Cartoon Network & Adult Swim in the Age of Sinking Viewership

Cartoon Network & Adult Swim in the Age of Sinking Viewership

Cartoon Network & Adult Swim in the Age of Sinking Viewership

TV — for many of you, it’s that big picture screen that you use to access the built-in Netflix app or plug in your FireTV Stick into. But of course, when televisions first became a household staple, they could only access basic channels broadcasted through television bands picked up by the “rabbit ears” of a TV set. Then, households were eventually able to receive programming through cables and, eventually, satellite signals. For years, most households in America chose one type of service or the other, as cable and satellite both dramatically expanded the options of what to watch. Basic networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC still top the list in popularity with their combination of accessibility and programming, but the 80s and 90s in particular saw a lot of specialty networks debut — all news, emphasis on cartoons, history, etc.

Other technology was created or adapted in conjunction with home television, including being able to watch feature films at home on VHS and recording live TV via DVR.

But as we all know, the current era of streaming has dramatically revolutionized home video watching. While at first both companies and consumers used the Internet to access missed episodes and such, nowadays, it’s just as common to create productions just to distribute on the Web. The ability to tune in directly to whatever you want to watch on your schedule with limited or no commercials has led a lot of people to drop their cable or satellite provider, a.k.a., cord-cutting. As such, almost every major media conglomerate has launched their own service with their programming — and in some cases, multiple offerings — and plenty of independent platforms have been created as well.

The Animation Channels’ Decline

All of this should be common knowledge to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past decade. Not all channels have been declining at the same rate, and the ongoing pandemic has led to some changes in habits as well. In fact, over the past year, some stations (particularly sports channels) have actually gained viewership.

But the vast majority of networks have had their viewership ratings decline. Among those are Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

Cartoon Network launched in 1992 as the first 24-hour cartoon channel. In 2001, the channel debuted a block catered to older teens and adults versus the kid-friendly fare it was known for. This was called Adult Swim, and eventually it would be categorized as a separate network despite being on the same station as Cartoon Network. In between the two is the Cartoonito block aimed at young children, and it is classified as part of Cartoon Network.

In 2021, Cartoon Network’s viewership fell 26% according to Variety. Adult Swim is the more popular of the two, but it suffered an almost identical drop of 25%.

This is part of a wider loss of audiences for animation-heavy networks. According to Cartoon Brew:

“Since 2014, Disney Channel has lost 88.1% of its total audience and Adult Swim has dropped by 71.3%. Cartoon Network is down by 79.3% and Nickelodeon by 74.5% since 2016.”

Adult Swim features an anime-centric block on Saturdays called Toonami, which originated as a weekday block on Cartoon Network in the late 90s and early 00s. Shortly after Variety‘s report came out, Toonami revealed they were going to be debuting several new shows/seasons, including Assassination Classroom season 2 and Made in Abyss.

Made in Abyss is a notable addition because a) it’s a seinen series; b) it’s not an action-centered one like most other Toonami shows (Naruto, Cowboy Bebop, My Hero Academia); and c) it contains mature content which has spread out into related media.

Time for Adult Swim to Go Solo?

A couple of years ago, Adult Swim announced they were working with Crunchyroll, first with Crunchyroll dubs airing on the network and ultimately to producing shows together like Blade Runner: Black Lotus and Fena: Pirate Princess. But that was a result of the AT&T purchase that categorized them in the same division in the company.

Now with AT&T having sold Crunchyroll to Sony, that sort of team-up is not as legally or financially straightforward anymore. In fact, according to the senior vice president of WarnerMedia’s action and anime division (and cofounder of Toonami), Sony has been preventing Adult Swim from acquiring any more of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.

When a channel is losing a valuable property like that to streaming, well, it’s no wonder traditional networks are facing decreasing viewership. Since it’s nearly impossible to stop the cord-cutting, how can Adult Swim reduce the bleeding?

I’ve said before I’m surprised Adult Swim hasn’t been spun off completely from Cartoon Network. The two are already separate in the Nielsen ratings. Boomerang, another Cartoon Network-related channel that was originally dedicated to old classic cartoons, was altered to be a “second flagship” alongside Cartoon Network and focus on brands like Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, and Tom & Jerry.

But even though Boomerang has its own streaming subscription service, considering “Cartoon Network” doesn’t start on weekdays until approximately 12 P.M. (Cartoonito’s ending timeslot has fluctuated a bit since its original 2 P.M. slot) and most of the day on weekends, it seems like Cartoon Network, Cartoonito, and Boomerang could all share one channel. Say, Cartoonito starting in the early morning, Boomerang in the afternoon, and Cartoon Network in the evening and night. In fact, Boomerang was originally a Cartoon Network programming block before it was spun off.

The loss of Boomerang could then free up a slot for an Adult Swim channel. According to Variety, Boomerang’s and Cartoon Network’s viewership combined is less than Adult Swim (386,000 versus 278,000).

Since Adult Swim targets older teens and adults, daytime ratings could be rather low. But perhaps an all-day Adult Swim could see Toonami expanded outside of its late night Saturday timeslot. I’m sure many of you can remember the original afternoon Toonami timeslot and perhaps got into anime because of it. It’d be nice to recapture some of that magic.

As a comparison, the free streaming platform Pluto TV has channels for various anime and TokuSHOUTsu shows like Hunter x Hunter, Tenjho Tenge, and Ultraman, but they also have ones dedicated to Lupin the 3rd, Naruto, One Piece, and Yu-Gi-Oh!. So it seems possible that there could be a more RetroCrush-like daytime or afternoon anime block and save some of the newer and/or more popular ones for late night along western animation like Futurama and Rick & Morty.

PlutoTV anime channels

True, the downside of this is that Adult Swim would be paying for television rights for these shows versus how Cartoon Network and Boomerang can rely on new and older series from WarnerMedia’s own catalog. However, even though their numbers fell, Adult Swim was still #20 on a list of top channels by adults 18-34, which, even though their TV viewing habits have dropped the most, has long been considered the most valuable target demographic for advertisers. And while there aren’t a lot of studies for more precise analyses, those ages are likely the group to be most familiar with anime and enjoy it.

So considering all the kid-focused networks are facing decline above the average for TV stations, why not give Adult Swim its own channel — and let anime play a large part.

Do you watch anime on TV? Do you think you’d watch more anime on TV if more series and/or timeslots were available? Would you like to see Adult Swim be an independent channel?

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