WarnerMedia Redraws Kids Business at Upfront

WarnerMedia Kids Family Upfront Batwheels
WarnerMedia will launch a preschool block with 20 new series including 'Batwheels' from D.C. (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

AT&T's WarnerMedia, looking to revitalize its kid and family business at a time when young viewers have turned to streaming, told ad buyers it is expanding its Cartoon Network brand with additional content aimed at reaching preschoolers and girls.

At its kids and family upfront Wednesday, it said it would be creating more than 300 hours of original series specials and acquisitions that will appear on Cartoon Network and HBO Max beginning later this year.

WarnerMedia last year combined its kids assets, including Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. animation, D.C. Comics and Harry Potter. The kids assets will operate under the Cartoon Network brand.

Cartoon Network will face off against ViacomCBS’s Nickelodeon and The Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Channel. All three companies are using kids programming to boost their streaming business, where Netflix is the big player.

Also Read: Apple Makes Deal for Kids Programming with Skydance

Tom Ascheim, the former Disney exec who was named president of Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics last year, said the Cartoon Network brand was picked because despite falling cable viewership it still enjoys worldwide recognition both on TV and online. 

“We like to say Cartoon Network is always animated, but it’s not just cartoons,” Asheim said. 

He said the brand’s strategy could be summed up in the acronym H.U.M. H stands for history, with Looney Tunes going back nearly 100 years, od Hanna-Barbera 70 years od and Cartoon Network turning 30. U is for unified, with assets combined, including the Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network studios. And M is for Modernity, as in keeping up with young people, who are both making the future and changing the way they consume content.

In addition to appearing on cable and HBO Max--including eventually the ad-supported version of HBO Max--Cartoon Network content will appear on YouTube and social channels. 

A windowing strategy hasn’t been fully worked out yet in terms of where content will appear first and for how long, Ascheim said.

The brand will use the new tagline Redraw Your World, and Cartoon Network has made a musician-in-residence deal with10-year-old Nandi Bushell to create multi-platform promotional content.

A big initial push will be with preschool kids. Cartoon Network will launch a Cartoonito block in the fall that will air weekdays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aschiem said the company was making "its biggest commitment in a hundred years” to new content for preschoolers. Cartoonito  will launch with 20 new series and will have 50 new series within its first two years.

Cartoonito programming will include Bugs Bunny Builders, Mush-Mush & The Mushabiles, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go. and Batwheels, featuring vehicles from the D.C. universe.

Cartoon Network, long more popular with boys, will also try to balance appeal with more live-action programming aimed at girls.

“Girls find their interest in live-action earlier than boys developmentally," Ascheim said.

Research indicates that while these days everyone has their own screen, parents and children are increasingly looking for more time together, particularly around entertainment, Ascheim said.

Cartoon will court family co-viewing with a movie block of Warner Brothers films including Gremlins and Back to the Future on the weekends, he said. “We will add original movies, original series, original specials there over time,” he added.

For advertisers, the new Cartoon Network “gives us scale, and when we add to that our digital presence on HBO Max you have a platform for connecting with audiences in a way we haven’t in the past,” said JP Colaco, head of ad sales for WarnerMedia.

Clients will be able to reach young and old consumers and the family members who influence and make decisions about purchases.

“We’re going to invest so much in the content that you’re going to see tremendous return in terms of increase in the efficacy of the advertising,” said Colaco, adding that “in a world where kids GRPs [gross ratings points] have moved to non-ad-supported environments like Netflix, Apple TV Plus, et cetera, we offer a bastion of glory for advertisers where they can actually interact and get their messages across.”

While many advertisers will buy kids programming as part of an overall upfront deal with WarnerMedia, Colaco said that there remains a distinct kids market for toy makers and other kids brands.

Last year’s upfront market was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and deals were completed in September, just before the start of the fall season.

“The overall market is definitely stronger than last year, Colaco said. “We see a lot of positive momentum. We think a lot of folks want to move earlier even than the May time frame,” he said.

Total Drama Island WarnerMedia Kids Upfront

Cartoon Network has greenlit new episodes for 'Total Drama Island' (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

After last year, advertisers negotiating upfront deals still “value flexibility, because we’re not through the storm yet,” he added

“So we will remain flexible and maximize our relationships with our partners through this process,” Colaco said. “We’re trying to grow our business and they’re trying to protect theirs as well. We’ll work in concert together to make an impact moving forward. But we do see a robust demand and I think once we announce our new positioning, people will be fighting to be on our platform.”

“When Kids and Family is healthy, companies do better. This has been a sleeping giant for a long time,” Ascheim added.

New series greenlights to reach all kids and families include:

Ben 10 specials – Produced by Man of Action, three 44-minute specials based on the Cartoon Network series Ben 10 are set to premiere in April 2021.

Craig of the Creek – Created by Steven Universe writers Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, season four of the Emmy-, GLAAD- and NAACP Image Award-nominated series is back.

