Children’s content is certainly no child’s play and who would know this better than Turner International Asia Pacific chief content officer, Mark Eyers.
Eyers is in charge of acquisitions, original production and programming for Boomerang, adult swim, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito, Toonami and Pogo across Asia Pacific. Between spearheading new channel developments in the region and being responsible for strengthening the planning process for Turner’s kids’ brands as well as identifying opportunities for further development and distribution of hit properties across multiple platforms, Eyers’ plate is overflowing.
He joined Turner’s creative services team in 2004 and was previously the vice president of content. Prior to joining Turner, he worked with Walt Disney Television International in Singapore as senior manager – head of creative department for Asia Pacific Disney Channels. He also did a stint in direction and production with BTQ Channel 7 in Australia.
In an exclusive interview with Sidharth Iyer of indiantelevision.com, Eyers holds forth on Cartoon Network completing 20 years in Asia Pacific, Pogo completing a decade in India, future plans of the network and more...
Q. Turner has been present in India for nearly two decades now. How has the journey been?
It’s great that we can celebrate Turner’s twentieth year in India next year, which is very close to the APAC anniversary we celebrated this year. We are very pleased that on an APAC level first, we can celebrate being the number one brand in the kids’ entertainment space.
Personally, I always like to look at our success from Mumbai to Manila and from Seoul to Sydney. In that context, it’s been an awesome journey. We are proud to proclaim that we are the number 1 and 2 kids’ channel (with Cartoon Network and Pogo). Come to think of it, we can’t really think of another media brand that can say they are number 1 and 2 in the space that they function in. Turner’s entrepreneurial spirit and drive to become the first mover in the genre by taking advantage of a gap in the market has always benefitted us. Being one of the first kids’ brands in India, we have enjoyed the first mover advantage.
Q. Cartoon Network underwent a refresh first in 2005 and later in 2011. Can we have your thoughts on this please?
The transformation is like with any other business model that works on a long-term perspective. All businesses must look at themselves every couple of years with respect to the current market environment.
One of the core attributes of Cartoon Network is not only to have surprising comedies but also unique comedies. What we mean by that is we must always have something fresh or new that hasn’t been seen before. If your DNA is about surprising people, you have to take some risk in what you serve but again, that doesn’t mean you don’t showcase some of your classics like Dexter’s Laboratory and Power Puff Girls.
Probably, a great example is Tom and Jerry which a lot of us grew up with and there will be brand new episodes coming to Cartoon Network India very shortly. So, you will get to see the evolution of brands.
Q. Earlier, the channel only had Hannah-Barbara shows. In 1996, after Turner came under Time Warner, Warner Brothers’ shows premiered on the channel. Not before 1999 did CN begin airing its own original series after which, there was no looking back. Are there any more region-specific shows underway?
I think it’s a combination of all those things and we try and look at franchise management; not just current franchises like Roll No. 21, a local franchise into season 7, but also old ones like Ben 10 that will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2015. In case of long-running franchises, we keep up their successful run by injecting fresh stories like for Tom and Jerry. We also bring in new shows and series like Be Cool, Scooby Doo and so on. If we look at franchises as pillars, we still need to keep reinventing and refreshing our content to remain relevant and unique.
Q. In 2001, the channel introduced programming blocks like Toonami, Acme Hour, Prime Time, Boomerang and Cartoon Network After Dark, a couple of which are now channels in their own right. Why don’t we see such out-of-the-box programming blocks anymore?
They are fantastic franchises within themselves and we have now launched the Toonami channel across APAC and it is available in India and as a block in the US. Now, Boomerang is our next programming initiative to transform into a global brand.
As I see it, brands will become more important than ever before for media companies. It’s important that we take brands like Toonami, Pogo, Boomerang and Cartoon Network and develop unique and original content for each of them.
In future, distribution will become a commodity. So, when distribution costs between the original content owner and consumer become kind of omnipotent and content is available at low costs, consumers won’t know where to go if no one owns the original content. Hence, the idea is to have content that belongs only on Cartoon Network or Pogo where viewers know certain shows can only be found on this channel. The focus is thus on improving brand loyalty as well.
