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How Rovio Just Played Hollywood With ‘Angry Birds’

'Angry Birds Toons' to launch on 1.7 billion screens and through additional TV partners starting March 16

During the four years that Rovio Entertainment has turned its “Angry Birds” game into a mega-franchise across mobile devices, the Finnish gamemaker has also quietly built what might turn into one of the most lucrative distribution platforms in years.

When it launches its “Angry Birds Toons” this weekend, the company will essentially convert every app that offers its “Angry Birds” game into an outlet for its new animated shorts, each three minutes long.

That means every mobile device — including Apple, Android and BlackBerry-powered smartphones and tablets — will feature the 52 episodes “Angry Birds Toons” that Rovio has produced, as will Samsung’s smart TVs, and other VOD streaming platforms like Roku.

Company says the distribution network it has built through the downloading of its apps will give it 1.7 billion screens around the world through which it can launch the shorts.

Move is latest from a digital player to sidestep a traditional distribution deal with a major Hollywood player, in this case a broadcaster or cable partner, and release its own original entertainment product in a way that enables it to collect more of the revenue generated from the property.

In this case, it will be advertising from an initial group of marketers that include Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures, the world’s largest videogame publisher, Activision Blizzard, and BlackBerry, which will promote their new films, games and phone launches through the new “Angry Birds Toons” network.

The method for the rollout came as a surprise during the SXSW event in Austin, Texas, where a first look at the shorts was revealed.

But it’s primarily a surprise to Hollywood, which has lauded — and been enviable of — Rovio’s ability to launch a new major moneymaking franchise that’s not based on an existing property, but was unaware of the ability for Rovio’s apps to also serve as an outlet for other original programming.

Not bad for a company that was considered just a gamemaker that lucked out with a cute slingshot game involving grunting pigs and squawking animated birds.

First game was introduced in December 2009, and recently spun off licensed versions like “Angry Birds Rio,” “Angry Birds Space,” “Angry Birds Star Wars” and “Bad Piggies.”

If that wasn’t massive enough, Comcast will also stream the weekly episodes to subscribers of its Xfinity on Demand service in the U.S., online at Xfinity.com/tv and the Xfinity TV Player app.

Other channel operators around the world — FOX8 in Australia, JEI TV in Korea, ANTV in Indonesia, Cartoon Network in India, MTV3 Juniori and MTV3 in Finland, the Children’s Channel in Israel, 1+1 networks in Ukraine, Gulli and Canal J in France, SUPER RTL in Germany, TV2 in Norway, Canal 13 in Chile and Gloob in Brazil — will also air the series, expanding Rovio’s audience even more. All will launch with the U.S. bow.

Episodes will launch on TV first, starting March 16, before appearing on apps and other VOD platforms on March 17. Future releases will follow a similar format.

The latest update to any “Angry Birds” game will unlock the new channel button in the game’s homescreen on March 17.

The toons come as Rovio is also developing an “Angry Birds” feature film, produced by John Cohen (“Despicable Me”) and former Marvel Studios executive David Maisel. Film is being prepped for a 2016 release.

They also bow shortly after Rovio said it would launch a new ad network through its games as a way to further monetize the games.

“We’ve long wanted to tell our fans the story of the Angry Birds and the Bad Piggies, to introduce their personalities and their world in detail,” said Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio. “We’re delighted to introduce all this through our new channel, with easy and instant access to the stories in the palm of your hand. With over 1.7 billion downloads, we can reach a far wider and more engaged global audience than traditional distribution would allow.”

Hed added that the launch effort is part of Rovio’s “journey towards becoming a fully fledged entertainment powerhouse.”

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