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Cartoon Network Fall 2010 Kristoffer Falcones, Anna Mackey, Brendan Mahoney.


History

Cartoon Network, created by Turner Broadcasting, is a cable television channel dedicated to animated programming. In 1986, before Cartoon Network was created, Ted Turner’s cable-conglomerate acquired the existing MGM film and television library.[1] Two years later, cable channel Turner Network Television (TNT) gained an audience with this film library, and lead Turner to purchase the animation studio Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1991.[2] This acquisition provided Turner with an even larger library, and in October of 1922, Cartoon Network was created as an outlet for Turner’s library of animation.

Initially, programming consisted of reruns of classic Warner Bros. cartoons along with some Hanna-Barbera time-fillers. In 1994, Cartoon Network created its first two original series: The Moxy Show and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. In 1995, The What-A-Cartoon! Show, a series of creator-driven short cartoons, premiered with the objective to steer away from repetitive programming and really expand the channel’s exclusive content. The show spun-off six highly successful original series: Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, The Powerpuff Girls, Mike, Lu, & Og, and Courage the Cowardly Dog.[3]

In 1996, Turner merged with Time Warner. This merger consolidated ownership of all Warner Bros. cartoons.[4] Time Warner changed the direction of Cartoon Network, focusing the studio exclusively on creating new material for the channel. Currently, nearly all of Cartoon Network’s classic cartoon programming has been relocated to its sister network Boomerang[5], creating even more space for new programming. In 2001, Adult Swim premiered as a “spin-off” programming block targeting adults. In 2005, Turner Broadcasting split Adult Swim from Cartoon Network so it could be treated as a separate channel for rating purposes. Though it is treated as a separate channel, it still shares channel space with Cartoon Network, allotted the hours of 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM EST.[6] The introduction of Adult Swim really expanded Cartoon Network’s audience, as it began appealing not only to children, but to the 18+ demographic as well.

In February of 2007 Jim Samples, general manager of Cartoon Network for thirteen years, resigned because of the Boston bomb scare.[7] Stuart Snyder was named successor, and under his leadership Cartoon Network underwent a number of changes, including in 2009 a new block of live-action reality shows promoted as CN Real.

Ownership and Conglomeration

Cartoon Network is run by Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company. In addition to Cartoon Network, TBS, Inc. also runs the CNN network, as well as the entertainment networks TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim, Boomerang, truTV, Peachtree TV, and many additional international channels.

Before TBS, Inc. began, R.E. Turner purchased WJRJ-Atlanta, a small UHF station, and renamed it WTCG for parent company Turner Communications Group. In 1976, after successful guidance from Turner, WTCG originated the “superstation” concept, transmitting programming via satellite to cable systems. In 1976, the company changed its name to Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. In 1980, the company launched CNN, the first 24-hour all-news network and a groundbreaking step in how the world viewed breaking news. Today, TBS Inc. is a leading provider of programming for the basic cable industry, with networks all over the world.[8]

Partnership

Boomerang

While Cartoon Network started as a channel to broadcast cartoons from the MGM and Hanna Barbera libraries, as the channel matured and started to produce original content, however, these programs were shown less and less frequently.  To remedy this, Turner Broadcasting created Boomerang in April of 2000.  Boomerang, a sister channel of Cartoon Network, is a continuation of the channel's original mission and a home for classic cartoons like Tom and Jerry, The Jetsons, and The Flintstones. [9] By operating on two channels for most cable subscribers, the Cartoon Network brand can appeal to both older fans of classic works and newer fans interested in current programming, without sacrificing the either.

