How Cartoon Network’s newest TV show was built on digital

Next Thursday, Cartoon Network will air a new animated TV series called “Mighty Magiswords,” following the adventures of a sibling team of “warriors for hire.” However, “Mighty Magiswords” isn’t a new show for Cartoon Network; it debuted in May 2015 as a 15-second interactive video series on Cartoon Network’s CN Anything app.

“Mighty Magiswords” is the first project to come out of a development program at Cartoon Network, which is incubating new ideas on digital platforms before creating multiplatform show “ecosystems” anchored by the linear TV product.

Cartoon Network has ordered two-dozen 11-minute episodes for the first season of “Mighty Magiswords,” with two episodes airing in weekly half-hour blocks. But that’s just TV. On digital, the linear lineup is paired with 400 additional pieces of original content, including more interactive video shorts, YouTube-esque character “vlogs” and digital games that will roll out alongside the TV series.

“We have many more projects in the works — this represents a specific and conscious decision to find new ways to develop content,” said Rob Sorcher, chief content officer at Cartoon Network. “Whether that’s bringing in new types of technology to an IP or something else, the process we arrived at [with “Magiswords”] has rippled through a lot of what we’re doing.”

Cartoon Network isn’t the first network to bring a web show to linear TV. In recent years, Comedy Central has ordered TV versions of “Drunk History” and “Broad City,” after each program’s initial popularity online. Comedian Billy Eichner’s “Billy on the Street” first became popular on Funny or Die before finding a home on Fuse and then later TruTV. Even Cartoon Network has done this before, when it picked up the popular YouTube series “The Annoying Orange” for multiple seasons.

What sets “Magiswords” apart is that it won’t only be a longer version of an existing digital franchise — TV will just be the central part of a “total content experience,” Sorcher said. “Our audience is everywhere, and so we want to be everywhere — that’s the ticket to entry these days.”

Moving a successful web series to TV can be appealing — it has a built-in fan base networks can market to. Sorcher doesn’t see it that way, especially with “Magiswords,” which has been in development for two years. “Sure, you’re spending less [upfront], but in terms of risk, it’s actually a much more difficult process to go through because you’re only going on faith that this will creatively get better,” he said. “Sometimes it’s much easier for us to make a pilot or do something more traditional.”

Cartoon Network’s patience with “Magiswords” might pay off as there are some signs that the show has already found an audience. Nineteen videos posted to Cartoon Network’s YouTube channel have more than 5.8 million views, according to analytics firm OpenSlate. A “sneak peek” episode of the TV show that aired on Cartoon Network on Sept. 5 was watched by nearly 1.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Sorcher cautioned that Cartoon Network isn’t looking to replicate “Magiswords” with every digital-to-TV project. The original incarnation of the show allowed users to help the main characters accomplish a task by choosing a sword for them to use. Each 15-second episode had two versions depending on which sometimes-functional magical sword was selected. Cartoon Network later ordered an additional 10 episodes at three minutes each, and then another 20 episodes at five minutes each — with all retaining the choose-your-own-adventure ethos of the original micro shorts. These elements were specific to the characters and type of show “Magiswords” is and that will remain the case with other shows in development.

“The writers are the head of the process,” said Sorcher. “The narrative is driving what type of ecosystem we build.”

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