I don’t need to tell you that Cartoon Network has gone through a lot of changes in its short history as a network. From only showing classic animation in the early 90s, to creating original animated programming beginning 1995, to even the embracing of live-action in the mid-2000s: Toon has been through quite a bit. But if one thing has stayed constant, it is the channel’s inability to surpass their fellow networks in the ratings. No matter how original the concept, no matter how funny or action-packed one of their shows might be, and no matter the timeslot, Cartoon Network is rarely able to catch more than a second’s worth of glory. Time to take a look at the reasons why.
LESS BRAND RECOGNITION
At the time of writing, Cartoon Network has yet to reach it’s 18th birthday. Meanwhile, Nickelodeon is over 30 years old and had established itself as the ultimate destination for children’s programming by the late 80s. In fact, it was the first network to cater directly to children. Disney Channel, despite being younger than Nickelodeon, has over 80 years of history behind it. As such, everyone knows what Disney is and has more likely than not grown up with the brand. People trust that they can get wholesome family entertainment out of it.
Cartoon Network is a more complicated issue. While it was the first 24-hour animation station, it didn’t bring anything new to the table. Everything that aired on the channel in its early days had already made the rounds via Saturday mornings and syndication, such as the Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry. Beyond the interstitials, they didn’t really have anything to call their own; nothing that really screamed “Yes, this is Cartoon Network.” When Cartoon Network finally got into the habit of airing new animated programming, they didn’t really find anything there either. 2 Stupid Dogs started out on TBS before airing episodes on Cartoon Network. The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest was shared with TBS and TNT. With the creation of the Toonami programming block, all the action cartoons that aired on it were associated with the block itself, rather than the network.
To put it bluntly: Cartoon Network has no idea what it wants to be. Nickelodeon wants to be the supreme ruler of all kids’ entertainment, and has done an amazing job of that. Disney wants to reign supreme over all family programming, and has also done an amazing job with that. Cartoon Network? The channel is like a little kid who changes his/her dream job every week. From the name, you’d expect the channel’s goal would be to supply us with great animated shows and movies. But they air live-action constantly and even created a song ABOUT how they’ll continue to air live-action along with their animated programming. So maybe they’ll trying to be a general kids channel in order to gain viewers, in which case they’ve failed horribly time and time again. The identity should be in the name. Nickelodeon is like a jukebox of kids shows. Disney is self-explanatory. Cartoon Network should also be self-explanatory, but it fails at that. It has aired reality programming, sports, and hour-long dramas. Out of all of these experiments, cartoons are the only things that continue to stick. As such…
Cartoon Network needs to take the hint. The only times they are able to surpass the enemy is when they air animation or animation-related programs. The Best Day Edder (30+ hours of Ed, Edd n Eddy leading to the “final episode”) beat out Nickelodeon when it was airing. Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins is the channel’s highest-rated telecast to date, and that was only possible due to the power of the name “Scooby-Doo.” When Cartoon Network advertises their animated shows up the wazoo (Adventure Time), they’re awarded with great premiere ratings. When they do the same with their live-action programming, the thing flops. People clearly don’t want to see live-action on Cartoon Network. Heck, if they listen and drop live-action, maybe they would get some more small victories.