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‘Birds’ builds platform nest

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 of “Angry Birds Toons” that Rovio has produced, as will Samsung’s smart TVs, and other VOD streaming platforms such as 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, such as 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 its 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 envious of — Rovio’s ability to launch a major moneymaking franchise that’s not based on an existing property, but was unaware of the ability of Rovio’s apps to also serve as outlets for other original programming.

Comcast will 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 South 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 Globo in Brazil — will also air the series, expanding Rovio’s audience even more. All will launch with the U.S. bow.

Episodes will bow on TV first, starting Saturday, before appearing on apps and other VOD platforms Sunday. 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 Sunday.

The toons come as Rovio is 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 an 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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