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April 6, 2018
From its mega boy franchise Ben 10 to its raucous young adult comedies such as Robot Chicken, Cartoon Network Enterprises, the brand licensing and merchandising division for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, has leveraged a wide spectrum of content into a thriving global consumer products retail business.
As Cartoon Network continues to mature and strengthen its portfolio, which is totally different than the cartoon classics from Hanna Barbera and the Warner Bros. catalog that launched the cable station in 1992 (in what founder Ted Turner described as his second best idea following the launch of CNN), its ratings continue to impress and its fan base keeps growing.
Cartoon Network, part of Turner Broadcasting System, a Time Warner company, is now widely recognized as a global leader in kids and young adult content, licensing and merchandising and is well positioned for the new decade in what will surely become a more intensely competitive marketplace vying for viewership, loyal fans and retail shelf space.
According to Christina Miller, senior vice president of Cartoon Network Enterprises, the division's success is based on three core areas: an array of original content for two networks (CN and Adult Swim), a comprehensive home video library and a licensing agency business model.
CN's flagship property Ben 10 has grown up since its debut five years ago broadening its age base from a 10-year-old boy to a soon to be 16-year-old hero. Other programs such as "The Secret Saturdays," "Chowder," "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack," among others continue to be strong properties and other facets of the consumer products division continue to thrive including online, gaming and live events.
Adult Swim, the young adult (18 to 34 year old) network, which has exploded in popularity with such shows as "Metalocalypse," "Robot Chicken," "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!," and "The Venture Bros.," offers very different niche and non-traditional opportunities for consumer products that include a record label and various live events. Last year marked the fifth year in a row that Adult Swim has claimed the No. 1 ranking among key young adult demos.
An extensive home video library drives Web traffic and fan interest. In November, CNE launched a customized DVD program for Adult Swim that allows fans to create a personalized DVD collection based on their favorite episodes.
CNE's third-party licensing agency business, which began with its first property, Bakugan—and its partnerships with Nelvana Enterprises and Spin Master—now also boasts a partnership with Cake Entertainment and Fresh TV for the Total Drama franchise and the recently announced global licensing deal with PGA of America for the youth marketplace, a direct link to the longstanding relationship between TBS and PGA.
In addition, there are several new shows and series under development that will be launched beginning this spring and over the next few seasons that will offer significant opportunities for licensed merchandise.
Cartoon Network Enterprises, according to License! Global's Annual Top 100 Licensors, ranked No. 23, generating $1.78 billion worldwide in retail sales of licensed merchandise, a significant accomplishment since 2005, the year when both Ben Tennyson and Christina Miller joined the company—Tennyson as the boy hero, Ben 10, and Miller as an up-and-coming marketing and brand licensing executive, who left her position as senior vice president of brand licensing for HIT Entertainment to assume the vice president's post for CNE. It has been quite a period of accomplishments for Ben and Christina as they celebrate their fifth anniversary this year with Cartoon Network.
Miller recently took on additional responsibilities to her CNE job in September assuming the role of senior vice president of Turner Sports Strategy/Marketing/Promotions, and relocated from New York to Atlanta. She also serves as vice chairperson of the Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association.
Miller believes the most important strategic factor contributing to the growth and success of CNE and its potential for the future is its robust partnerships with licensees, retailers and fans, as well as a grassroots understanding of consumer and retail trends.
Her reputation and commitment to CNE is exemplified in the way she explains her philosophy—in simple and succinct terms that not only reflect her sincerity and passion for the network, but for the products, the partners and the licensing business, as well.
"Our goal was to build credibility in the marketplace in a methodical and controlled way," recalls Miller, "and to establish this approach as the backbone of what we would do in the future."
Over the past four years, Miller has been able to closely monitor the evolution of the Ben 10 franchise, which debuted in December 2005, just a few months after she joined CNE. The sequel, "Ben 10 Alien Force," based on 15-year-old Ben, debuted to record ratings in spring 2008. Now the fan base awaits the third installment, "Ben 10 Ultimate Alien" (previously called "Ben 10: Evolutions"), this spring, which will focus on Ben's adventures as a 16-year-old.
According to Miller, "Ben 10" has delivered four years of double-digit growth since its debut. "We defied the myth that a new brand could enter the boys' market and we broke into the boys' space with the first new brand in more than 10 years," she recalls. "We were going into a highly competitive space and we had to be more nimble and smarter because we didn't have the vast shelf space established that we could just trade out. The key was making sure that the products, packaging and every other aspect meant as much as the content did and it catapulted 'Ben 10' into the top five right from the beginning."
Miller believes that the appeal of the show was that it was about a real and ordinary boy, not someone wearing tights and capes. "It was unique and aspirational," she says, "and a natural, merchandise-friendly property.
"We were very partnership-oriented right from the beginning and we worked hard to integrate master toy partner Bandai into the creative process," she explains. "Our philosophy has always been to ask what people are looking for and identify what's missing at retail; not to just show up with a deck and begin selling."
