The production of animated TV programs has never been greater. All three kids channels have full slates, numerous cable networks have their own shows, and FOX continues its long tradition of animated programming on Sunday nights. It’s a good time to be an optimist, yet it’s never been more important to be pessimistic about this sector of the business, because it’s about to go barrelling over a cliff.
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.
Although the recent Cartoon Network upfront presentation (they still have those?) didn’t reveal any major surprises as far as programming goes. Two new concepts and surfaced. The first is that the network is now ‘Always On’ but given the previous iteration of the idea, my money is that you have to be a cable or satellite subscriber to access. Boo. The second is a bit more interesting and is another attempt by an established network to figure out the teen mindset.
I’m asking this in a deadly serious tone, the pilot episode for the upcoming Cartoon Network series Steven Universe slipped online the other day, but was quickly yanked before anyone really knew what was going on. The episode itself (notto tease you any further) looks extremely promising with some lovely animation in addition to a superb cast of characters.
Why CN Should Know Better
The reason I pose this question is because Cartoon Network (of all networks) should know what wonders can be worked when a short is posted online in advance of the main series. The reason is simple, they’ve been here before with Adventure Time.
Yes, the original Random! Cartoons short was posted online after being broadcast on Nickelodeon. While many felt the short was too weird for a proper series, viewers disagreed and the numbers quickly racked up into the millions. Naturally this gave serious weight to the notion that there was demand for a full series and Cartoon Network dutifully picked it up after Nickelodeon’s exclusivity clause lapsed.
Needless to say, the show is one of the most popular animated TV shows of the past five years and has been the cornerstone of Cartoon Network’s audience growth.
Why Steven Universe is a Case of Deja Vu
So beside the obvious reason why a short would leak online (hint: people like to watch stuff), why would CN pull it ever so quickly? While they naturally want to keep things under wraps as long as possible, that’s pretty much gone to seed now that the cat is out of the bag so to speak.
If anything, Adventure Time proves that keeping a short online only adds to audience anticipation for the full series. Now as a network executive, wouldn’t you rather have a large audience waiting in rapt anticipation than to have to pay for advertising and marketing to accomplish the same result?
Steven Universe ought to be available online, even if it differs from the final product. It never hurt Adventure Time and it is unlike to hurt this show. Quite simply, Cartoon Network have to realise that they are in competition with web series now as well. Bravest Warriors is surely proof of that, and by hiding content away, they are doing themselves no favours at all.
I’ll admit it, I enjoy the commentators on the A.V. Club simply because they exhibit a decent sense of humour as well as an above-average level of intellect for an internet community. When news broke yesterday of the new Powerpuff Girls CGI special was being made, things were made all the more interesting with the simultaneous realisation that superhero shows Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series were not announced as returning. Such news is not the purpose of this post however, instead, here is a selection of though-provoking comments from the article.
See, I liked Powerpuff girls when they were on. It was a good show despite seeming like it was only for girls.
But I didn’t start a goddamn movement.
Which begs the question, if the Powerpuff Girls were launched today, would they garner a similar cross-demographic audience as MLP does? Would the fact that the internet is far more developed today than in 1998 be the key difference? My vote says yes.
I was a boy in middle school, you damn well better not let on that you like anything the least bit girlly
So the question here isn’t so much that Sailor Moon appeals more to girls, but that genderisation deems it as the exclusive preserve of girls. What the hell is right with that situation? Who cares if a boy likes to watch Sailor Moon? The bigger question though, is why did middle school kids feel the need to “teach him a lesson” so to speak for liking the show he likes? Your comments are welcome.
I was working daycare, with four-year-olds, when PPG was still on the air. One day, I heard three of the little boys playing Powerpuff Girls. They weren’t playing any of the male characters, they were each one of the girls. They had no problem identifying themselves as Bubbles, Buttercup, or Blossom.
Seriously? Why is there no Adventure Time Swatch watch out there? Why can’t I buy them? Why can’t anyone buy them? Why hasn’t anyone thought of doing it yet?
Well, here’s a few reasons for someone to get on it.
Swatch Is Cool
Alright, yes, that statement is coming from a child of the 80s when Swatch was the watch to have. Cheap, cheerful and created solely as a tool to ward off the crushing Japanese digital threat that almost sunk the entire Swiss watchmaking industry, Swatch watches become the epitome of hautecouture for those wishing keep up with fashionable 80s taste.
Fast forward to 2013, and Swatch watches are nowhere near as ubiquitous as they used to be, but, they’re still being made in just about every colour/pattern imaginable and they still exhibit they same classic design that made them a worldwide icon.
