Tom Ascheim, the president of Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics at WarnerMedia, discussed the Redraw Your World tagline for Cartoon Network, its new preschool commitment and the kids’ slate at HBO Max in the opening keynote of the second day of the TV Kids Summer Festival.
Ascheim was interviewed by TV Kids’ Anna Carugati for the session. The conversation began with Ascheim discussing the background of the recently unveiled Redraw Your World initiative at Cartoon Network.
Read excerpts from the keynote below and watch the entire session here.
“We have this incredible history of Warner Bros. We hadn’t had a chance to put all of our assets together and build a modern kids’ and family business that we think WarnerMedia deserves,” Ascheim said. “That’s the quest we’ve been on, to build the world’s best kids’ and family business. To do that, we had to think hard about who we are and our relationship with the audience. You start with a great brand and an emotional connection. That was the root of Redraw Your World.”
Speaking to audiences’ needs to “be seen for who we really are, that sense of inclusion is the root of how we want our audience to feel. We want them to feel that when they’re with us, they get to be their own best self. The second part is understanding that this generation of kids is pretty powerful. They have the ability to use social media; it’s a way they can project force. They look at the role models who are just a little bit older than them—Emma González, Greta Thunberg, Amanda Gorman—who are looking at the world, finding it somewhat unsatisfying and doing everything they can to make it change. Redrawing Your World borrows this idea of imagination, which has always been the root of who we are, and creativity, but anchors it in the sense that you can reimagine the world to have it be the way you want it to be. That sense of inclusion and the potency of the audience is what animates our relationship with our audience.”
Redraw Your World, Ascheim continued, “anchors our sense of how we approach the world, it gives us a mission as we think about the audience. And if inclusion is the centerpiece of what you do and why you do it, we had to face whether we were dealing appropriately with all the members of the audience we want to talk to.”
Cartoonito arrives in the fall as “the biggest preschool commitment we’ve ever made,” he said. Appealing to a broader girl audience was also important. “We do really well with boys 6 to 11, but we haven’t done as well with girls. We have a huge initiative to make sure girls are an equal part of the audience for us.” Co-viewing is also a vital part of the remit, Ascheim noted. “When we talked to families, pre-Covid, they were looking for moments to gather. Covid has made that more vivid. What makes that happen successfully is when entertainment is great for the family in totality; it’s not just for the children and the parents are gritting their teeth. It’s wildly entertaining for parents and wildly entertaining for kids.”
To attract more girl audiences, making girl characters prominent in animated series is key, Ascheim said, referencing the new projects Gross Girls and Jade Armor. The recently announced My Adventures with Superman is “kind of a romantic comedy. Lois, Clark and Jimmy are recent college graduates at the Daily Planet, going through the life stuff you go through when you’re in your early 20s. It’s a romance in addition to being a superhero story. In our version, Clark is new to his powers, so it’s also a coming-of-age story for all of them. That piece of animation tested better with girls than any animation we’ve done in a really long time.”
Cartoon Network is also venturing into live action, Ascheim continued. “Girls in general developmentally like live action earlier than boys do, so we want to make sure we’re investing there.” Projects in development include Family Mash-Up, from the makers of Hannah Montana, which Ascheim described as “The Brady Bunch meets Pitch Perfect.” Tweety Mysteries is a live-action/animation hybrid about a girl detective who solves mysteries with the help of her sidekick, Tweety bird.
On the preschool commitment, Ascheim said that Cartoonito will launch with 20 shows across HBO Max and Cartoon Network. “We’re building to 50 shows over the next couple of years. We are using the power of some of what we have in our IP library to work this,” including Batwheels, Bugs Bunny Builders and Tom and Jerry Junior. Cartoonito will be anchored to a “human-centric-learning” curriculum, Ascheim added.
Ascheim went on to note that having sister linear channels gives HBO Max a key advantage. “There’s a lot of content, and it can get a little hard to find things on the streamers. One of the ways we think we make people pay more attention is we turn it into an event. That helps drive interest in shows.”
On building awareness in this kind of environment, Ascheim said there are multiple strategies to use, including tapping into existing IP. Ascheim also referenced “eventizing,” such as We Baby Bears, a spin-off of We Bare Bears. “One of our programming teams looked at which episodes did better than others, and it was often the ones that featured the bears when they were younger.” That show will then receive a global launch, which “creates a sense of momentousness.” Ascheim also touted WarnerMedia’s digital reach; “I think our digital reach is three times the size of Nickelodeon’s.”
Ascheim also oversees three studios: Cartoon Network Studios, Warner Bros. Animation and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe. “One of the most important decisions I made when I arrived was to centralize the leadership of what we do with our studios” under Sam Register, Ascheim said. “Warner Bros. Animation uses a lot of existing Warner Bros. IP. Cartoon Network Studios has been more [focused on] originated brand-new work. While that is not the rule by which we govern all things, it will be part of what keeps them differentiated. In Europe, we have very different talent, sometimes a different approach. We try to bring the best of all three. But sometimes, it lets us send artists back and forth if they’re finished with one project; instead of having them roll off to a competitor, we can have them roll off to a sister studio. Sometimes there’s collaboration that happens between studios that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And they get to support each other. It’s a really important part of what we do, and the ecosystem of the network and the studios together helps us differentiate ourselves.”
On cultivating talent, Ascheim said, “We have to spend an awful lot of time making sure we’re a great place to work. Part of our promise to the talent is, no matter what you’re interested in making, we have a piece of the audience that we think will be interested; we’re not narrow-focused. And we have ways for you to talk to parents, to make movies with us, series, long series or a limited series. Flexibility is really important. The idea that we’re both a streamer and a network” is also a key selling point to talent, he noted. “One of the things we hear from talent is…they worry their projects get lost [on a streaming service]. They know we’re going to pay a lot of attention and that by putting it on a streamer and a network, domestically and around the world, they know someone is really caring for their project.”
Warner Bros.’s iconic IP library is also a draw, he added. “Allowing our creators to play with our IP is super powerful.”