Cartoon Network was the original home for the vast library of Hanna-Barbera and MGM cartoons that Ted Turner had at his disposal. It soon outgrew that purpose as original content began to be broadcast on the channel and eventually banishing them altogether to a new network: Boomerang. To say they languished there is an understatement, but Turner’s attempt to make amends comes too little, too late.
For those that are old enough to remember, Boomerang is basically what Cartoon Network was when it began. Little more than a broadcast outlet for the hundreds of cartoons and short films that Ted Turner had acquired when he bought MGM, it was riding the wave of cable growth in the 90s and soon saw a way to branch into original content through its conglomerate sibling, the Hanna-Barbera studio.
As original shows such as the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory proliferated and flourished, it left classics such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Tom & Jerry clamouring for time on the network they helped make. Soon relegated to a programming block, they were eventually given a whole network of the same name: Boomerang. Such a move would seem great, except that Boomerang was commercial-free and only available in certain households as a result of cable providers putting in higher-tiered bundles. Its appeal was therefore limited and certainly, hamstrung.
That’s the way things have remained up until now, when Turner announced that they intend to turn the channel into a global brand akin to Cartoon Network. The most obvious change will be that the station will undertake advertising, thereby making it more appealing to service providers. The promise is that all the old favourites will be given a new lease of life alongside “original content”.
On the surface, all this sounds fine and dandy, but when you step back and consider things, it sounds monumentally backwards!
It’s 2014 and Turner is, in effect, launching a new TV channel. Such a move would have seemed brilliant not even four years ago, but at a time when it’s clear that the internet has all but signed television’s death certificate, it reeks of outdated thinking and there are more than enough reasons why as well.
The Youth are Not In Front of the TV
YouTube is where it’s at. Or if not, it’s an app/video game. Do kids still watch TV? Of course, but any born after 2000 are firmly entrenched in the digital age. They do not comprehend schedules, they do not comprehend re-runs, and they barely understand the concept of unavailability when it comes to content. The internet and Netflix can offer it now, and if they don’t, there’s more substitutes than you can count.
Clearly Tuner are not fools in this regard; they do offer web streaming of all their shows. However it’s only if you have a cable subscription, yay! So while the content may be available online, the young cord nevers of today can’t access it. Like I said above, if they can’t access it, they’ll watch something else. Combined, the Boomerang reboot is attempting to apply the old model to the new era where it will be as irrelevant as ever.
Library Titles Have Nostalgic Value Only
Again, welcome to 2014. There’s more original content being produced right now than at any other time in human history. There may still be 24 hours in a day, but it’s not like producers and viewers alike are struggling to fill that time. With 100 hours being uploaded to YouTube every minute, the never-ending flood of new material is so large that a single viewer could never hope to catch up with it.
What’s new and fresh is what’s appealing. Nobody is watching YouTube videos from 7 years ago; they’re consigned to the internet history books forever. Old cartoons survived not because they were great, but because they were broadcast constantly for decades, and often when kids had no choice but to watch them.
Nowadays, they cannot, simply cannot, compete with new content. End of story. Do kids today even know who Johnny Quest is, and if so, do they even care? Put Johnny on a channel and I’m willing to be he doesn’t attract a lot of the target demographic.
Which brings up the more tragic part of Boomerang as a network; it relies utterly and totally on nostalgia. That’s fine as long as you accept that your audience will change only thanks to the grim reaper, but they’re looking for growth??? The money for old cartoons isn’t in broadcasting. Oh sure, eyeballs are important, but you have to go where they are (see point above.)
The #&%*ing Internet is Right There!
This is the one that really gets me on a personal level. Let’s say you acquire a very large, very broad library of music. You own it entirely and can do whatever you want with it but would really like to make some money from it because it didn’t come cheap. Would you start pressing CDs and selling them in stores?
Would you even make money that way right now, or would you lose your shirt? Is what Turner is doing any different? Consider it for a second. They own a very large library and while they own the pressing plant, they’ve essentially decided to make CDs and attempt to sell them via Boomerang.
To come back to the music analogy, what have people in just such a scenario actually been doing? They’ve been putting the music on just about every damned service they can! Spotify, Rdio, iTunes, you name it. You can find far more old music on the internet these days than you ever could in a record store. The best part it is that it manages to compete with new, original content for the simple reason that they share the same space! You might not like big band jazz, but if you stumble across it on Spotify, there’s a far better chance you’ll listen than if it’s on a lonely CD at the back of the record store, right?
So why isn’t Turner putting each and every one of their library titles online? They have more than enough to start an entire service by themselves, and the freemium subscription model is sufficiently well established at this stage.
Boomerang could so easily have been the web destination for old cartoons. Five bucks a month without the ads! Ten bucks for the HD stream! Download the series for twenty! And so on. How many people would have gone there to relive the old days? How many kids could have been sucked in by the slapstick violence that’s been cross-promoted on YouTube and Facebook? What ancient show suddenly seems hip, relevant, and financially lucrative?
Alas, we may never know; we’re stuck with just another TV channel that has to compete with all the others, and which kids will never watch.