Turner’s Christina Miller

Christina Miller, the president and general manager of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang at Turner, talks to TV Kids about reimagining classic properties, introducing new ones and challenging today’s kids to be creative and inventive.

If you cater to the Plurals generation—children born after 1998—as Miller and her teams do, you know these youngsters’ use of media, and even their concept of entertainment, are far different from previous generations’ habits. Miller has been transforming Cartoon Network from a linear channel into a multiplatform experience that offers episodes of favorite shows, storytelling, games and interactive content on a variety of devices, all available 24/7.

TV KIDS: Through its linear and nonlinear offerings, Cartoon Network serves the Plurals generation. Who are they and what do they expect from media?
MILLER: The Plurals generation is the current generation of kids 17 and under. They are our audience. If you think that the Millennials were the first digital natives, which is something that was thrown around a lot as they were coming of age, the Plurals would be the first mobile generation. They’ve never lived in a world where everything is not mobile. They are focused on choice and control. If people in the past needed filters or lists to help them, kids now don’t, hence, the plurality of them. They can move through information on platforms and pull things together pretty much on their own. Choice and control are very important to them. They’re a very visual generation; visual communication is a big part of how they communicate with friends and use media. They also expect to participate more than any other generation. They’re not just there to consume your content; they also want to create it. Whether it’s mixing it up or mashing it up or creating, almost evangelizing your content, they’ll create a version of it, so [media is a] little bit more open-sourced than ever before. It’s really about interacting with [our audience] and inviting them into the process, so we are thinking differently about how we create content than we have in the past.

TV KIDS: All children love storytelling. Across how many different platforms are you offering storytelling?
MILLER: All, essentially. The point of difference between what we do and what so many others do is storytelling and character development. From an on-demand platform to a linear platform to a gaming platform or VR platform, we’re trying to tell stories across all of them. We’re building more immersive worlds than we ever have before and not straight one-way versions of telling something. We’re looking at how we can layer experiences: if someone interacts with our brand in real life, they’re getting a version of that storytelling as well. If they’re creating it with us, there’s a version of it. Everything we do should be wrapped in that storytelling and character development.

TV KIDS: How are you refreshing some of Cartoon Network’s most iconic brands for today’s 6- to 11-year-olds?
MILLER: With The Powerpuff Girls, it’s about relevance. If you look at when the series aired the first time, there were no mobile devices. So we’re making sure that’s part of the girls’ world and making sure that kids can notice themselves as well [in the stories and the characters]. If you take Bubbles, for example, you find out over the course of the first season that she’s quite a proficient coder. She can make apps and help the girls get out of trouble that way. That’s something different, but all the core attributes that everybody came to know and love about them are still there.

It’s all about inclusivity. We did Powerpuff Girls avatars as part of the launch, and it was important to us to offer a wide spectrum, anybody can be a Powerpuff, boy or girl, it doesn’t matter. We do see the success of the show cutting across both genders, which is pretty important.

TV KIDS: What about Ben 10?
MILLER: Ben 10 debuts next year [in the U.S.], but it will launch earlier globally, in Europe in particular. You will see a continuation of a great story and a character that everybody has come to know and love. What will shift a bit is the style of storytelling. The format will be a little bit shorter. There will be more of our signature humor and heart. That’s more indicative of the times we’re in, with a little less straightforward action/superhero and a little bit more depth to the series.

TV KIDS: What are some of Cartoon Network’s other programming highlights?
MILLER: The Amazing World of Gumball has been great for us. When you think about acting global, that is a show that is produced out of the U.K. and comes [to the U.S.] and is one of our top-rated shows around the globe. We Bare Bears is another great show that we launched last year that’s seen success simultaneously in all markets. Steven Universe is an amazing show that got very strong ratings all summer long. All of those are key series here [in the U.S.] as well as globally.

