As it prepares for Licensing Expo 2012, Cartoon Network Enterprises couldn’t be in a more advantageous position, says Vice President of Consumer Products Pete Yoder. “This year’s Licensing Show comes at an amazing time for Cartoon Network in general,” he says. “The ratings couldn’t be stronger and our brands have great buzz and retail excitement around them.”

Building on the network’s recent ratings boom led by its original series, Cartoon Network has only just begun to tap the licensing potential of its brands, with its established boys action franchise “Ben 10,” wildly-popular comedy “Adventure Time” and licensing introductions of “Regular Show” and “The Amazing World of Gumball.” Armed with a fully realized portfolio of brands and opportunities, the company is breaking into new types of merchandise and demographics thanks to the properties’ broad appeal.

Thanks to its combination of established successes, new properties with wide appeal and a new booth design for 2012, Yoder predicts this year’s Licensing Expo could be the best yet for Cartoon Network.

On the action side of its properties, Yoder says Cartoon Network expects “Ben 10: Omniverse,” the all-new series from its extremely popular “Ben 10” franchise, to match and even exceed the success of the previous versions of the series. The show, which centers on a boy who uses an alien device to change into an army of intergalactic superheroes, is the signature action brand for the network, and “Ben 10: Omniverse” cranks up the series’ appeal by pairing up the titular hero with an older version of himself.

“Ben 10: Omniverse” launches as a major global initiative for Cartoon Network worldwide this fall, and Yoder says that will be accompanied by a full line of products from licensees such as Bandai for action figures and roleplay items, and D3Publisher for video games.

Not Just For Kids

“Ben 10” continues to be one of Cartoon Network’s powerhouse franchises aimed at boys; however, a pair of relatively new animated comedy series in Cartoon Network’s lineup have demonstrated an ability to connect with audiences of all kinds, and these have opened up new doors as far as licensing is concerned.

The first of these is “Adventure Time,” which chronicles the adventures of a young boy and his shape-changing dog as they fight evil through a world that’s equal parts sword-and-sorcery, fairy tale and modern-day adolescent life. The series’ ability to juggle outlandish action, childish humor and relevant life lessons has earned it an audience unlike any other in the network’s lineup.

“It has a unique dual-audience appeal, so it’s not only the kids who it resonates with, but tweens, teens and young adults,” Yoder says. Because of this, Cartoon Network has partnered with traditional licensees such as toy manufacturer Jazwares, but also specialty retailers and licensees including Hot Topic and Nooka to create unique products and collaborations for the teen/tween fans who have supported it since its start.

The coming year will see even more “Adventure Time” merchandise including a video game made by D3Publisher for the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS systems, as well as a line of “Adventure Time” products from Penguin Publishing that will include Mad Libs, illustrated storybooks and chapter books.

Another show with broad appeal is “Regular Show,” an animated sitcom about a blue jay and raccoon who work in a public park. Similar to “Adventure Time,” “Regular Show” features more sophisticated, character-based humor that also connects with a broader audience than most traditional kids shows. Yoder says the approach taken for building the licensing program for “Regular Show” was to build audience awareness and affinity through a softlines program, and expand from there. As such, this year will see an expanded roll-out of products, including a line of toys from Jazwares debuting this fall and an exclusive clothing partnership with Hot Topic that will expand to other retailers this fall. 

Yoder says the network also is excited to debut one of its newest shows at the Licensing Expo, “The Amazing World of Gumball.” Aimed at a younger Cartoon Network audience, this show about a cat and his elementary school friends is the network’s first original series import, according to Yoder. “Gumball” is the first original series produced at Cartoon Network Development Studio Europe that is distributed globally to all of the network’s foreign branches. Yoder says the global appeal of the series, along with its unusual style, will make it a success. “It has this definitely unique feel and look to it, with a mixed-media style,” he says.

Right Strategy, Right Partners

Yoder says Cartoon Network won’t take a one-strategy approach toward its brands. As demonstrated by its licensing approach to “Ben 10,” “Adventure Time” and “Regular Show,” the network prefers to find licensees that fit well with each franchise. “What we’ve always tried to do is look at the individual brand and create a custom strategy that works for it,” he says.

This has led to carefully coordinated launches, where product is targeted to specific audiences rather than flooding the market. “Our goal is to capture who our audience is and target towards them,” Yoder says, adding that this has led to an organic development of new product lines and markets. “What’s helped us to get into some other categories are the partnerships and the dual-targeted strategy that we’ve had with ‘Adventure Time’ and ‘Regular Show.’”

Yoder anticipates another successful Licensing Expo this year for Cartoon Network. “We’ve always found the show successful as it’s a great platform for us to present ourselves and our brands to the marketplace. Entering this year’s show with the momentum we’ve got and the brands we’re showcasing, it will be our most successful one yet,” he says.