April 2008 - Mobile Animation

The Cartoon Network utilizes the Internet to open new revenue streams by marketing ringtone and wallpaper downloads. The network enlists the help of PlayPhone Inc. to create its mobile storefront.

By David Lustig

To show that creative marketing and the intelligent use of the Internet can be combined to create a rock solid set of tools capable of opening up new revenue streams, just go to the search engine of your choice and type in almost any subject imaginable. Almost anything? Yes. Even something like downloading wallpapers and ringtones from popular television cartoon shows.

Last year, the Cartoon Network, a Turner Broadcasting System company, itself a part of Time- Warner, wanted to find another way to expand brand awareness past the immediacy of watching television. Thus, the network became very interested in allowing customers the ability to download, for a fee, appropriate ringtone and wallpaper segments from its website.
Tasked with getting the network’s mobile downloads up and running for the Atlanta, Ga.-based company was Ross Cox, senior director of advanced platforms at Cartoon Network New Media.

The decision for Cartoon Network to go mobile—wallpaper and ringtone downloads began in the third quarter of 2007—according Cox, was obvious, with the goal of striving to be the de facto entertainment online game site.

“We want to be where the audience is,” he says, explaining that this includes the adult-content cartoons, which appear during the late-night hours. This programming block of cartoons, known as Adult Swim, will launch its own site during mid-2008.
“Both brands are very different audiences in mobile,” Cox says. “We liken them to our TV network demographics. For Adult Swim, male 18-34 translates great into the mobile industry.” For Cartoon Network, he says it is 9-14, skewing a little bit older and toward the female demographic in mobile.

“We’ve got very different approaches to the very different areas of the network,” Cox continues, saying that it was an easy decision on the Adult Swim side.

But even for an organization as big as Time-Warner, getting started was not so easy.

“We built organically,” Cox says about Cartoon Network’s online presence. “We’ve tried different partners over the years and began looking at the trends, which we saw as areas of personalization that we could probably approach.

“What also spurred us on in the early days, the inspiration for jumping into mobile, is when we went to focus groups or looked at surveys, our audience would expect to find mobile content on our website. They were going there looking for the content, which was always an inspiration for us; it fueled the desire that we had to jump into this new paradigm.”

But even a conglomerate as gigantic as Time-Warner doesn’t always have in-house capabilities. Cox, who had been brought in specifically to attack the mobile side of web downloads, started looking for the right company to partner with.

Enter PlayPhone Inc. and Dave Bell.

“We met Dave Bell, the vice president of business development and strategy at PlayPhone, through a mutual introduction,” Cox says. “He had heard some things, made some telephone calls on his own and then came in to talk to us.” That was in 2006.

PlayPhone is a major mobile media company with the capability of providing cutting-edge personalization and entertainment to mobile consumers. In 2003, the company pioneered the concept of direct-to-consumer mobile content distribution. Today, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., it is one of the largest distributors of mobile games, ringtones, wallpaper, videos and other personalized content.

For $1.99 apiece, Cartoon Network fans can download wallpaper and ringtones to their mobile phones.

PlayPhone has its own live subscription mobile entertainment portals, Play Phone.com. But instead of trying to build a one-size-fits-all portal, Bell says the company has a very strong belief that users, who want to purchase content, want to do that in a first-party environment. In this case, users want it directly from Cartoon Network. Following that business model, PlayPhone prides itself on building portals on behalf of its business customers.

“It was about 18 months ago that we initially got together with Cartoon Network,” Bell says.

According to Cox: “He came in to talk to us about PlayPhone as the delivery agent. What impressed me was Dave’s knowledge of the brands and his love for them. Around here, that means a lot—and knowing how to represent them [the brands] to our customers and the awareness and understanding of them. It’s extremely important to represent that in a marketplace storefront setting.”

“They had a partner when we met them,” says Bell, “but we impressed them with a knowledge of their brands and of consumer marketing to win them over. We built an incredible relationship because we do have that deep understanding of their brand and their customers.”

