‘Angry Birds’ network takes flight

Angry Birds is hardly the first video game franchise to hatch an animated cartoon series. But the 52-episode Angry Birds Toons series Rovio Entertainment launched last week has the potential to be far more than a mere spin-off.
Unlike other video game spin-offs, like the Super Mario cartoon series or the Tomb Raider movies, which are typically licensed by the game publisher to existing networks or studios for production and distribution, Rovio is producing Angry Birds Toons in-house, giving it complete ownership of the content. Potentially even more disruptive to traditional business practices, Rovio is also leveraging the 1.7 billion Angry Birds app downloads to launch a new video distribution channel starting with the new series.
Birds fans who download the latest version of whichever apps they have will find a new embedded start screen announcing the series and a new, dedicated video channel within the app where they can watch full-length episodes. In addition to the estimated 600 million-plus mobile devices worldwide with at least one Angry Birds app loaded on them, Rovio is also making the channel and series available on some over-the-top platforms, such as Samsung smart TVs and Roku boxes, as well as on-demand platforms such as Comcast’s Xfinity On-Demand and Xfinity Online.
In a few markets, including France, Germany, Australia, Korea, India, Isreal, and its native Finland, Rovio is also supplementing in-app distribution with traditional broadcast.
With Angry Birds Toons, in other words, Rovio isn’t simply creating more content around its core IP but using the roll out to launch a full-fledged content distribution channel based on mobile apps, over-the-top and on-demand platforms. Given the popularity of the core Angry Birds IP, and the vast reach of the installed base of AG apps, that should give traditional TV gatekeepers pause.
“With over 1.7 billion downloads, we can reach a far wider and more engaged global audience than traditional distribution would allow, Rovio CEO Mikael Hed said in the press release announcing the launch. “Launching the channel, and partnering up with some of the best video-on-demand providers and TV networks, is an important milestone for us on our journey towards becoming a fully fledged entertainment powerhouse.”
Notably, each episode of the animated series opens with a promotional spot for other Rovio properties, such as the Angry Birds Electronic Arts console game. As BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfield noted in a blog post and video on the launch, however, it’s not hard imagine those spots eventually being sold directly by Rovio to third-party advertisers, creating an additional revenue stream.
Nor is it hard to imagine Rovio eventually leveraging the Angry Birds Toon channel to distribute a broader range of Rovio content. Should the in-app channel gain traction and viewership, it would also give Rovio a platform to distribute third-party content. As Greenfield notes, “Theoretically, Rovio could build up enough content that they could launch a linear channel online like Vevo, create a linear TV channel on MVPDs and/or sell a bundle of content to a Netflix, Amazon or Hulu for SVOD (and maybe do all three).”
Most important, should Rovio succeed, it would mark a coming of age of mobile apps as a genuine alternative to traditional OTT or browser-based platforms as a means of distributing and accessing video content. Netflix, Hulu, Major League Baseball, and many others have successfully rolled out dedicated OTT and mobile apps for their online services,  but only after first establishing those businesses via the web. And while Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube are already venturing into creating original content to supplement the licensed (or user-generated) content they distribute, none attempted to bootstrap their distribution platforms from their own IP.
Not many original app developers have managed to reach 1.7 billion downloads, of course; Rovio’s success will not be easy to emulate. But if mobile apps every really learn to fly as a distribution platform, it will be thanks to some angry aviaries.