Q. CN’s sister channel, Pogo, started out in 2004 and has come a long way ever since. Please share your views on Pogo’s rise and it becoming the number one channel in the kids’ space in India.
It’s a terrible problem to have, being number 1 and 2 in your space and have two such top brands which complement each other. While Cartoon Network has a very global outlook and much of the content is shared with other countries around the world, there is a very definite commitment to local content production in the range of 10 to 20 per cent with Roll No. 21, a fantastic success story. This complements Pogo, which has more of general entertainment for kids, as in case of CN, there is a bit of a skew towards kids while Pogo is for both kids and the family.
Thus, you will see a fantastic line-up of shows on Pogo, but at the same time, there’s a strong commitment to provide original productions under the Lights, Camera and Pogo banner, where we showcase movie franchises.
So these two things complement each other well, and it’s a terrible problem to be the number one and two in your space, but it’s a problem we would like to continue having.
Q. As we are in the age of new media and lots of kids are looking for things on the Internet, what is Turner’s strategy in terms of leveraging this medium and generating a buzz?
The great thing about digital content is that it actually complements primary viewership on the linear channel and also in a market like India, where we witness the single channel phenomenon to a greater extent than in other markets we are always looking to provide another digital experience and complement ourselves.
In the APAC region, we have already launched what we call ‘Watch and Play’. With this feature, one can watch clips from a show and an authenticated customer in the market can not only watch the channel live in partnership with his/her affiliate but also play games at the same time.
Cartoon Network has always adopted this strategy, to have unique content for the digital medium which complements television content, whether its shorts or games or extensions of the storytelling from the primary channel. The viewer needs to have a compelling experience in the digital space that should leave him/her wanting to come back for more.
Q. Merchandising is a big market for animated characters and Turner certainly has loads of them. What kind of revenue is generated through merchandise for Turner Broadcast? Do you have any big plans around merchandising in APAC in the coming days?
The important thing is to always be character-driven in the first place, and at Cartoon Network, we believe that we are a character-driven comedy brand, so a character is always going to be there in the first place. Besides, our characters are strong, resonate with the audience, and share connect with the brand identity of the channel. This allows us to optimally license and merchandise our content.
Over the years, we have had tremendous success with characters like the Power Puff Girls and there is still L&M for characters prevalent in various territories. Ben 10 too has been a massive franchise for us and has done well in terms of L&M deals.
With the next crop of franchises including Roll No. 21, Adventure Time, Mixels (already in partnership with Lego, along with being a multi-platform property) and the hugely popular Chhota Bheem doing really well for themselves, the sky is the limit for L&M deals for our properties.
Q. What are the new distribution methods that can be used across TV, web and mobile and what are your views on the changing trends in terms of distribution? Will OTT platforms see a rise in the Asia Pacific region; what are your thoughts on the progress made by India in digitisation?
I think India shares a similar situation with the rest of Asia as far as the rise of over-the-top (OTT) services is concerned and will take a little time to grow. We may actually see affiliates partner with the brands that are already present to promote the ‘TV everywhere’ offering.
If I could just use the ‘Mixels’ example; it is the most recent initiative that proves how we are trying something different in L&M, as we are partnering early on with Lego. But the show from day one has been a multi-platform offering; we haven’t commissioned 52 half-hours of the show, but 22 shorts that will premiere on Cartoon Network and then online and we have just launched an application, so we are already in that space trying different techniques.
Q. Finally, how does Turner plan to strengthen its hold on the kids’ market in Asia Pacific and more importantly, in India? Is introducing more channels from the Turner network on the cards?
It’s a wonderful position we are in currently and we love both our children (Cartoon Network and Pogo) equally, but the key is to remain true to yourself and to the DNA of the channel. For us, it’s about doubling on our animation comedy, that’s what resonates in the market.
In a global village like the world is today, people will still pay for the experience. One of the most powerful experiences that anyone could have is the gift of laughter or humour. And so for us it’s more about being true to comedy and bring in that surprise that will continue to remain our secret and doubling up on unique, character-driven comedy.