The forces are assembled and the battle lines are drawn

Posted: May 24, 2010 by Sketch in Animation, Animation Editorials, Animation News, Sketch
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Hey folks it’s Sketch here. On the heat of some very interesting acquisitions from Viacom and Disney I’ll talk about how the current race for action entertainment dominance on youth television came about in recent years.

Back in the 90s and early 2000s Cartoon Network pretty much had the action market cornered at least on cable television. When Disney bought out Fox Family and created Jetix on ABC Family and Toon Disney we finally saw some sort of competition rise against Cartoon Network’s cable dominance of action cartoons though really back then it was a drop in the bucket and nothing much to write home about. Nickelodeon attempted to bring action to their network with the very short-lived Slam Block. Which unfortunately buried the broadcasting rights to Men in Black the Animated Series which would have been great for Toonami or somewhere on Cartoon Network. It is no surprise Slam failed to meet expectations given it was airing on Sunday afternoons rather than weekdays.

Eventually Nickelodeon created Avatar which was a major action success for them but it was not until several years later than Nick would truly embrace action animation for their network and more specifically their spin-off channel Nicktoons Network when they obtained the rights to three Marvel animated series: Wolverine and the X-Men, Iron Man: Armored Adventures and Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Heroes. Two of which seemed like shoe-ins for Cartoon Network and one of which Cartoon Network broadcasted previously and even foot some of the bill for. Not long after Disney bought Marvel and ensured that all future Marvel animation would be on their networks specially Disney XD.

In the mid to late 2000’s, Cartoon Network decided to focus their efforts more toward original action series than acquired ones starting with Ben 10. Ben 10 was the answer to CN’s Teen Titans dilemma. Teen Titans was one of their highest rated shows but it was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and CN only saw partial profit from the franchise because of that. They wanted an action show they could reap greater rewards from so they made their own based on the concept from The Men of Action. They sold the merchandising rights to Bandai which they had a good working relationship with due to many years of supporting Bandai’s anime properties and quickly had their own powerhouse in ratings and toy sales. Ben 10 was not the first original action series from CN of course. Before that point they had the Emmy award-winning Samurai Jack and the Clone Wars shorts along with the cult favorite Megas XLR and long running original action comedy The Powerpuff Girls. PPG being the only one to become a marketing phenomenon but poor box office numbers for the animated feature all but killed the franchise. Ben 10 quickly became their new golden boy and they began work on more original action series.

With their fair share of acquired action hits, Ben 10 and its’ edgier sequel series it seemed for certain Cartoon Network would continue to hold the market on action animation and action entertainment for youth in general. In 2008, Cartoon Network cancelled their long running Toonami block which had been on the brink of death for a while and brought in a new action block on Friday nights featuring new Ben 10: Alien Force and the long-awaited Secret Saturdays along with Star Wars: The Clone Wars which had to be one of Cartoon Network’s biggest purchases to date given they got help from TNT in order to buy it. Later they added Batman: The Brave and the Bold a more comedic take on the Dark Knight featuring a different team-up in nearly every episode and recently brought in Generator Rex from The Men of Action. Waiting in the wings is Sym-Bionic Titan, a new series from Genndy Tartakovsky the creator of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory and a Young Justice cartoon is coming in 2011. Certainly Cartoon Network still knows action. The only notable misstep for the network in recent years was the sudden and abrupt dismissal of Naruto which had always been a ratings powerhouse along with any other Japanese animated series that doesn’t have toys lining the isles in major retailers as their general policy for anime because that if they had no incentive beyond ratings to air anime then they were not going to bother and left the edgier anime to Adult Swim. Despite that Cartoon Network remains the king of youth targeted action on cable television but after a long time their competitors are finally wising up.

Disney XD made some surprising pick-ups in 2009. Those being The Spectacular Spider-Man coming from it’s short stay on The CW broadcast network and the continuation of the popular Naruto franchise: Naruto Shippuden which for all sense and purposes would have been a lock of Cartoon Network if CN did not change their terms for airing anime the year prior. Few people expected Disney XD to pick up such major action franchises but with CN closing their doors a show like Naruto had to go somewhere else. Not long after Disney acquired Marvel itself finally making the equivalent stand against Warner buying DC several years ago. Marvel’s properties however kept their respective homes for the time being with the Super Hero Squad series on CN and the three aforementioned Marvel series on Nicktoons Network. Though its pretty much a given that eventually all of those series will find their way into Disney’s hand’s as well. This by all means makes Disney XD a force to be reckoned with in the future if not already.

So where is Nicktoons in all of this? Well, that taste of greater ratings success they found in the Marvel series got them thinking adding more action series to the network would be a good move. With their Marvel shows no longer long-term players they needed some more action shows to fill the holes the Marvel shows will eventually leave behind. Disney was not the only company making bold action acquisitions. Not by a long shot. Late in 2009, Nickelodeon bought the evergreen franchise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Mirage and 4Kids Entertainment and began work on a new Ninja Turtles cartoon for 2012 while gaining the 4Kids 2003 animated series rights in their entirety. All the more surprising at their 2010 upfront Nicktoons announced they would be the cable broadcast home of Dragonball Z Kai the revamped more condensed version of one of Cartoon Network’s biggest action acquisition hits along with a new Voltron animated series. Nicktoons was making their own stand for action entertainment but the most surprising was yet to come for just recently Saban Entertainment bought back Power Rangers from Disney and will be bringing the 700 or so episodes of the franchise to Nicktoons along with a new series bowing on Nickelodeon proper in 2011.

What we see going on here is a rather interesting division of power on the action entertainment market. Disney has Marvel, Warner has DC and now Viacom has made a point to add three of the biggest action franchises not under either mantle to their ranks with Dragonball Z the biggest action animation hit of the 00’s and both Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers the two biggest action hits of the 90s. You can already see how the battle lines are drawn throughout the toy isles. Cartoon Network is still sitting pretty with Ben 10, Star Wars, Batman, Bakugan and Pokemon which continue to sell gang-busters but for the first time ever they have legitimate competition to be the home of the best action entertainment on youth television. Long time Cartoon Network fans may groan at this feeling that it is CN’s own fault that it has come to this when they didn’t get Wolverine and the X-Men, Spectacular Spider-Man, Naruto Shippuden, DBZ Kai, etc. but anyone who followed the video game industry will tell you that competition brings innovation and lack of competition is what causes stagnation. Cartoon Network was in many ways stagnate because they had the market and no one really opposed them but now new innovation is on the rise and I as a lover of great action animation am very excited to see what the future holds for Disney XD, Nicktoons Network and Cartoon Network. May the battle begin.

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