And it's Miller's commitment to partnerships that has become the backbone of CNE's success. Some of the newest partnerships with licensees—announced in conjunction with the New York Toy Fair—include:
Bandai. CNE announced this month that it renewed its global master licensing agreement with Bandai for the Ben 10 franchise. This worldwide deal extends the partnership through 2012 and includes rights for action figures, playsets, role-play items and more in all territories. "As master toy licensee and launch partner for Ben 10, Bandai has been instrumental to our success in making Ben one of the most popular boys' action brands on the global market today," says Miller. "Ben 10 is entering its fifth year at retail, marking a major milestone for us, and as we prepare for the next phase of the brand's lifecycle."
NBA. CNE and the National Basketball Association also renewed and expanded their co-branding partnership for Ben 10 Alien Force. The deal covers the 2009-10 NBA season and builds on the recent launch of a co-branded youth apparel line from Outerstuff and will expand to include a new line of co-branded basketballs from Spalding.
"The long-standing partnership between Turner and the NBA is one that we value and that has provided unique opportunities across a variety of platforms and audiences," says Miller. "Specifically in the kids space, this expansion of our relationship and program demonstrates the value and success of the program and the great synergy that exists between the Ben 10 brand and the NBA and our respective audiences."
Techno Source will develop a line of LCD electronic games based on Bakugan for a fall 2010 release.
Bif Bang Pow! signed as a toy partner for The Venture Bros. to produce a full line of action figures, bobble heads and vehicles based on the Adult Swim show, which will be available in spring.
Jazwares will create a range of action figures based on Robot Chicken that will launch fall 2010. Previously announced licensee deals that will be key in 2010 are:
LEGO's new line of Ben 10 Alien Force products will be launched in the Spring, and according to Miller, exemplify CNE's commitment to "create something different with the products that feature a bionic styling versus a traditional brick styling."
D3Publisher, interactive partner for Ben 10, released its third title, "Ben 10 Alien Force Vilgax Attacks," in October, and the three games combined have sold more than 5 million units worldwide, according to CNE.
In addition to its licensee partnerships, CNE continues to create innovative merchandising initiatives with its retail partners. For example, last fall CNE partnered exclusively with Toys"R"Us for a CN in-store boutique, featuring three of its brands—Ben 10 Alien Force, Bakugan, and The Secret Saturdays.
Another retail example, CNE partnered with Hot Topic for two comedy shows, "Chowder" and "Flapjack." The products include T-shirts and fashion tops from Now and Zen and accessories such as totes, key chains and buttons from Loungefly.
While CNE is still focusing on expanding existing properties and creating true evergreen franchises, Miller asserts that CNE is still in a growth mode based on various new brands that are launching over the next two years.
Miller and the CNE team are excited about the potential of a new program from Man of Action, creators of "Ben 10," called "Generator Rex." Based on the adventures of a 15-year-old boy that grows machines out of his body, Miller says the show, which will launch in the spring, gives CNE the opportunity to further expand the boys' category.
In addition, Miller remains bullish about the agency part of CNE's business—especially the potential of a new PGA licensing deal, which gives the company exclusive rights to the youth marketplace from 0 to 17.
"The goal is to build a youth movement in golf and encourage children to play earlier and understand earlier because dad plays, grandpa plays and sometimes mom plays," Miller explains. "We are creating a greater access point to consumer products through more of a lifestyle approach with apparel and hard lines—possibly creating a first golf club or items that help stimulate play early on—is where we see the strategy going." Products will debut next year.
Miller adds, "We continue to evaluate the overall agency part of CNE's business to determine what else is the right fit. We are never going to collect properties, but need to find properties that connect to other aspects of our business like PGA. This gives us a sports angle, which helps us diversify and create a more stable business that is less susceptible to the character cycle."
Miller also believes that the programming slate of Adult Swim offers untapped potential for the future based on the success CNE has experienced with several of the original properties such as "Metalocolypse." CNE developed a live concert tour for more than 30 cities and a merchandising program last fall based on the show's animated band, Dethklok. The band's second CD, Dethalbum II, debuted last September as No. 15 on the Billboard Top 200.
For "Robot Chicken," CNE created a nine-city marketing/roller skate tour last summer to launch the Robot Chicken/Star Wars episode II DVD.
For "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!," CNE has held live comedy festivals, which, Miller says, "have helped deepen the affinity our fans have for the brand."
In addition, CNE released an Adult Swim in a Box DVD Set featuring one full season of "Robot Chicken," "Metalocalypse," "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," "Space Ghost Coast," "Moral Oral" and "Sealab 2021" and five never-before-released pilots.
"We are doing a few things really well and going deep with them," says Miller. "The key is finding the iconic stature for each of these properties and being true to it because anything that's overly commercialized or can't be experienced is not the right thing for Adult Swim."
Another key factor for the continued growth of CNE is international. For example, according to The NPD Group, Ben 10 is currently one of the top five brands in multiple territories throughout the world and it currently ranks as the No. 1 selling toy brand in the U.K., Spain, Southwest Asia, South Africa and Australia.
With a focused strategic plan, a much broader age group, a well-established lineup of evergreen franchises, a diverse portfolio of new original content and a commitment to strong partnerships with licensees and retailers, CNE is well-positioned for growth worldwide not only during the post-recession era but throughout the next decade as well.
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