Creating ’Toons for All Times

WHY THIS MATTERS: Turner uses its different kid-focused networks to be the animation destination for all demos.

Turner’s animation-based networks Cartoon Network and Adult Swim look to be strong competitors for upfront advertising dollars. They’ll do so with an aggressive slate of original programming, seeking eyeballs within a pair of audience segments — kids and younger adults — that are increasingly viewing content on alternative digital platforms, according to the networks’ president, Christina Miller.

Cartoon Network in March announced its largest slate of originals aimed at its target audience of kids, with such new shows as Apple & Onion and Craig of the Creek, co-created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin — the duo who wrote the network’s his series Steven Universe — as well as digital extensions for such hit shows as Ben 10.

For the young-adult crowd, Turner’s Adult Swim recently announced a long-term deal for the network’s top animated series, Rick and Morty, seeking 70 new episodes for the multiplatform show.

Ahead of Turner’s upfront event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Miller spoke to B&C about the competitive kids’ cable programming marketplace and the challenge of reaching young viewers across all platforms. An edited version of the interview appears below.

How would you define Cartoon Network and Adult Swim’s brands in a very competitive kids’ television market?

I think the brands break through in a very crowded marketplace. We have a very deep fan base across Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang. When you think about it, we offer animation for all ages, and whether you’ve grown up with it or it’s your favorite show, I think you see with our audience that they respond to our content. Whether it’s Steven Universe, Rick & Morty, the launch of Craig of the Creek, or even the movie coming out about Teen Titans Go, you see a lot of activity on all screens — there’s a real 360-degree approach to these brands. That ultimately helps us break though.

Obviously, there’s a lot of talk about the migration of younger viewers from linear viewing to watching content on digital platforms. How are you poised to reach them on those platforms, and potentially bring them back to linear?

It’s about going where they are. I don’t think trying to bring them back is a natural movement as much as saying how do you best capture those viewers, measure them and find out where they are watching. They’re watching more content than they ever had before — that we are aware of — and on more platforms than ever before. We see our numbers growing like a hockey stick across connected devices in addition to linear and [video-on-demand], so when you start to put that all together, it’s about how we can manage that, and how we are programming and creating content based on the way people are watching. So I do think if everyone is chasing the dream of being successful from people watching destination television, that’s probably not the best use of time, whereas creating an open slate and a programming schedule that acknowledges the way the audience watches will be more impactful.

Having said that, what are some of the shows that we should keep an eye on from the networks?

We have such great stuff coming — it’s the largest slate ever for Cartoon Network. We launched Craig of the Creek earlier this year, as well as Victor and Valentino and Summer Camp Island, and we also have some big story arcs around Steven Universe. Then, of course, on Adult Swim we have Jo Pera Talks With You launching [May 20], which is an amazing show that breaks different than other shows; and then obviously, there’s all the excitement around the news regarding the large quantity of Rick & Morty episodes coming to a screen near you soon.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.