Adult Swim

Cartoon Network's edgy late night block, Adult Swim, begins at 10 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. Like Cartoon Network, almost all of the programs are cartoons, but many purposefully avoid the mainstream. Adult Swim has carved out a niche for itself in late night cable with cult cartoons like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Venture Bros, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast (a parody of late night talk shows), and Robot Chicken.[10]  Adult Swim is also partially also responsible for resurrecting the popular show Family Guy, which became extremely successful in syndication after it had been canceled by FOX.[11] Adult Swim, in addition to Viacom's Comedy Central, have become the preeminent cable destinations for mature animation.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force, one of Adult Swim's signature programs and also it's longest running, gained significant press surrounding a guerrilla marketing campaign. The campaign, which involved LED light up placards of an ATHF minor character giving the finger, was misconstrued as a bomb threat in Boston and led to the arrest of two men. Turner Broadcasting was forced to apologize for the stunt and paid a $2 Million restitution. Jim Samples, the general manager of Cartoon Network who authorized the campaign resigned in light of the event.[12] While this campaign might have resulted in some negative press for Turner, it follows in line with Adult Swim's subversive edge.

Production, Distribution, Transmission

Cartoon Network produces many original hit shows such as Courage the Cowardly Dog, Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Cow and Chicken, and Ed, Edd and Eddy. Newer originals include The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjacks, Chowder, and Ben 10: Alien Force. These are all produced and broadcasted by Cartoon Network. The channel also has third party trademarks and partnerships (listed below) that are under the Turner Broadcasting System ownership and are broadcasted by the network. One trademark that was acquired by Turner Broadcasting System was Warner Bros.'s Batman and Justice League, which were exclusive to the network until the creation of the Kids WB block on the WB channel. Besides the third party trademarks, Cartoon Network originals produced by the Cartoon Network Studios remain exclusively on the channel and not distributed to any other network.

Cartoon Network also receives content from international networks with shows such as Dragonball Z, Yu Gi Oh, Yuyu Hakusho, Inuyasha, Pokémon, Naruto, and Naruto: Shippuden. Many of these shows are considered manga but are translated into english and retitled cartoons.

Cartoon Network also distributes its contents internationally. In the United Kingdom for example, Cartoon Network distributes some of its trademark cartoons to the UK TBS network. [13]

Branding Strategies

Because of Cartoon Network’s younger demographic, much of the network’s branding includes an interactive website with games, videos, and a retail shop. Cartoon Network also launched a Cartoon Network Magazine, and in 2007 Teshkeel Media Group announced their partnership with CN to publish Arabic and English versions of Cartoon Network Magazine in the Middle East and North Africa.[14]

The CN retail shop carries merchandise specific to seventeen of its shows, including backpacks, T-Shirts, bedding, books, costumes, DVDs, games, and various other products. On October 5, 2010 Cartoon Network Enterprises and MEGA Brands entered a global licensing agreement to develop construction toys based on CN’s new boys action series, Generator Rex.[15] This is the first time the companies have partnered on product development, and this step will further commodify Cartoon Network's programming. Cartoon Network also targets the younger demographic with their facebook page boasting 1,157,009 fans as of October 7, 2010 as well as a FartBlaster game.

Adult Swim hosts its own website with games, videos, and retail shop as well. In parallel with its programming, the Adult Swim merchandise targets an older audience with merchandise ranging from DVDs to “I Hate My Boss” mugs.

Signature Programming

As one would expect, Cartoon Network's signature programming is animation, which has been true since the channel's formation and remains true today.  Cartoon Network started showing older classics in the Hanna-Barbera library, but in 1995, with Space Ghost, Coast to Coast and The Moxy Show, Cartoon Network began its evolution toward more original programming.  The new crop of shows, which included Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Johnny Bravo, became the channel's staples.  These shows have since ended and been replaced by newer cartoons, like Ben 10: Ultimate Alien and Teen Titans.  Cartoon Network also broadcasts several Japanese manga programs in its current schedule, such as Bakugan Gundalian Invaders and Beyblade Metal Fusion.  While cartoons continue to be the channels primary identity, more recently the channel has begun to experiment with other forms of television.