TV KIDS: Some of Cartoon Network’s properties originated as digital shorts. Tell us about Mighty Magiswords.
MILLER: Mighty Magiswords launches [this fall] with 400 pieces of content. That’s something very different. That’s because it’s been an iterative process, more evolutionary. It started as two-minute shorts for an app we have called Cartoon Network Anything. It was the first original programming for that app. It was a choose-your-own-adventure game about which sword you want to pick and what the outcome [of that choice] would be. That developed into five-minute shorts, then into a full series and a gaming platform. It was born out of really looking at a connected-content ecosystem and truly being multiplatform. [We want to be an] agile content group that thinks about where this content will live organically and be more than just a linear show at any point in time. We want to give kids the opportunity to participate and choose the sword, have vlogs as content, have gaming execution, have the series—all of it is very much interconnected and natural to the series. We’re super excited about how many platforms we’ll get to launch Mighty Magiswords on, all the ways in which kids will be able to interact with it and how we’ll be able to program the content.

TV KIDS: What criteria must a short meet for you to consider taking it into long form?
MILLER: It’s evolved over time. A lot of our series come out of our shorts program. The great thing about that shorts program is that we have shorts being developed from all regions. Sometimes you’re looking at content and you realize there’s something there, and maybe a linear series isn’t the first way in, maybe it’s a shorter episode or maybe it’s a game first. It’s about looking at content with a keen eye and an incredible development team. We have a real willingness now to be more iterative and agile around our content. It’s not, I don’t see how that can be 11 or 22 minutes. It’s, We know there’s something there. We know there’s a character that we can develop. We know that there are themes and a story line that might take a different form. That’s one of the exciting things about being truly multiplatform. The goal for us is to be on all platforms and completely connected, but our starting points can change.

TV KIDS: Cartoon Network has such a wide range of apps. How do they differ?
MILLER: They’re different, as they should be, by brand. Our digital business is as global as our network business. We have about 40 apps, marching toward 100 million downloads. It’s a pretty impressive business. We just recently launched a Steven Universe game that is tied to music; that’s core to that property and having that play pattern is important. We have Teeny Titans for Teen Titans Go!, which is another amazing hit show for us. We take the actual show and the play pattern and tie the two together. We’ve launched apps that teach kids how to draw. We’ve launched apps that tie to sports—soccer or football depending where you are in the world! We look at the themes, the play patterns and the property and bring them together. More times than not we’re trying to drive innovation. We were one of the first to launch a VR game with Adventure Time. We launched Flipped Out at the beginning of Powerpuff Girls, and it was the first game that you were able to play vertically and horizontally. We try not to do the same thing twice. You don’t see us take a game and then just skin it with another brand.

That’s our gaming portfolio, and in addition to that we have the Cartoon Network Anything app, which offers short-form content, 15 seconds to 2 minutes, and is a random discovery app. By that I mean there is no authentication, nothing is behind a wall, everything is there. You open it up and you can play games, [participate in] a contest or watch an episode of something. You don’t know what’s coming next. The amazing thing is that on average kids spend about ten minutes on it. When you think about short-form, random content, that’s pretty long.

Our Cartoon Network App is our flagship app [offering videos, clips and full episodes] and we don’t see it as being different from our network. It has been downloaded more than 17 million times. It has a lot of proprietary features that are a little bit different than anything else, such as The Mix, which allows you to pick the shows you’re most interested in, and that’s what it will automatically start serving up to you, based on what you watch and what you [rate] thumbs up and thumbs down. It becomes personalized to you and your experience. Since changing that app over the last year, we’ve seen about three times the use than we did the year before. That’s due to a confluence of events: lots of people are using apps and watching content that way, but I also think it’s a byproduct of the user experience that we’ve created.

TV KIDS: Do you see all of this use as being additive?
MILLER: Yes, it’s total consumption. We’ve also seen authentication in the U.S. go up greatly, probably three times the number of people authenticating into the Cartoon Network App than ever before. You can get a taste, but ultimately to go deep and to bring you into the network requires authentication. Last year we finished with the strongest ratings we’ve had in the history of the network, we’ve grown VOD viewing and at the same time the demand is growing on the Cartoon Network App and Cartoon Network Anything. Kids expect us to meet them where they are, and they are consuming in all places, and sometimes in more than one place at once! Layering those experiences is what becomes important. The convergence of media, bringing it all together and curating that experience is where we’ll win, that’s the difference: driving innovation in those spaces or experiences and bringing the best of TV into those platforms and the best of those platforms into TV.

