred Seibert has put out a whole book on the art of the title card (from his own series’ of course) and brings to attention how they have been criminally overlooked by historians over the years. It is available on Amazon and there is a preview available on Fred’s blog.

It is therefore satisfying to see that the title card I am sharing today is also a Frederator production. It’s a mysterious piece and a bit of a play on the usual situation. Instead of Finn hiding in the background, it is Princess Bubblegum that is the one in the dark. There’s a great sense of foreboding about the whole thing, and one can’t help but wonder what terrors await Finn and Jake when they take up the scissors for the job at hand.

Via: Fred Seibert on Flickr

The episode premieres, uh, tonight (January 10th), at sometime in the evening on Cartoon Network. Check it out and report back please, I still have to re-arrange all the furniture I messed up yesterday!

Adventure Time Season 2 Starts This Monday?

Apparently so, according to Eric Homan over on the Adventure Time Blog. It seems like we were discussing the premiere of season 1 just yesterday, although April does seem so far away when you think about it.

The show has proven to be immensely popular and successful. For starters, just look at the viewing figures, every single demographic is up for the Cartoon Network. Of course, they were so low to begin with, there wasn’t many other ways it could go, but that is not the point. The point is that Adventure Time is proof that content is king when it comes to consumers.

Besides the outstanding quality, there has been the enormous number of fans that have flocked to the show. Besides commenting on the show’s main blog, there has been what seems to be thousands of submittals to the Adventure Time Tumblelog as well.

How do we know that these aren’t just random pieces of fan-art? Take a look at some of the album covers fans recreated using characters from the show. Some are absolutely fantastic and are a sign of true dedication from fans.

Which leads us to this coming Monday, when season two will premiere. Why it is happening so soon I don’t know (heck, if Eric doesn’t know, there’s no way I can either). I doubt it is a case of striking while the iron is hot. Adventure Time seems to be holding up quite well in re-runs. I’d say the reason is that with the recent premiere of J. G. Quintel’s Regular Show, the network simply wants to keep the momentum up.

Nonetheless, I think we can safely look forward to even more wacky adventures with Finn and Jake. 🙂