DIC uses online platform to dive into fan base

Company pursuing web-based fan communities

A company like DIC, with thousands of cartoons spanning dozens of familiar titles, could have cut a deal to put its library online, collected some cash, called that an Internet strategy and gone back to doing what it has always done.

But DIC’s actual Internet strategy is much more far-reaching.

Rather than simply using the Web as another delivery system for cartoons, the company is pursuing a three-pronged strategy aimed at building fan communities, enhancing its brands — and, yes, driving viewers to its TV offerings.

In June, DIC announced a strategic partnership with AOL to co-produce a branded TV programming block: “KOL’s Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party on CBS.”

KOL and DIC also are co-producing “Dance Revolution,” a live-action series based on videogame Dance Dance Revolution.

AOL is hosting and building the companion Web sites for the programs.

“Where DIC has been successful and very clever,” says Malcolm Bird, AOL’s senior VP, kids & teens, “was by realizing that they not only need to have a TV distribution platform but also to have an online platform as well.

“By doing this deal, DIC is sort of ahead of the curve.”

Bird calls the result “the first-ever broadline network,” combining broadcast and online.

“They’re complementing each other’s programming, and each one provides recirculation of traffic to the other.”

Many are avatar-based, meaning the viewer can create an online persona and interact with the world of the cartoon.

“The sites are meant to be extensions of the shows,” says Leila Pirnia, VP of global brand management for DIC.

“In ‘Horseland,’ you create your own horse avatar, take care of it,” says Pirnia, but unlike established digital-pet sites like Neopets, it includes a real-time competition with other players.

The branded sites, including the Slumber Party and Trollz.com sites, are only the start of DIC’s three-pronged approach.

The second, says Pirnia, is creating an “all-encompassing DIC Web site,” where users can explore the world of their favorite characters, engage with the characters and other users and even cross over between different worlds. Think Dennis the Menace meets Strawberry Shortcake.

The third piece of the strategy is partnerships with established online distributors like Yahoo!, Google, MSN, Amazon and perhaps even Apple’s iTunes Store.

That piece, seemingly the simplest, actually has a lot of pitfalls, and DIC is still pondering its strategy there.

The new CBS shows appear online after they’ve aired, but the library titles are not on the Web yet.

There are considerable upfront costs in encoding cartoons into streamable or downloadable digital files.

As Pirnia puts it, “Do we encode the content ourselves, incur the costs and then take the content to those providers and be more profitable in the beginning? Or do you let them encode it and be less profitable at first?”

DIC is leaning toward doing its own encoding, she says, but hasn’t made a firm decision.

Once it does, it will put the library online, because that’s where kids are spending their time.

“In this day and age you have to be everywhere they want to be,” says Pirnia, “and not try to control it yourself.”