CN Real

In 2009, Cartoon Network launched a sub-brand called CN Real, an umbrella term for its new, original live action programming, which includes both scripted and reality show programs aimed to appeal at the younger audience of Cartoon Network. Unnatural History and Tower Prep are two scripted, hour long dramas, while Destroy Build Destroy and Dude, What Would Happen are structured similarly to popular American reality shows like Junkyard Wars and Mythbusters.[16] CN Real's newest show, Hole in the Wall is based off the Japanese Game show Nōkabe.[17]    

Textual Analysis

Tower Prep (October 2010 - Present)

Tower Prep is a new live-action series from Cartoon Network centered on Ian, a courageous but rebellious teenager who has recently been suspended from his school. After being suspended, he wakes up at a mysterious prep school with no idea where he is or how he got there. He discovers that Tower Prep is an exclusive school for students with special abilities, although none of the students know where the school is located geographically or how any of them ended up there. Ian and his three new friends CJ, Gabe, and Suki are determined to uncover the mysteries of Tower Prep and escape.

This live-action series is aiding in the network’s plan to target a broader audience. The programming block CN Real was started in 2009 to introduce live-action shows on Wednesday and Saturday nights, but because the block received negative reception, only two of the original shows from that block, Dude, What Would Happen and Destroy Build Destroy, continue to air on Wednesday night’s. Tower Prep premiered on October 16, 2010 and has aired 2 subsequent episodes to date airing at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday nights.[18] Airing at 8 p.m. leaves the show still accessible to younger audiences perhaps already engaged in the channel before that time while also attempting to draw in an older audience. With main characters in high school and a more intricate and adult plotline,Tower Prep is focusing on the 13-17 year-old demographic. By airing the show on Tuesday nights instead of Wednesday nights with the other live-action shows, Cartoon Network is attempting to broaden its viewership by expanding that established Wednesday night audience to a different day of the week while also picking up new viewers.

Paul Dini, former first season story editor for Lost, is the creator of Tower Prep. Many of the same Lost concepts of mystery, action, humor, and love interest are present in Tower Prep, as it intends to bring the audience along for an entertaining and mysterious ride while also engaging their hypothesis and their interest by ending episodes with cliff-hangers intended to entice the audience back. Viewer commitment and interaction is key for the show to develop a continuing audience. The Tower Prep section of the Cartoon Network website includes a “meet the characters” section, a “what we know so far” section, as well as a “fan talk” forum.  While online fan engagement is not new to Cartoon Network, Tower Prep's mysterious storyline encourages unprecendented fan involvement for the network, far beyond the usual "Who's your favorite character" online discussions.  For instance, even through only three episodes have aired, the “What do you think is going on at Tower Prep?” board already boasts 422 messages and 35,423 views.[19] 

In addition to the mystery of the plot and deliberate cliffhangers, Tower Prep is also a character-driven show. From the beginning, Ian is introduced as courageous and masculine while also struggling with the rules and expectations of his school and parents. He exemplifies contradictions many teenagers feel while coming of age. In the pilot episode, Ian is showed having an argument with his parents where Ian defiantly questions his parents: “Are you saying I should change who I am?” while his mother replies, “You haven’t even begun to realize who you are”. This exchange illustrates the common teenage feeling of being misunderstood by parents and authority figures while they simultaneously try to shape the teenager to fit their standards. The themes of self-discovery and escape are integral to Tower Prep, and further target the young teenage audience by portraying them as the heroes battling this authoritative power.

Aiding in the battle are the three supporting characters of the series. Each can generally be summed up in generic terms: CJ is the pretty one, Gabe is the funny one, and Suki is the smart one. Tower Prep attempts to broaden its racial scope with Suki, the only non-white main character, but displays her Asian heritage in the rather stereotypical way of being “the brain of the team” and extremely “tech savvy”. However the personalities of each of these characters is deepened by their lives before Tower, their desire to escape, and their special abilities. The audience can connect to different aspects of each character’s life and become invested in their growth as an individual as well as the growth of the group’s friendship. This investment is spurred on by the action and excitement of their adventure, and the desire to see them succeed. As the characters discover more about the mysteries behind Tower Prep so does the audience, and this loyalty and curiosity will hopefully snag a returning audience for Cartoon Network.

The Boondocks (November 2005 - Present)

The Boondocks is an animated series created by Aaron McGruder. The Boondocks started as a comic strip in University of Maryland's school newspaper while McGruder was an undergraduate. It was later a successful syndicated feature in newspapers across the country. The comic strip ended in 2006 so McGruder could focus solely on the television show.  Like the rest of Adult Swim's programming, The Boondocks targets a mature (eighteen and over) audience.

