If you’re over the age of, say, 16, you may never have heard of an Internet series called Annoying Orange. To be fair, you’re not likely to be the target audience of the show’s brand of unyieldingly irritating comedy (officially, the key demo is viewers 13-34). Yet, Annoying Orange has amassed an incredible following in the three years it’s been in existence. Last week, the show surpassed 1 billion views on its YouTube channel.
The scale of its viewership has attracted the interest of executives outside the world of quirky Internet entertainment: Cartoon Network said it's green-lit a television version of the series that's set to premiere in June.
“It's a show that has an indie, creative-driven, comedic sensibility. But it's also interesting because it’s a property that’s hit a billion views,” said Rob Sorcher, chief creative officer at Cartoon Network and the executive behind Annoying Orange’s move to cable. “This is a property with gigantic marquee awareness that we're bringing to television.”
The conceit is exactly what it sounds like: Each episode runs about four minutes and features an animated orange that speaks, annoyingly, to other foodstuffs and, occasionally, other objects and animals.
When it does make its linear debut this spring (adapted for TV with two 15-minute segments per 30-minute episode), it will be a milestone for the two-year-old series. But it will also be a big day for the company behind the show, an Los Angeles-based firm called The Collective that is looking to build a business around exactly the sort of Internet-to-traditional-media transition Annoying Orange has made.
Founded in 2006 by Hollywood management veteran Michael Green, The Collective does traditional artist management (for the likes of comedian Martin Lawrence, singer Alanis Morissette and the band Linkin Park), but it is also performs production and distribution—particularly for its up-and-coming Internet franchises.
“When I was doing this back in the day, I represented Roseanne [Barr]," Green said. "She had a massive audience, but she would’ve just been another comedian from the Midwest who nobody knew had it not been for ABC’s reach and distribution. Today, the whole model is inverted. We’re delivering an audience that has been independently built to the [traditional media outlets].”
In 2010, for example, The Collective partnered with Varsity Pictures to co-finance and produce a movie with Lucas Cruikshank, a Collective client and star of a popular online show called Fred. The result was a feature film that aired on Nickelodeon that year and brought in 8.7 million total viewers. Now, The Collective is developing its third Fred film and shooting a half-hour comedy series for Nickelodeon starring Cruikshank called Marvin, Marvin that's set to premiere this year.
Reza Izad, a partner at The Collective, said that under the terms of its deals with the Fred movies on Nickelodeon and Annoying Orange series on Cartoon Network, The Collective retains full ownership of the intellectual property related to both franchises, licensing the broadcast rights to the networks. In the case of Annoying Orange, The Collective will produce the shorter Web segments (which will continue to air online) and the linear TV series. The Collective will sell ads and brand integrations online, while the Cartoon Network will have full control over its own Annoying Orange ad sales on TV, according to Sorcher. The Cartoon Network declined to comment on the nature of its arrangement with The Collective; Nickelodeon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Collective’s Green said he’s looking to bring this model to other franchises. “We’re at our core a management company that is focused on building audience directly between creators and the rest of the universe," he said. "And third-party distributors become our partners, but we’re not dependent on them.”
For his part, Cartoon Network’s Sorcher said that he’s excited about the prospect of bringing Annoying Orange to TV, in part because so much of the work of amassing a following has already been done online. But, he says, the debut of Annoying Orange will bring Cartoon Network into somewhat uncharted waters.
“It does put the traditional model of a cable network under a microscope and forces us to look at the ways we’re going to do business in the future, how flexible we can be,” he said. "But I look at that with optimism.”