Adventure Time Is Cool
This is already a given, right? The show has done wonders for Cartoon Network and continually manages to outdo itself. Besides that, we’ve noted here on this blog that the show has not only been superb at embracing its fans, but also embracing novel merchandising ideas such as T-shirt competitions and limited edition wallets.
On top of that, the show has a near-perfect cast of characters. This eclectic bunch appeals to a wide range of fans in all sorts of demographics and ages. Merchandise released so far has done well to either include most of the cast, or utilise them individually to great effect.
Why Bring Adventure Time and Swatch Together Though?
Ah, the real question. Why bring a style icon of the past together with a cultural icon of today? The answer is pretty simple actually; both things complement each other. Don’t believe me?
Adventure Time is known as a fun show with fun characters engaging in all sorts of fun adventures in the Land of Ooo. Swatch staked their brand on being the fun watch, the watch that was cheap and cheerful, the watch that stood out amongst a sea of boring digital timepieces. What’s wrong with bringing two fun things together?
They Suit Each Other
Swatch watches are famous for being brightly coloured, simple watches. Sure there are more sophisticated models, but your basic Swatch watch is about as plain as they come:
This plain style is just crying out to be adorned with Pen Ward’s creations. Tragically, I cannot create the mockups necessary to visually explain what’s in my head (please, any Photoshop wizzes out there who’d like to help out, be my guest), but imagine an orange swatch watch with an elongated Jake along the entire length of the band. His bellybutton could be the centre of the dial!
Also being of benefit is that fact that Swatch watches are practically indestructible thanks to their simplicity and are inexpensive enough to be suitable for kids to have. Not that we’re focusing solely on kids, but being inexpensive means that people are likely to buy more than one.
Yes, they would be desirable. Don’t pay attention to those old bitter folks who claim that Swatch watches were a fad. Ignore the notion that nobody wears watches any more because they can just look at their phones. Gloss over the fact that a Beemo Swatch watch may not be entirely accurate.
Watches have long been surpassed as the primary method by which people tell the time. Yeah we have phones, computers, clocks and so on, but such a mindset completely ignores the reason people still wear watches: their fashionable. Yes, that’s right, I said fashionable. They’re objects of fashion for men and women, young and old. Watches are a mainstay of the fashion accessory industries and that situation is highly unlikely to change any time soon.
If anything, an Adventure Time Swatch watch may help younger kids become interested in watches. After all, they’re cool looking and have their favourite characters on them, right? Even among older fans, ones who do remember Swatch’s earlier heyday, they would be a nostalgic item.
They would also play into the current trend of personalisation. IPhone covers, clothing, jewellery and plenty of other pieces of merchandise play on the idea of making a personal statement. Swatch has been advocating that marketing line for years; a range of Adventure Time watches would only be the latest incarnation of their corporate mission.
Just Make Them Already!
Cartoon Network is missing out on an opportunity to create a range of merchandise that it truly memorable, appeals to fans, and promotes the proliferation of Adventure Time even further into the public realm beyond its fans. Why they haven’t considered this already is beyond me. But hey, if they decide to take it up, and Ice Queen one is all I ask for.
What do you think? Would you wear an Adventure Time Swatch Watch?
Cartoon Network really is the odd man out of the three US kids channels. Originally a division of Turner Broadcasting, it now operates as an arm of the vast Time Warner empire. However, despite this trait shared with Nickelodeon and Disney, Cartoon Network has shown an almost remarkable attitude to the content it has created over the years.
How The Original Series’ Popularity Fares Today
To start off right at the beginning, how are the very first batch of original cartoons treated today? Well, they’re still relatively popular among fans. Plenty of GIFs and screenshots can be found on social sites like Tumblr. Dexter’s Laboratory seems to be the current favourite, but Powerpuff Girls and Johnny Bravo can be found too.
How Newer Series’ Fare Today
After the original group of shows, a second wave of Cartoon Network originals hit the airwaves in and around 2001 and continuing thereafter. These shows varied as to their length; some lasting only two years but others, such as The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy made it all the way to 5 or more. This wave of shows brings us to around 2009-2010, at which point he current crop of shows took over and continue to this day.
These shows hold less nostalgia than those from the 90s, but they remain embedded in the consciousness of older fans.
How Cartoon Network Disrespects Both Types of Show
The signs have never been good for an animated show on Cartoon Network having much of a life off the small screen, or even after their original run has ended. Such a state of affairs has only very recently begun to change, which we’ll discuss further down.
Reruns (or rather lack of)
I never had the Cartoon Network until I came to the States, and it very quickly became apparent to me that current series are broadcast ad nauseum. Yup, when a series is “in production”, episodes will be broadcast non-stop with new ones appearing as necessary. I can safely say that I watched many episodes of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends multiple times.
