Tom Ascheim’s Kidscreen Q&A: 6 Takeaways On Warnermedia’s Kids Strategy

Meanwhile, HBO Max is picking up steam after a slower launch than that of its rival Disney+. Parent company AT&T has forecast 120–150 million global subscribers by 2025 — a rise from the target of 75–90 million it set out in October 2019.

Tom Ascheim
Tom Ascheim

The linchpin of this drive to appeal to more children is Tom Ascheim, Warner Bros.’s president, global kids, young adults, and classics. Installed in the role last summer, Ascheim heads up Cartoon Network. He also has oversight of Adult Swim, Boomerang, the Turner Classic Movies channel, and the studios of Cartoon Network Studios and Warner Bros. Animation, and his unit is responsible for kids’ and family programming at HBO Max.
After Warnermedia announced its slate, Ascheim elaborated on his unit’s strategy in an appearance at Kidscreen Summit’s virtual edition. Here are six takeaways from the session:

  • Cartoon Network is getting back into live action, with the blessing of audiences. The network has made live-action shows in the past (never with huge success), but Ascheim said it is committing to the medium under his leadership. For some of his colleagues, he added, producing anything other than cartoons “felt like a bump.” But when they ran the idea of live-action shows on Cartoon Network by viewers, they embraced the idea “without a blink.”
  • Live action is partly a way to reach more girls. Ascheim’s data shows that girls “age out of animation earlier than boys” before returning to it as young adults. Live-action shows like the recently announced Family Mash-Up (from Hannah Montana creator Michael Poryes) were greenlit with that in mind. Animation that “does a stronger job of showing girls” is also on the cards.
Family Mash-Up
Family Mash-Up
  • American programming may get more multilingual. In North America, “we speak more English than we should,” says Ascheim. In pre-school content, his unit will work on “emphasizing more languages, even interstitially … You learn language so easily when you’re little.” He’s keen to use Cartoonito to represent a wider diversity of languages and cultures, even as English will remain the programming block’s primary language.
  • Cartoon Network is still creator-driven. Ascheim insisted that it’s “always” important to have this approach. “Our studios in particular are a great on-ramp for new creators,” he said, “because we surround them with more experienced talent.”
  • The network considered adopting the tagline “Hello Weirdos.” The intent behind it was “to emphasize this idea that we all feel weird inside,” says Ascheim. Instead, they opted for “Redraw Your World.” Ascheim added that the network has a ‘“Hello Weirdos’ Culture Committee,” which works to make its programming and employment practices more inclusive.
  • “We’re all struggling,” Ascheim said of finding ways to keep working in the pandemic. After noting that his unit has hit all its targets in that time, he spoke of a “collective sense of exhaustion” after “sprint[ing]” from spring to winter. Ascheim said he and his colleagues are now looking to “build for a more sustained way to do this in home, and maybe eventually in home and in office, and maybe one day only in office again.”

Last month, Warnermedia unveiled a vast slate of kids’ programming bound for Cartoon Network and HBO Max. The slate spoke of a growing commitment to preschoolers and families — a new preschool programming block called Cartoonito will launch this fall.
In January, AT&T disclosed that HBO Max had nearly 40 million subscribers, although that metric includes those who can access the service through a promotion or HBO cable subscription; the number of “activated” subscriptions was around 17.2 million. The streamer’s international rollout begins in Latin America in June.
Image at top: “Mush-Mush and the Mushables,” coming to Cartoonito in the fall