TV KIDS: Cartoon Network is dedicated not only to entertaining kids but also to cultivating the next generation of thinkers, engineers, storytellers and animators. Tell us about some of those initiatives.
MILLER: In the middle of last year we got involved with President Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative. We dedicated about $30 million in resources to that particular initiative. We’ve partnered with great companies such as Google, the Scratch team at MIT Media Lab, [the online community] DIY.org. We look at ways to get the content out there and show kids that computer science, per se, and the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] initiative is really the STEAM initiative [which includes art]. It’s about problem-solving and giving kids tools [so they can] see themselves as able to use them, whether it’s Bubbles being a proficient coder or OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo, which is a game that has a lot more content in development that will also have a young woman that is a coder and video-game creator. Kids inspire us, so how can we inspire them? How can we make sure that the tools we give them will help them be creative in the future? We did an animation program with DIY.org and JAM where we teach kids how to animate. We’ve had a lot of success with bringing kids into things, as well as video-game developers. We had a game jam to launch OK K.O.! We invited 200 artists and video-game developers to spend time with us and help us create those characters. Across the spectrum, young and old, our goal is to give creative tools to our audience and hopefully make them the animators of the future.

TV KIDS: How is the business in the U.S. aligning with the Turner international networks?
MILLER: Now more than ever we act as one. It’s very natural and very necessary. Whether it’s looking at the best place to launch a property—Ben 10 will launch first in Europe, our Boomerang global rebrand launched first in Latin America, Powerpuff Girls launched simultaneously around the world throughout the month of April—it’s about looking at how we can bring it all together, taking into account all market factors, but doing it as early as possible. We have a global content team. We’re always looking at how we greenlight and when we roll out. The business plans are all tied together through franchise management. Now, more than ever before, it comes very naturally to us because our strategy is, in fact, global. Collectively we’re executing in our regions.

TV KIDS: How has Boomerang developed since the rebrand?
MILLER: We’re [almost two years] into a global rebrand and the big announcement we made about creating original content for that network for the first time. We’ve launched a couple of shows. We’re always thinking about how we can continue to extend and grow that brand. Boomerang is one of a kind. It’s really very special when you think about how it brings together the best of everything Time Warner has to offer. It’s the true intersection of Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network in one place with these beloved, timeless brands such as Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny. We have the ability to create new stuff, whether it’s new versions of [classics] and refreshing, relaunching and reimagining some of those brands, or making Bunnicula, which is an all-new property. Boomerang has a very big footprint around the world. With Cartoon Network, we have a great dual-network strategy to manage globally.

TV KIDS: Where do you see growth opportunities over the next 12 to 24 months?
MILLER: I think that overall consumption of content will continue to grow, and that’s the foundation of everything we do. I believe our gaming business will continue to grow. We are looking at VR to see what else we can do and how much deeper can we go into that. And there’s absolutely room for growth with consumer products. We are about to launch products for Powerpuff Girls and Ben 10. Mighty Magiswords and OK K.O.! have infinite possibilities because they are created for today’s world, with their layered, multiplatform environments. If VR, gaming, consumer products and overall content consumption are areas to grow, those brands are built to optimize all of those categories in the kids’ space.

I also think there’s a real opportunity to give kids experiences and those can be as small as a local community event or a theme park or maybe doing theater—there are lots of places to play there. Our goal is to create these immersive worlds, not just shows, so we really have to look to move people in a different way. We went to Comic-Con this year and had a full orchestra for Steven Universe, which is very different from any other panel that people do [at Comic-Con. It’s about] being really specific and innovative to the actual series, and then looking at those core categories for opportunities for growth.