People of all ages have been passing the time playing Angry Birds on their mobile devices. Now Rovio, the company that created the best-selling app, is offering fans a new cartoon series based on the game, which has so far been downloaded 1.7 billion times.
The concept behind Angry Birds is extremely simple: There are these colorful cartoon birds that are angry because some green pigs are after their eggs. Players of the digital game use slingshots to catapult the birds — who don't fly — to destroy structures hiding the pigs.
"At its heart, it's just fun to play. Basically its just slingshotting birds," says Kirk Hamilton, the features editor for Gawker Media's gaming website. "Anyone can understand it. Little kids can play it, adults can play it, senior citizens can play it — everyone can play it."
Hamilton says that because Angry Birds is so popular around the world, Rovio — which is offering the game through the app — is smart to target fans directly.
"They've already got this distribution network," Hamilton says. "They have this huge embedded audience who all have a way to just give them money already. So they're just giving them more stuff to spend money on."
The 99-cent app is addictive by design. Fans who master one game level go on to the next. Beginning this weekend, players will be able to watch the new three-minute cartoons for free by pushing a button on the app's latest update.
"If you take a fan's perspective, it makes sense for us to also distribute our content to people who are playing our games," says Andrew Stalbow, executive vice president of Rovio's strategic partnerships.
Three years after the game's launch, there are now Angry Birds plush toys, an Angry Birds theme park in Finland, Angry Birds lunchboxes, T-shirts and more. The company makes most of its money on these things, and also from advertisers on its games and YouTube channel, which has more than a billion views.
Rovio partnered with Lucasfilm to come up with an Angry Birds-Star Wars cartoon and game. There was an Angry Birds tie-in for the 20th Century Fox movie Rio. And Rovio has other deals with National Geographic and even NASA.
A Year's Worth Of 'Amazing Stories To Tell'
Stalbow says the new episodes will be rolled out each week for 52 weeks. He says the animated series has storylines similar to the old Tom and Jerry cartoons, and that Rovio hopes to create a "Looney Tunes of the mobile generation."
"They're very unique birds," Stalbow says of the characters, "each with very special powers, each of which get very upset and aggravated by the very rascal-ish pigs who've stolen their eggs. There's a whole infrastructure to the pigs' world. They live on an island that has amazing stories to tell."
The new Angry Birds series will also be shown on international TV channels in Australia, Korea, Indonesia, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Brazil, and through Comcast's Xfinity service in the U.S.
But mostly, Rovio is betting on new media and sidestepping the traditional distribution deals with major Hollywood players. By not working with broadcasters or cable partners, the company will be able to collect more of the revenue generated from its franchise.
Hamilton says Angry Birds has already thrown the video-game industry for a loop by offering tiny free games and getting rich, while multimillion-dollar game companies are in trouble.
"The fact that Rovio changed the game so much for video games, maybe they can do the same for TV distribution," Hamilton says. "Who knows?"
Stalbow notes that normally, entertainment franchises start with a TV show or movie, then make consumer products based on them, and then create a game as an afterthought. In this case, the big entertainment franchise started with a game.
"I'd say it's a business model inspired by somebody like Disney," Stalbow says.
In three years, Angry Birds is set to be a feature-length film. Where will the brand go next? How long will the birds be angry? When will the pigs stop stealing their eggs?
Stalbow says there are generations of bad blood between the birds and the pigs, so there are probably many more stories to tell.