Though the show is primarily about African American culture, the show is noted for its use of anime-inspired animation. This was a stylistic choice by McGruder, and consequently the show's distinctive look is created by Dong Woo Animation studios in Seoul, South Korea.[20] In addition to character design, the shows frequent action scenes are animated with the same kinetic, exagerrated style seen in Japanese anime.  McGruder chose to animate the show in this manner, in addition to set the show apart from Family Guy and The Simpsons, but also because "Japanese style of animation is, the most cinematic and therefore I think gives you the most flexibility in terms of doing humor for adults."[21]

The Boondocks has received critical acclaim and has been nominated for "Outstanding Comedy Series" at the 37th NAACP Image Awards. It also won a Peabody Award in 2006[22]. But more than its critical acclaim, the show has a lot of controversy surrounding its content and satirical style of delivering messages. One recurring controversy within the show is the use of the word "nigga." Creator Aaron McGruder defends the use of the word and pushes for the word to be published in his comic strip nationally across three hundred-fifty newspapers. McGruder says that, "it makes the show sincere." He continues his argument and says, "sometimes we use bad language...the 'N word' is used so commonly, by not only myself, but by a lot of people I know, that it feels fake to write around it and to avoid using it."[23] McGruder's argument shows the direction he wishes his work to go in: to address racial, class, sexuality, and other core issues presented in The Boondocks through a lens that shows the audience two different realities. This lens allows for McGruder's show to utilize its satirical style and address the issues mentioned in a hyperrealistic[24] fashion: makes the world within the television seem real but the audience can see that there is a clear message that goes beyond the fourth wall.

In the episode titled "Pause" McGruder criticizes entertainer Tyler Perry (both of their shows air on Turner Broadcasting)[25].  The title comes from expression "no homo," as in, one should pause and say "no homo" after using phrases that could be construed as homosexual innuendo, satirizing the stereotype of young, homophobic African Americans. The focus of the episode illuminates the stereotypical and negatively considered content of Perry's works such as Meet the Browns, Madea movies, and his other properties. The Boondocks introduces a character by the name of Winston Jerome and his cross-dressing alter ego "Ma Dukes", a near doppelganger for Perry and Madea. This episode works to show the negative connotation that emanates from the stereotypes Tyler Perry's works display as African American life and culture. Some of the stereotypes portrayed in "Pause" are the religious obsession, skin tone discrimination, and affected accent of African Americans seen in Tyler Perry's works.  In addition to this satire, the show is extremely critical of Tyler Perry himself.  Winston Jerome (and by extention Tyler Perry) is portrayed as a flameboyant, power-hungry, Christian cult leader and closeted homosexual hell-bent on overtaking Ice Cube’s domination of black Hollywood.  Also addressed is Perry's near monopolization of productions using African American actors, which makes some uneasy to speak any ill against him.

This program assimilates into the Adult Swim brand by creating content that focuses on societal issues and addresses those issues maturely and satirically. Just as other shows Adult Swim broadcasts such as Family Guy, Futurama, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Boondocks fits in with the styles of mature humor to address different issues. In terms of a hyperrealistic structure, as previously mentioned, all these shows create a world in which they can see and talk about our societal issues and simultaneously display other issues that they do not address but the audience can distinctly point out. An example in the Pause episode is the criticism of Tyler Perry's shows for stereotyping African Americans, yet the three main characters are African Americans whom liberally address each other and other characters in the show as "niggas" and try to mitigate other stereotypes by frequently displaying them. In the world of The Boondocks, the characters do not realize these issues within their own reality but certainly address the issues in other realities such as our own.

