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Talking STEAM education, moving beyond TV shows with Cartoon Network

Hey, kids. Cartoon Network has begun to figure you out. It knows that you like to do more than just sit down and watch a TV show. It knows you like to run apps, play its games and do more with its characters. And it also knows that it’s a partner in creating a generation of digitally literate people who will have the critical skills they’ll need.

“What matters to this generation of kids is that they expect to participate,” says Jill King, senior vice president, marketing and partnerships. She was in town Monday for a SXSW panel and for the premiere of new Cartoon Network shows at the Long Center Monday night. That means having different ways that kids can experience their favorite cartoon characters: online apps and computer games. It also means partnering with different resources like MIT’s team that developed online Scratch coding programs for kids.

“We consider ourselves much more than a TV show,” King says. “We’re a multiplatform brand.”

And, King says, Cartoon Network is taking its cues from what kids want. That means that it’s creating apps and games that kids can play while watching a show, apps like the Mighty Magiswords app that allows you to catch swords while watching the show.

“We’re trying to break down walls and turn our IP (intellectual property) over to kids, to make it their own,” she says. “It make us more relevant to kids. We want to support this next generation of leaders, of creators. Will they say 15 to 20 years from now, they were inspired by Cartoon Network?”

In STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathmatics — King says it certainly brings the arts part of that but also makes the rest of it relevant to kids. One thing it’s doing is bringing people in the STEAM fields, especially women in those fields, to meet with the people who write the stories for their shows. That’s resulted in having characters like Bubbles from “Powerpuff Girls” learn to code.

“We’re leveraging our expertise — storytelling,” King says, to take down some of the barriers to STEAM education.

It’s also resulted in a new show that Cartoon Network previewed Monday Night at the Long Center. “OK KO!” came out of a conversation between story creators and female engineers. The show has a female character, Bendy, who is strong and smart.

“We make sure we’re telling the right stories,” King says.

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