Cox agrees.

“What we really wanted at the end of the day before we even started building was a partner that could truly be one. That took place with Bell. We knew in our heads what we wanted and…there were some things that we thought we definitely had to have,” says Cox. “But we also wanted someone to come to the table with, ‘Why don’t you try this?’”

Which begs the question of what did Cartoon Network feel it definitely needed?

“We wanted our brands taken care of properly,” Cox explains. “This is who we are. We’re in the business of creating characters and shows, and we needed them represented well to the fans.”

Bell believes that one of the things that really differentiates PlayPhone from the others, and one of the reasons Cox and Cartoon Network chose them, was that hundreds of thousands of customers use the PlayPhone site, giving them a unique understanding of consumer marketing and customer acquisition.

“There are companies out there that are pure technology and don’t have consumer marketing experience,” Bell says. “When you’re a major brand and you’re trying to introduce them to mobile for the first time, you don’t care only that it will get to the end user, you also care about putting together the right marketing program and the right customer acquisition program to build a real business that has meaningful revenue.”

“We realized immediately that PlayPhone would be able to bring us both Cartoon Network and Adult Swim to the table,” Cox says. “We’ve always been on the same page of what we knew was out there potentially.”

To this, Cox says that PlayPhone built different storefronts for Cartoon Network executives to look at, as well as studied their inner workings and site maps and how they would apply to them.

“The process was to look at it again and again,” Cox says. “It’s important that we message the site correctly and clearly to the consumer to ensure we find the best way to access content and gaming.”

Cox says they went back and forth, feeling out each other’s content and merging the function of a mobile storefront with the design of CartoonNetwork.com.

“From the get-go, we figured out what would work pretty quickly,” he says. “They came to the table with a very accurate understanding of a site map that would work for us. It was a very simple process, and we’ve done a lot of experimentation over the years in many areas of building different components and interfaces for the network. They [PlayPhone] came prepared. It’s great you get people who can speak the same language and have the same frame of reference.”

Bell says he felt the problem Cartoon Network was having was that everything they tried to do with other people was nothing but a cookie-cutter approach.

It wasn’t with companies that truly knew consumer facing, knew how to build a portal and knew how to make things work, according to Bell.

PlayPhone worked with Cartoon Network to design a mobile storefront that complemented the website.

“We really went after Cartoon Network and said, ‘Look, here is our vision on how we would treat your brand in the mobile space. Here is what we would do with your content and here is what we think would be successful,’” he says. “We provided mockups and a ton of creative brainstorming ahead of time that preceded the deal and preceded any technical development.
“Cartoon Network had a lot of requirements and experience with mobile in the past that we had to overcome, which was our biggest challenge,” Bell notes, adding that the industry is young and still developing. “They were looking for someone who could help them put a program together that would be successful with their customers and would also have a chance of being financially successful.”

Bell explains that it took a couple months to get the look and feel of the mobile website perfect. “The first step for us was having some very deep conversations with the Cartoon Network people. It was a very good collaboration.”

The PlayPhone team included someone from the business development group, someone from the marketing group, a couple from account management and someone from the content team—each approaching it from different perspectives.

“We started giving customers the ability to download ringtones and wallpapers,” says Cox. “We wanted to represent the shows the fans wanted to see.

“We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted. We went out there with a nice variety of what our fans would expect.”

Today, there are 12 ringtones and 66 wallpapers that can be downloaded for $1.99 apiece. More are expected in the future.
Cox says that Cartoon Network is anticipating putting games and other types of applications for downloading on the site in the future, but wouldn’t say exactly when that might be.

“We had to go through a few changes along the way to make all parties comfortable with the project,” Bell says. “The relationship is really successful. It’s taught us about their customer base and the concerns their young customer base has about merchandising anything.”

According to Cox, “The future will hold some pretty cool things in the storefront.”

David Lustig has been a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer magazine since 2004.


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