Audience and Online Analysis

The top of the Cartoon Network website immediately reveals the channel’s fundamental strategy for connecting with audiences. The six main buttons across the top are, from left to right, “Home,” “Games,” “Video, ” “Fan Talk,” “TV Schedule,” and “Shop.” By placing “Games,” as the second most visible button, Cartoon Network desire’s to be an interactive destination and online game portal, not merely a source of information. Perhaps more interestingly is the more favorable position given to “Fan Talk” ahead of “TV Schedule.” While the programming schedule is arguably one of the most common reasons to visit a channel’s website, Cartoon Network encourages it’s fans to discuss online and explore the brand and its shows.[26]

Games

Games are an important aspect of the Cartoon Network experience and a prime example of "advergaming."  Currently, Cartoon Network offers 239 on the site from a range of sources.  Most games featured on the site are crossovers from current and past television shows, such as Republic Ace, which uses the setting and characters of Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars.    While most of the games hosted on the site are related to existing programs, Cartoon Network does offer distinct games, most notably Fusion Fall, a massively multiplayer online role playing game aimed at young kids.  While not directly related to any show on the channel, it has multiple tie-ins, such as redeemable codes that are revealed during their most popular shows. Through these tie-ins, Cartoon Network hopes to drive traffic toward their site, traffic that will not visit quickly but will stay to play games as well.  The video games are important tools to get kids to interact with the brand in an entertaining way that doesn't seem like advertising. [27]

Adult Swim and Games

Adult Swim, though targeted at an older audience, also uses games to draw visitors. However, instead of games inspired by programs it broadcasts, AdultSwim.com hosts games that are completely different entities, with no connection to the Adult Swim lineup. Instead of tying games to shows, these games are inspired by an absurdist tone and dark humor that also pervades the channel's schedule. With titles like Five Minutes to Kill (Yourself), Robot Unicorn Attack, and Candy Mountain Massacre, Adult Swim is clearly trying to appeal to the same audience, albeit through different, yet equally subversive manner. Adult Swim advertises it’s website and games during commercial breaks, and often posts the names of the high scorers for its most popular games as bumpers between shows. Adult Swim games now reach beyond their website as well. Currently, on the “Top 25 Paid” list in the App store, Adult Swim’s Amateur Surgeon II is the number six game and many more are available. Furthermore, “Robot Unicorn Attack” is available as a Facebook application, perhaps as a tongue in cheek alternative to more serious stalwarts like FarmVille and MafiaWars.[28]

Fan Forums

From the Cartoon Network website, users can access a “Fan Talk” module that offers forums on Cartoon Network itself, specific programs, and sports. The Cartoon Network forum includes topics such as “Favorite Classic Cartoons”, “Funniest Cartoon Network show EVER”, and “Cartoon Network Topic Suggestions” among others. The forums about specific shows generally include threads about favorite characters and favorite episodes. There are also more specific threads that could easily be used by Cartoon Network to understand viewers’ preferences and improve future episodes such as “What do you like most about Adventure Time”, “What did you think of the premiere?” and “What did you think about the sneak peak?” These types of threads are valuable for Cartoon Network because they can learn about their viewer’s candid opinions, and use that information to alter their programming and further target and hook those viewers. A “Sports” forum is also available for participants to comment on topics seemingly unrelated to Cartoon Network such as “Favorite NBA Player” and “Who Should Be World Series MVP?” These forums are perhaps created with the purpose of engaging a broader audience who may be less likely to comment on specific programming while appealing to their strongly male demographic. On the “Dude, What Would Happen” forum, Cartoon Network seeks to integrate the female (and perhaps young homosexual) audience by providing the thread “Who’s the Cutest Dude?”, which currently boats 30 pages of testimonials.[29]

The new plot-driven show Tower Prep has a forum that currently includes 11 topics mostly centering on the mystery of Tower Prep and viewers’ different theories. This forum is integral to Cartoon Network’s goal to make Tower Prep an interactive experience that engages the viewer both during and after the aired episodes. Topics about specific characters are also available with broad threads such as “talk about Suki”, “Talk about CJ”, etc. These threads illustrate Cartoon Network’s desire to also make Tower Prep a character-driven show, encouraging audience members to make personal connections and comment on them.[30]

Adult Tower Prep forums also exist on websites such as www.televisionwithoutpity.com. These forums are more sophisticated than those on the Cartoon Network website and are overwhelmingly positive. Older viewers seem to appreciate the show for its interesting and mysterious plot line, but are also more aware of plot flaws.[31]

