Looneyflix? Time Warner streams toons, Harry Potter may follow

Time Warner Inc is introducing an online-subscription video service with beloved Warner Bros cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Fred Flintstone.
Time Warner Inc is introducing an online-subscription video service with beloved Warner Bros cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Fred Flintstone.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

LOS ANGELES (BLOOMBERG) - Time Warner Inc is introducing an online-subscription video service with beloved Warner Bros cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Fred Flintstone. 

Separate Web offerings featuring Superman or Harry Potter could be on the horizon, according to people familiar with the matter, as Time Warner looks to create new sources of revenue from its stable of popular entertainment assets.

The company's new animation-themed service, called Boomerang, will offer more than 5,000 episodes of TV shows, including older classics from the company's library and new original series based on The Wizard Of Oz and Wacky Races. It will debut this spring and cost US$4.99 (S$7) a month, about half the price of Netflix Inc's popular online video service.

"This is the first of more announcements," said Mr Craig Hunegs, a senior executive at Warner Bros' TV studio who also oversees its digital network.

Netflix, Alphabet Inc's YouTube and Amazon.com Inc have robbed Time Warner's TV networks of live viewers and monthly subscribers, a frightening development for a company that makes the majority of its money from cable channels like TBS, TNT and the Cartoon Network. The New York-based company, which is in the process of being sold to AT&T Inc, has responded by experimenting with online services of its own. 

Boomerang, a collaboration between Time Warner's Turner and Warner Bros units, marks the first time the media giant has gathered its large trove of animated shows in one place online.

"We're spending a lot of money because we think doing a lot of original animation with greater characters is critical," Mr Hunegs said.

Every division of Time Warner is exploring the streaming business. HBO moved first, creating an online version of the premium cable network in 2015. And last year, the Turner Broadcasting unit unveiled a Web-only channel for classic film buffs, called FilmStruck.

Warner Bros will provide the technology to support Boomerang, thanks to the acquisition of streaming service DramaFever, and may create new products of its own. The studio may build online services devoted to film franchises DC Comics and the world of Harry Potter, people familiar with the matter said.

Some of the shows on Boomerang are still available on streaming services like Netflix, but Warner Bros will change that as soon as current deals expire. "You can imagine everything will be heading to Boomerang," Mr Hunegs said.

Many of Time Warner's peers are also pushing headlong into Web TV. CBS Corp operates online-only versions of its eponymous broadcast network and the premium cable network Showtime, while Viacom Inc sells the kid-friendly Noggin.

Some media companies have been wary of creating online-only versions of their TV networks, which rely on fees from distributors and prominent placement in cable and satellite packages. Web services give consumers an alternative to the pricey bundle with no benefit to the pay-TV provider.

Yet as more customers flock to Netflix, and cable channels lose more subscribers, executives at every TV network are exploring every option on the table. Boomerang, available in less than half of traditional American TV households, is one place to start.

"We are still dedicated to the linear TV network," Ms Christina Miller, president of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, said. "This is about unlocking the full experience that only streaming on-demand would let you do. You haven't been able to get every episode of Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, etc., in any one place. Streaming allows this."