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Cartoon Is for Kids Again

The Cartoon Network is a force on the playground again. After some ratings blips last year, the Turner Broadcasting-owned kids network looks back on track.

Cartoon's newest original Duck Dodgers, with Daffy Duck and friends playing futuristic characters, premieres Aug. 23. Teen Titans, another original about a crew of teen superheroes guarding a West Coast city, came on in July and is earning stellar ratings. Plans now call for four new original shows per year.

General Manager Jim Samples said Cartoon needs to do "more, better, faster," to attract kids and tweens and keep them. That means more original series, more acquisitions and more new episodes. According to Kagan World Media, Cartoon will spend close to $70 million on programming this year.

At Cartoon's upfront presentation last spring, Samples said it would need to boost its output to turn ratings around. He is beginning to deliver. In July, Cartoon notched a 1.6 rating in prime with 1.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, even with July 2002, a sign of stabilization. And the kids numbers are good too. In July, Cartoon was neck and neck with Nickelodeon and Disney Channel in the key demos like kids 2-11 and 6-11.

"Kids ratings are volatile and often snap back quickly," explained John Rash, senior vice president for media buyer Campbell Mithun.

One area where Cartoon has enjoyed success is with its young adult-targetedAdult Swim block. The late-night block, airs Sundays through Thursdays, averaged a hearty 1.6 million viewers in July thanks to originals like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and acquired adult cartoons Family Guy and Futurama.

Cartoon's return is important to stay competitive with powerhouse Nick and a surging Disney Channel. It needs to command its share of kid eyeballs and ad dollars (particularly since Disney confines its advertising to limited corporate "sponsorships").

"Cartoon is still a viable alternative to Nick," said Rash. And strengthening the programming should only help Cartoon's fortunes.

Just as important as new shows, Samples said, is increasing episode orders. The goal is to have enough episodes to strip a show. By next year, hit original Codename: Kids Next Door, which debuted in December, will be ready.