That said, once a show has ended, it all but disappears from the schedule. Ostensibly this is to make way for the new show that replaces it, but in reality, it only serves to accelerate a show’s move into the history books.
Once a show is old enough, it is likely to get shifted onto Boomerang, but the lag between vanishing on one network and appearing on another can be years. By which stage the original audience has all but evaporated.
This one was apparent even to me, as I tried in vain to find some nice Foster’s merchandise. At best, all I could find were some figurines and a [very] expensive ‘cel’ of the characters. Could I find a t-shirt? Nope. Could I find a poster? Nope. I was grateful there were even wallpapers I could download for my desktop. Believe me when I say that Foster’s was not alone in that regard. All the shows suffered the same glut of merchandise.
The sole exceptions have been the Powerpuff Girls, which rode the fad all the way until it was too late for the feature film to succeed, and Ben 10, which through some magical twist of fate, has had a first rate merchandise channel since day one. Other shows in the CN library have been mostly forgotten or regrettably left to the likes of Hot Topic to satisfy fan’s desires.
Of the three areas that are under discussion in this post, the home media efforts of the Cartoon Network are the most appalling. Let me ask you some questions:
Can you buy Season 2 of Johnny Bravo on DVD?
How about a blu ray of Megas XLR?
Can you legally download any season of Camp Lazlo besides the first one?
If you answered yes to any other those questions, you’re either a liar or you’ve mistaken your sources as being legitimate.
Yes, Cartoon Network is in the undeniably unenviable position of having a pretty shite record when it comes to its home media releases. That’s not to say they doesn’t release anything, they do. However, while the initial effort (read: season one) is decent, things quickly come unhinged (for reasons unknown) and subsequent seasons fail to appear.
It’s really quite sad that I can choose almost any of Cartoon Network’s shows and say that season one is available but nothing else is. In the case of a show like Ed, Edd and Eddy, it might be permissible since that show ran for six seasons over 10 years, and that’s a huge cost hurdle right there. But in the case of say, Chowder, which ran for 49 episodes over three seasons, it’s kinda unforgivable that all the fans have are a two DVDs with 5 episodes each.) It’s why I gave up buying Cartoon Network DVDs for the most part, my collections would never, ever be complete.
The one and only consolation throughout all of this was the mammoth boxset that the Powerpuff Girls were afforded on that show’s 10 year anniversary in 2008. It’s a fine set, but did nothing for the fans out there who had already purchased the initial boxset releases that were never completed.
To add further insult to injury, nothing from the libarary of shows is available on the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime; a situation that Nickelodeon is currently cleaning house with its older shows.
Need Further Proof?
What prompted today’s post in the first place was one by the animated svengali that is Mr. Warburton. Tom was posting pictures of the special book that Cartoon Network put together for its 20th anniversary and featuring original artwork inspired by its shows. It’s a nice book and you should hit up the link to see the pictures, however Tom noticed something was terribly amiss, his show!
Codename: Kids Next Door ran on Cartoon Network for a not inconsequential six seasons and 78 episodes from 2002 to 2008 and yet was completely absent from a book celebrating such shows! Tom also noted that Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy were similarly absent.
What does that say about how a network treats its shows? If it’s willing to sideline them entirely for its official history then it can’t think very highly of them can it?
The current methods are almost certain to continue, at least for the older shows. Newer ones like Adventure Time and Regular Show seem to have spurred the network to take its properties more seriously. DVDs of both shows are available (although only the former as a season boxset) and both can be streamed through Amazon up to the current season. Both shows have also seen much more (and higher quality) merchandise than previous shows, Adventure Time in particular.
All of this is rather depressing from both a fan and a business standpoint. Cartoon Network shows are popular, but it seems that the dunderheads withing the Time Warner corporate monolith are determined that they should be treated like unwanted children once they’ve fulfilled their initial runs.
Do think Cartoon Network have done a poor job of handling their shows? Let us know in the comments!
UPDATE: It would appear that Cartoon Network has started to see the error of their ways. From March 2013, a whole host of content (both new and old) will be available on Netflix. The deal also includes a load of Warner Bros. content although no details are available at the time of writing.
This is most certainly a great positive step in the right direction for the network. Hopefully it’s not the only one.
The MIPCOM conference is currently under way in France and it attracts people from all over the world looking to buy and sell TV shows. Naturally, the large US networks are represented and indeed undertake keynote addresses to help sell their wares and to hint at where the networks themselves are going.
Cartoon Network plays a part and Turner Animation president and COO Stuart Snyder had this to say about the stuff that the network looks for:
As for how to stay ahead of kids’ interests and keep them tuned to his cabler, the Cartoon Network, Snyder said it’s all about finding unique voices, from wherever. “We look at projects and pitches that make us a little uncomfortable,’ he explained. “If one does, we think we’ve got something.”
