Cartoon Network, the company behind popular characters The Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 and Mansour, has been expanding its presence on paid and free-to-air platforms in the region as it targets growing retail and live-event revenue streams. Part of the US media company Turner International, parent of news network CNN, it operates Cartoon Network Studios Arabia, based out of TwoFour54 in Abu Dhabi. Tarek Mounir, Turner’s vice president and general manager for the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, tells The National how the Cartoon Network has been using augmented reality and platforms beyond TV to boost engagement with audiences and corporate brands.
What are the licensing expansion plans for the country including in terms of corporate partnerships, and how do these tie ups boost Cartoon Network’s business model?
Currently, one of our biggest licensing deals in the region is our proud partnership with IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai, which opened its doors in August 2016. The world’s largest indoor theme park includes a dedicated Cartoon Network zone, offering different rides and multiple immersive entertainment experiences. We have since announced that we will be a part of IMG World’s second park, IMG Worlds of Legends. This partnership marked a significant milestone in our strategy to deliver more immersive fan experiences for kids and families who want to engage with our characters in multiple ways beyond the TV.
How have you tied up with retailers?
We have also seen a lot of interest in our brands from many regional and global companies, in particular in fashion and toys. Following the success of The Powerpuff Girls' collaboration with Moschino for their spring/summer 2016 line, Saucette, s*uce's multibrand concept boutique for kids, became the first in the region to partner with Cartoon Network to create a fantastic Powerpuff Girls collection. In addition, Mothercare has launched an exclusive apparel collection in the region based on our successful local production and famous cartoon character, Mansour, and Lego has recently launched a global fan-driven Lego Ideas set based on Cartoon Network's global hit, Adventure Time.
How will the retail sector continue to grow for you?
Our current plans include entering the “Mall-tainment” business in collaboration with partners across the region, in response to the increased demand we are receiving from malls seeking new and innovative ways to drive footfall and increase engagement levels. Creativity and rich content remains at the core of our efforts. Earlier this year, we attended the Kids in Motion exhibition for the first time, and featured some of our most popular characters such as Ben 10 and The Amazing World of Gumball. The feedback was very positive and we were extremely pleased with the responses we received from over 44,000 visitors at the event. As a result, we will be utilising our fantastic Ben 10 Hero Experience – featuring augmented reality – at retailers across the region to support the launch of Playmates master toy line later this year, creating a yet more engaging experience for children and their families.
What is the impact of live events?
During the Arabian Travel Market, we took part in the Summer Festivals and Events Conference to introduce a turnkey approach that offers governments, malls and hotels scalable Cartoon Network-themed entertainment solutions that Cartoon Network, in conjunction with its partners Live Nation and Invent, can create and cater based on the requirements of each activity or event. We are currently actively educating businesses and potential partners about the availability of our services, which will definitely drive creativity in the market.
That seems to show that your growth depends on more platforms that just TV.
Linear TV viewership remains extremely important and we are proud to have a leading presence with our channels in the region. However, to grow our business and drive engagement with our audiences, we have to be present across other touchpoints too. By this we mean that Cartoon Network does not only depend on TV, it has also expanded to making its cartoon characters available in the market, whenever a relevant opportunity is available.
What is the size of the opportunity in live events expected to be?
This opportunity will build upon our already successful Themed Entertainment and Live Events business by expanding our physical presence in malls, hotels and other locations that want to offer this kind of live experience for kids and families. We hope to be revealing some other exciting opportunities in this space soon too.
How about target markets? Are you focused just on the UAE and the region or elsewhere too?
In the MENAT region we are focusing on Turner Kids key channel markets – GCC countries and Turkey, but it’s an initiative that spans our wider Europe, Middle East and Africa region too.
What technologies is Cartoon Network investing in?
Everyone knows that children today are more tech-savvy than ever and they expect to be able to discover their favourite entertainment brands wherever they are. According to a study by the International Data Corporation in 2016, the augmented and virtual reality market in the Middle East and Africa are expected to grow significantly over the next five years, at an annual growth rate of more than 100 per cent between 2016 and 2020. These findings support our growth plans as we continue to invest in augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality – making them an integral part of the future of our brands.