How Cartoon Network is reaching next-generation content audiences

Turner Broadcasting Systems APAC digital leader shares the regional challenges and ways she's embracing social and linear channels to keep audiences engaged with its content

Vanessa Brown
Vanessa Brown

The digital era has heralded a golden age for video content creators, enabling them to reach audiences in ways that were unheard of only two decades ago. But for traditional content companies, these changes have led to massive audience fragmentation, and created expectations among audience members of control over when and how they engage with content.

For Vanessa Brown, the challenge of reaching audiences is made even more difficult by the varying characteristics and needs of the Asia-Pacific countries she works across. As executive director for digital at Turner Broadcasting Systems for APAC, Brown manages both content development and audience acquisition for brands including Cartoon Network and Boomerang and Indian channel, Pogo.

Reaching these brands’ predominantly young audiences requires a strategy that finds them in the places they want to be found, such as YouTube, apps and games content, in addition to traditional free and subscription channel services. Speaking ahead of her appearance at the VidCon Australia conference in Melbourne, Brown describes the company’s strategy as being one of making worlds for its audiences.

 “It is quite an exciting time to be a creative. There is more video being produced than ever, but the distribution channels have changed,” Brown told CMO. “We make worlds for our fans to engage in, and we want to make it easy for our fans to engage across different platforms. So we look at how we build fans across different platforms, so we can engage and inspire and delight them with our content in different places.”

Speaking to the region

Those needs also differ markedly between countries in the region. Brown described the Philippines as a young and highly social market with high penetrations of both free-to-air and subscription TV, while India and Indonesia are highly mobile. Those differences require a lot of effort in tailoring strategies to drive maximum audience engagement.

Recently, the company launched a local Thai channel on YouTube based around its We Bare Bears program, using Thai language with localised outreach including use of influencers and extensive local licensing and merchandising. Brown cited strong responses.

“We do a lot of work looking at social channels or linear channels or things we can do to reach that audience in a fun way,” she said. “We did a different mix for that franchise in that market that resonated with the Thai audience.”

Critical to success of activities such as the Thai launch is the need to understand local audiences in detail. In this sense, Brown said digital channels often make this task easier.

“We get a lot more insights and we use those to help us understand what we do,” she said. “That is a shift for us, and it’s exciting, because we are doing a lot more thinking about digital first, mobile first, and how we build things that work in that environment.

 “What we are learning is you’ve got to look at the data across multiple channels. No longer can you look at the TV ratings to get a sense of how you are performing. We do look at the touchpoints across all the channels that we are in, and then we shape our audience outreach in different ways. We are getting better at learning to listen to our fans and adjusting tactically when we can.”

Another campaign around the program, Ben 10, will be localised for launch in the APAC market in October and focuses on how an audience member can choose the ending as they progress through a series of videos on YouTube. YouTube will also feature prominently in the promotion of a new program currently in production in Australia called Monster Beach. In other instances, however, that outreach will be focused around games or social content.

“Good content will get an audience, so you need to be putting yourself in the right places to reach that audience,” Brown said. “We try to be where our fans want us to be to let them engage in their favourite show or IP.”

While much of Brown’s life is spent investigating new ways her brands can engage with fans, she said there is one thing that never changes.

“With all the disruption we have seen over the last 20 years, the one thing that stands true is that the content needs to be good to engage a fan,” Brown said. “If you are making good content that resonates and engages with a fan, you will be successful.”

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