When Cartoon Network prexy Stuart Snyder delivers his keynote address at Mipcom Jr. he’ll have plenty of numbers to show just how much the business has changed in the past 20 years.
Cartoon Network, which like the confab celebrates its 20th anni this year, launched in 1992 in 2 million homes in the United States with only vintage Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes cartoons to air. Now, the channel is seen in more than 367 million homes in 26 languages in 178 countries, with Canada its most recent expansion.
The cabler drives viewers with such global hit franchises as “Ben 10,” which Snyder says does $3 billion a year in consumer product sales.
That growth reflects dramatic changes in the children’s TV markets, which has come a long way from Saturday morning cartoons and pubcaster educational shows.
Snyder, whose experience ranges from games to homevideo, says the changes since the days when the VCR first made on-demand viewing possible are radical but follow a fairly straight line.
“Kids today are enjoying content whenever and wherever they want,” Snyder says. “They have so many options and choices.”
Combined with the increase in sheer number of outlets — both on air and online — offering entertainment for kids, the need to compete across multiple platforms has had a huge effect on the business and creative sides of the industry.
“It’s all about tying into kids’ lifestyles and how they wish to engage with our content,” he says. “When we think about our shows, we think about them not just as television shows, we think about them on all of our platforms.”
That includes putting clips and full episodes online and, especially, gaming. The company recently launched an iOS app that lets kids watch their favorite shows and play games at the same time, on the same screen. The app was an iTunes Editors’ Choice and leads a lineup of six mobile apps the network has put out this year.
Snyder says the company sees the rapid development of alternate platforms as opportunities for extending its brand, which, from the start, has been the company’s path to success in an increasingly crowded field.
“There is certainly more animation than there was 10 or 20 years ago,” says Snyder. “We are still doing for our brand and our audience the same thing we’ve (always) been doing, which is it’s all about surprising our audience with fun, different and unique content.”
While Cartoon Network’s strengths have always been in animation — aimed particularly at boys — Snyder says talking to the network’s viewers always reveals some surprises.
For example, a few years back Cartoon learned that its audience also enjoys live-action fare.
“So we started down that path of finding the right live-action shows that could fit the Cartoon Network brand,” says Snyder. The net took some criticism from animation purists but found a hit in the videogame-inspired “Level Up.” There is more live-action programming in the works.
“Our core will always be animation, but we also will put on other genres,” he says.
Content also is increasingly coming from sources beyond the U.S. and outside traditional TV content sources. Snyder cites “The Amazing World of Gumball,” which was developed by Cartoon Network Studios Europe and was a hit when it debuted first in the U.S.; and “The Annoying Orange
,” adapted from the hugely popular online videos.
Similarly, the network continues to produce programming inhouse, developing talents such as “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward and “Regular Show” creator J.G. Quintel, as well as partnering with producers from around the globe.
Such deals include Lucasfilm, which produces “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” out of its Singapore animation studio; DreamWorks Animation, on “Dragons: Riders of Berk”; and Canada’s Cake Entertainment on the “Total Drama Island” franchise.
In the kids business working across borders is relatively easy, Snyder says.
“While there are differences between territories, the one thing that has remained constant over the years is that kids are kids.”
The rising popularity of animation and the explosion of demand for quality kids programming has helped Cartoon Network keep its focus, he says.
“Competition makes us do a better job, frankly.”
Having reached virtually every market in the world, Snyder says the network is looking to take its biggest franchises to the next level with development deals for live-action feature-film takes on “Ben 10″ and “Captain Planet.”
Snyder says those efforts are like icing on the cake — intended to expand and capitalize on the network and its brand, but the main focus remains cartoons and the TV biz.
“We want to continue to do the best content that surprises our audience, giving it to them on all platforms.”