Cartoon Network Launching Fans Into Orbit (Mania.com)
Date: Monday, January 01, 2001
Cartoon Network's continuing experiments in interactive television are about to take another interesting turn when they launch their new Website, Cartoon Orbit, later this month. For those who don't remember, Cartoon Net's been busy as all hell over the last six months, launching its own series of net cartoons on its main Website (www.cartoonnetwork.com) last summer and then jumping deep into enhanced television with the Toonami/Intruder event last September. Orbit takes matters into a whole new direction, giving fans of the all-animation cable carrier the opportunity to create their very own animated environment, with long term goals of giving us the ability to even create our own cartoons.
'Cartoon Orbit is an online graphical community and trading base activity,' says Justin Williams, Vice President and Director of Cartoon Orbit. 'In real English, it's a place where fans of Cartoon Network's corral of stars can get closer to their favorites by participating in a creative activity that they can build their own interactive community around.'
The base unit in the Orbit community is a thing the network has dubbed the 'cToon.' The environments fans can set up for themselves inside Orbit are being called 'cZones.' 'cToons are digital representations of what you and I use to think of as trading cards,' says Williams. 'The cToons are like individual trading cards of our characters, say Fred Flintstone, or things our characters use, like Flintstone's bowling ball. They are produced in limited quantities, but we don't make just one cToon for every character. For instance, we can have as many as thirty different cToons of Fred that all portray different characteristics of him.
'You purchase the cToons with points. Initially you get a certain number of points when you sign up. Then you earn more points by visiting the site regularly, visiting other peoples' cZones and other activities. The cZones aren't like real home pages, they are pieces of property that fans get to own on Cartoon Network. Each person has his or her own cZone.'
The fans can get their first flush of creativity by intermixing the cToons with the cZones and seeing how they interact. The one big edge of each cToon over your standard printed trading card is it can come with an (at present very limited) animated action. How you make the cToons interact among themselves and inside their cZone is up to you.
'Inside each cZone you can move into five different worlds,' says Williams. 'They're Townsville, Scooby-Doo, Bedrock, Dexter's Lab and CartoonNetworld. The worlds are different backgrounds relating to our shows. So, if you are a fan of the PowerPuff girls, you move into the Townsville World, and it includes scenes from the series such as Pokey Oaks Elementary or the Mayor's office. They can display their cToons inside these worlds in any way they want. Each of the cToons also has different activities related to them, and not all of them are obvious. We made some of them surprising.'
According to Williams, Orbit has been in beta test format since October, and is about to go live this January. Cartoon Network is planning all manner of promotions and interactive elements with the main cable net and its sponsors in order to push this new site further.
'We're going to have what we call Orbit rewards that can be passed around among our community,' says Williams. 'For instance, say you are a dedicated viewer and we have a number of new shows that we want you to check out. During the show we will give you a code like a secret word. When you get into Orbit, you can type in the secret word and get more points or new cToons. Also, if you buy products from key sponsors, say a brand of cereal, there's no reason why an inside flap of the cereal box can't contain another secret word.'
The obvious thing is to acquire more cToons and build them into your cZone. 'What Orbit allows us to do is give fans an activity that they can't do with a television,' says Williams. 'They can't put all their cToons into one world and then see how they interact [on TV]. We are not restricted by being in a timestream. It's also an open play area. When I was a kid I used to have battles between Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures. Why can't you do that online? You can eventually have the Dragonball Z crew go up against the Gundam world. Why not take advantage of that? You can also have Dexter help the PowerPuff Girls take on Mojo Jo Jo and DeeDee.'
As stated earlier, Williams has a lot of plans for this new site. 'One thing we want to do is eventually have our fans create their own little cartoon episodes,' he admits. 'The only thing holding us back is the technology. It's just not quite available today. That's something we do have in development and intend to utilize within Orbit. I think we're approaching that quickly and will make it work sooner than a year. We are even talking about giving fans rewards for the best little 'toons.'
As for other future plans, there are many. 'Eventually we would like to see scheduled chats with our creators and even our characters,' says Williams. 'Message boards are a possibility. Right now we are keeping it very narrow because the collecting, trading and building are the main purposes of this site. If you don't push that to the front you end up just another chat room. Why would we want to recreate something that is already working well everywhere else?'
After the launch in the United States, plans are already on the drawing board to open up other branches for the other affiliates throughout the world. From the way Williams was talking, Mexico and Japan will be the next two countries to go on board. From there, the hope is to have all these different international cZones interact amongst each other, further expanding the utilization of the characters. As of press time, Williams was unable to give a specific launch date for Orbit outside of sometime this January. While a specific URL has not been given yet, you will be able to access Orbit through the main Website at www.cartoonnetwork.com.