Online Store

The Cartoon Network website offers a link to the CN Shop. This link opens a new window with a temporary banner stating: "Wait a sec! You're headed to the Shop section of CartoonNetwork.com, which has stuff for sale. You must be at least 18 years old to make a purchase. Check with your parents before you send any information to a Web site, particularly any of your personal information like your full name, address, or phone number, because that's private. Have fun, but be safe!" With its wording, the banner and the shop are clearly geared towards adolescents, but Cartoon Network also wants to make sure that parents are involved in the buying process. After the page loads, a message remains at the bottom: "Hey Kids, get your parents to help with your order!" These messages show that Cartoon Network is aware that their customers are adolescents, and that parents provide the crucial purchasing power.[32]

The online store organizes merchandise in two ways: by show and by price. Organizing by program shows that instead of browsing all merchandise, customers are more interested in buying items for a particular show, catering to the idea of fandom. Merchandise ranges from DVDs and games to T-Shirts and costumes, providing children with numerous ways to display their fandom. Organizing merchandise by price could cater to children who receive a certain amount of money for allowance or a holiday and are looking for what they can buy with that amount of money. This organization could also appeal to parents buying gifts for a child's birthday party who only want to spend a set amount of money, or for parents on a budget.[33]

Adult Swim offers its own shop with merchandise fit for its older demographic. This store offers apparel and DVDs as well, but further caters to its older audience with items such as cuff links, shot glasses, and art prints. Unlike the younger Cartoon Network shop, the Adult Swim shop is not organized by price, however shoppers can view merchandise by show. This shows that price is not as important to the older Adult Swim viewer as the expression of fandom.[34]

The purchase of Cartoon Network merchandise is not limited to the online shops. Products can be found at Toys R Us, and DVDs are available for purchase at any major entertainment retailer. 


Online Advertisement

Cartoon Network gears their advertisement toward an adolescent demographic. An indication of this is their television parental guideline at the bottom of the website: "TV-Y7-FV," which indicates it is advised that the audience should be seven years of age or older and the FV acronym pertains to the content possibly containing fantasy violence.

The way in which they focus on this age group is by advertising for video games rated "E for everyone" (all ages) such as Nintendo Wii games that fall into that rating. One video game they advertised for in two different locations on the same webpage was "Pac-Man Party" rated E for the Nintendo Wii.

This advertising focus is taken because of the general sense that children love to play video games. The focus is also prevalent in that the website also advertises the free video games they offer. To draw in the audience, they promote their collection of 200 plus free video games available directly on their website.

This strategy also influences active participation within the shows presented on the Cartoon Network channel by extending the characters and themes to online gaming. The website also advertises for the shows' television scheduling on the website as well. In addition, the website also advertises their free online video viewing, which has video advertisements before any of the desired video plays (see Online Videos section below). [35]

Online Video

In the videos area of the website, there is more commercial-like advertisements similar to those viewed on the Cartoon Network Channel. An example of this integration is the McDonald's advertisement always displayed on the video's section home page. Advertisements are also inserted into video playback so that 15 second commercials are implemented where the regular television programming has commercial breaks, but with less frequency.

The website's video section offers free online videos ranging from full episodes previously aired that week to sneak previews for new series and new upcoming episodes as well as mini clip scenes or highlights (such as highlights from the game show "Hole in the Wall").

The strategy behind this is to give viewers the option of watching their favorite shows on demand, which is also helpful if they were not able to view the show in real time broadcasting. Also, this strategy draws in viewers and since there are advertisements for other shows on the website, it creates chances of capturing new viewers to those other shows.[36]

References

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  32. Cartoon Network Shop. http://www.cartoonnetworkshop.com/
  33. Cartoon Network Shop. http://www.cartoonnetworkshop.com/
  34. Adult Swim Shop. http://www.adultswimshop.com/
  35. Cartoon Network. http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/index.html Date Accessed 18 Nov. 2010.
  36. Cartoon Network. http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/games/index.html Date Accessed 18 Nov. 2010.