Now I will admit that finding ‘unique voices’ is absolutely what a network should be looking for, and fair play to Snyder for bucking the trend and blazing a trail for themselves with the likes of Adventure Time and Regular Show. But to find them from “wherever”? Surely they should be looking in defined places, no?
Simply picking content from random places doesn’t seem like a particularly sustainable method of discovery. Annoying Orange is a prime example of this approach and it is, sadly, destined to be a fad; a show very much of its time. Comparatively, Adventure Time was a short in the finest Fred “throw a bunch to the wall and see what sticks” Seibert tradition and it’s done massively well and looks set to become a true classic.
At the same time, there’s a distinct lack of explanation as to what constitutes “uncomfortable”. Does it mean hard to watch, makes the viewer feel down/dejected or is it that they won’t admit to liking it. Or is it the fact that Synder and his team is uncomfortable about the need to move away from the ‘safety zone’ that all corporations love because it brings them reliable revenue?
My hunch says the last one. Only by taking risks can Cartoon Network hope to stay ahead of the pack (for now) and if a concept makes executives a little uncomfortable, then it surely must be right.
Funnily enough, it never crosses my mind that they three major kids networks here in the US actually have online stores of their own (the Hub has no store of their own, yet). My default destination for online shopping is Amazon, and not just because they have everything. So I thought it might be interesting to actually visit said stores and have a nosey around in there to see what they sell and how well they’re doing it.
Starting with Nickelodeon, the homepage greets us with some featured shows, some specials some top sellers and an advertisement (because we all go to shops to buy stuff. In fairness to Nick, they’ve got merchandise for a good chunk of their shows (no Teenage Robot though) and actually go pretty far back too, Alex Mack anyone?
What they’re actually selling though is up for debate. Setting aside SpongeBob as the exception, Nick is a bit odd when it comes to certain things. For example, men’s apparel; which consists solely of skateboard decks. Yup, that’s a new one for me too. Naturally the kids apparel and toys are well catered too, but adults are going to feel distinctly left out.
Interestingly enough, Nick does have a ‘Nickelodeon U‘ section of the store that contains four pieces of apparently random SpongeBob merchandise. Yes, you can buy SpongeBob golf balls, golf club socks, a hamper and a shower curtain. Surely this wins as the most amusing thing I found on there.
The site itself is horribly difficult to navigate and is clearly not intended to be kid-friendly. It seems to be more of a token effort than something that is given serious attention by Viacom.
This one is a clear winner. Selling merchandise has been the cornerstone of the Disney empire since its foundation and their current online outlet continues the tradition. You can buy anything and everything there (including some fabulously overpriced fine art) and the company isn’t shy about leveraging the entire organisation either. You can buy Disney Channel, studio and park merchandise all in the one place. In other words, if it’s Disney-related, you can buy it. The store itself is easy to navigate and with tons of products, its possible to find something you want.
What I did find to be the interesting part of the store is the homepage itself. Take a look at it. Who’s it targeting? Kids obviously, but if you scroll just a wee bit further down the page, it becomes clear that the Disney Princess brand is being flogged for all its worth. You’ll also note that girls come before boys in the menu bar. Now that is not to say it’s a bad thing, but like Rebecca Hains, I just tend to take a dim view on how Disney targets girls in particular.
Lastly, we come to Cartoon Network, long the dark hose of the three but now enjoying either top or second billing. The network has really improved its online store over the version I visited a couple of years ago. Now instead of nothing, there is a ton of stuff, but not just any old crap.
All three networks have the now-obligatory iPhone cases but only CN puts them on the front page. Behind the facade there is a very well-designed and laid out store that could easily be navigated by anyone.
Besides the clear groupings of shows and types of merchandise at the top of the screen, the stuff itself is perhaps the best of all the networks. It would seem that Turner has gotten its act together as of late with a really good variety of products. I mean, OK, there still is the odd dodgy article and the usual toys, but how about not one, but two choices of Powerpuff Girls canteens? Or the fact that they sell stuff for a good many of the classic shows that have been off the network for maybe 10 years or more?
Of course as good a job as CN does, it could do better. Plenty of the shirts that are available elsewhere aren’t available here. So anything in Hot Topic or WeLoveFine isn’t there. A loss for sure on CN’s part because as good as their stuff is, the most exciting stuff is being done away from corporate control.
Overall, the winner in terms of range is clearly Disney. However in terms of actually creating a great looking shop that will appeal to their audience, Cartoon Network is on top. The loser in all of this is Nickelodeon, although they sell so much through traditional channels, they are likely not as worried as they should be.