Gremlins Season 2 – A season two greenlight of this animated prequel to the beloved film franchise doubles down on the yet-to-be aired series from Warner Bros. Animation and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television. The first season, Gremlins: The Secrets of the Mogwai, is currently in production and features a voice cast including Izaac Wang, Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong, James Hong, A.J. LoCascio, Gabrielle Green, and Matthew Rhys.

Infinity Train: Book Four – created by Owen Dennis and produced by Cartoon Network Studios.

Jade Armor – In production with TeamTO and featuring a talented all-female creative team, Jade Amor centers around the martial arts-loving Lan Jun, an unlikely teenage heroine who must learn the ancient secrets of her family and uncover the unexpected, all while navigating life as a teen.

Total Drama Island – The hilarious reality show is back with two new seasons. Total Drama Island is produced by Fresh TV for Cartoon Network and HBO Max, and distributed internationally by CAKE.

Victor and Valentino – In its third season, the series is created by Diego Molano and produced by Cartoon Network Studios.

New projects in development for kids and families include:

The Amazing World of Gumball Movie (working title) – Produced out of EMEA, the upcoming TV movie is based on the hit Cartoon Network series The Amazing World of Gumball.

Family Mash-Up (working title) – A modern day The Brady Bunch meets Pitch Perfect when a single mom and three sons and a single dad with three daughters fall in love and get married despite their kids being in two fiercely competing acapella groups. The live-action comedy is created by Michael Poryes.

Gross Girls – From Cartoon Network Studios with producers Adam Scott and Naomi Scott alongside creators Daniela Hamilton and Scott Yacyshyn, Gross Girls is an animated comedy about Chuck and Zoey, two best friends trying to survive middle school without losing any of their trademark stinky, hairy, mad science-y grossness.

Teen Titans Go! The Night Begins to Shine – In this spin-off series of Teen Titans Go!, Robin, Raven, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Starfire journey back to the world of Night Begins to Shine. Teen Titans Go! Night Begins to Shine is produced by Warner Bros. Animation.

Tweety Mysteries (working title) – Tweety Mysteries is a hybrid live-action/animated adventure from Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Bros. Television that follows a curious tween investigative journalist and podcaster named Sydney and her sidekick Tweety bird.

The company previously announced two-season greenlight of Tiny Toons Looniversity from Warner Bros. Animation, Amblin Television and returning executive producer Steven Spielberg, as well as the inclusive family co-viewing slate that includes Genndy Tartakovsky’s supernatural family series Unicorn: Warriors Eternal.

New series greenlights for Cartoonito:

Bea’s Block – Debuting on HBO Max, Sesame Workshop’s newest animated preschool comedy series centers on bold and curious 5-year-old Bea as she and her friends.

Bugs Bunny Builders (working title) – Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, Bugs Bunny Builders brings the wackiness, humor and slapstick we’ve grown to love to a new preschool audience.

New projects in development for Cartoonito:

Jessica's Big Little World (working title) – From Cartoon Network Studios, this spin-off from Craig of the Creek follows Craig’s bright, independent, spirited little sister, Jessica. The series is created by Craig of the Creek executive producers and creators Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, and Craig of the Creek supervising director, Tiffany Ford.

Tom and Jerry Junior (working title) – Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, Tom and Jerry Junior is a series of animated musical shorts introducing the beloved cat and mouse duo to preschoolers with an educational twist.

Newly acquired and coproduction series for Cartoonito:

Ladybird Lu – Produced by 9 Story’s Brown Bag Films, Ladybird Lu explores everyday dramas in the world of a three-year-old with a brand-new social life. The new series is created and directed by Nicky Phelan and inspired by his mother’s experience running a preschool.

Mush-Mush & the Mushables – Produced by France’s La Cabane and Belgium’s Thuristar in coproduction with CAKE, the series follows the endearing Mushable community. Produced by Perrine Gauthier, Mush-Mush & the Mushables is created by Elfriede de Rooster and directed by Joeri Christiaen.

Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! – From Mattel Television, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! Is produced in 2D-animation in partnership with Corus Entertainment’s Nelvana Studio.

Previously announced preschool greenlights that will join Cartoonito’s programming line-up include: Sesame Street’s first CGI-animated spinoff Mecha Builders on HBO Max; Batwheels, an action-adventure comedy series from Warner Bros. Animation that will feature heroic and iconic vehicles from the DC universe; Little Ellen, a 2D animated series from Ellen Digital Ventures and Warner Bros. Animation exploring the world through the eyes of a seven-year-old Ellen DeGeneres; Lucas the Spider, a CGI-animated show from Fresh TV in association with WexWorks Media with CAKE handling international distribution and based on a viral YouTube hit that follows the adventures of an endearing young spider; and a collection of projects with bestselling children’s book author Mo Willems.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.