From Digital Short to Linear Series: ‘Mighty Magiswords’ Takes New Development Approach

by Cate Lecuyer  |  09.28.2016

From 15-second animated, interactive shorts that launched last year on Cartoon Network’s CN Anything App, to a full-fledged television series set to debut this fall, Mighty Magiswords represents a new approach to show development in which Cartoon Network is harnessing modern shifts in storytelling.

The kids’ series features a brother-and-sister team of warriors for hire, ready to take on what’s guaranteed to be a comedic quest using their collection of Magiswords—weapons with unique and silly powers like the ability to throw tomatoes or create boulders.

Set to premiere Thursday, September 29, the TV premiere episode “The Mystery of Loch Mess” follows the warriors on a mission to locate missing delivery men, only to find themselves captured as pets.

As Cartoon Network’s first project to start as a digital property before migrating to the linear cable channel, Chief Content Officer Rob Sorcher and Chief Marketing Officer Michael Ouweleen have been exploring development methods and are working to build not just a television show, but an entire brand through which the public can interact with the Mighty Magiswords world.

Since launching the 15-second series, Mighty Magiswords has expanded into a story universe that includes more than 400 pieces of original content. The strategy has involved rolling out different content of varying lengths on linear air, VOD, digital, social, and a soon-to-launch mobile app specific to Mighty Magiswords, which each content piece specifically tailored to the platform it’s on—such as YouTube vlogs about individual swords with the characters talking to the camera.

The pieces will evolve into a connected content system, where fans are rewarded for viewing, collecting and contributing, with the app serving as the brand’s home base.

“This turns out to not only be how kids obviously consume content today, but also the perfect way for us to express the rich world of Magiswords,” Ouweleen said. “By putting out a pretty healthy amount of fun content on our platforms before the ‘series’ launch, we were seeing awareness numbers above benchmark before we ever started putting out ‘marketing’ messages.

“That gives us a good foundation for the ‘watch’ part of our conversation with kids. But that’s just the start, because this thing isn’t about just watching. There’s hundreds of swords kids can collect by engaging with the content in different ways, and ways to use those swords later on. So, while a lot of what we are doing has an organic, informal feel to it, in reality, we have to carefully plan and roll out our messages, because there are a lot of layers to what this property is. This is less of a show launch and more of an evolving conversation with kids across a bunch of platforms.”

Indeed, Cartoon Network tends to build worlds, not shows, Sorcher said, and although there’s a lot of content involved, there’s also structure.

“The trick with Magiswords is to string all of it together, to build an ecosystem that isn’t a haphazard confusing mix of things, but instead a natural flow where kids can watch the content on any platform, collect swords using the mobile app and later, use them in other ways,” he said. “Part of our job as marketers is to make sure we are leading kids through all the permutations of this property in a way that makes sense.”

But they’re also careful not to build in too much structure.

“Another part of our job as marketers is to see what they do with it all and be open to learning more about how they want to play with it, and then being the biggest champions of that possible,” Sorcher said.

This is the same approach Sorcher and Ouweleen used for the expansion of Mighty Magiswords from a digital short into a linear series. It was a natural progression that began with little to no marketing, where they let the property speak for itself.

“Without pre-promotion or advanced notice, 15-second Mighty Magiswords cartoons just showed up in the endless stream of fun videos and activities in the CN Anything micro-network app,” Ouweleen said. “And in these incredibly quick self contained stories, kids could choose one of two Magiswords—each choice giving a different ending.

“So, right at the get-go, we were showing the audience what we thought was fun about Magiswords, that it was about adventures, comedy, and choice, and we were inviting them to interact right at the start. It would have been hopelessly old-fashioned to make a spot explaining who the characters are and how it all works. It’s like video games—kids don’t look at an instruction manual to figure out a new video game, they just start.”

Mighty Magiswords is just one of several projects at Cartoon Network that’s not traveling a linear path in development or content execution. The network is moving forward with other creative risks, often without knowing the destination before starting out, leading to products that look very different from traditionally produced programs.

As the Mighty Magiswords world continues to expand, Sorcher and Ouweleen will continue focusing on the fundamentals of knowing their audience, executing strategies and testing messages, while also being flexible and adapting once stuff is out in there.

“We have a good idea of how this thing should act, but are aware enough to know that it will probably evolve and shift as we go, because we are trying things that are pretty new,” Ouweleen said. “It’s not just the characters and the audience that are on an adventure. We are as well!”

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