How Adult Swim Cracked the Code on Livestreaming to Attract Massive Audiences

Interactivity and big events draw viewers and advertisers

Adult Swim will broadcast an episode of FishCenter, its flagship livestreaming show, from Comic-Con. Adult Swim
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Like many TV networks, Adult Swim will be making a big splash this weekend at Comic-Con with extravagant activations and experiences for their shows like Rick and Morty, Robot Chicken and Mike Tyson Mysteries.

But the network’s most important Comic-Con offering will be its livestreaming video—Adult Swim will share several hours of live video each day—which is an increasingly key element of the company’s multiplatform strategy. Users can view the livestreams right on or on its app.

While other networks have merely dabbled in Facebook Live, Adult Swim has cultivated a thriving livestreaming lineup, with round-the-clock programming on complemented by live events with its biggest content creators—complete with brand sponsors.

Adult Swim has increased its efforts in the past few months, with a trio of high-profile events that were among its most-watched livestreaming broadcasts ever. In March, Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky hosted a Q&A about the revival. On April Fool’s Day—surprise!—Adult Swim unexpectedly streamed the Season 3 premiere for Rick & Morty. Most recently, Rick & Morty creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon conducted a livestream Q&A on June 29 and revealed that the new season would debut on July 30.

The momentum will continue at Comic-Con, where Adult Swim will be on-site streaming many of the shows on its livestreaming channel for up to seven hours each day, from today through Sunday. The slate includes Stupid Morning Bullshit (its daily morning news show), Williams Street Swap Shop (a community swap meet) and Development Meeting (in which Adult Swim’s development team conducts business).

On Friday at 1 p.m. PT, Snickers will sponsor a livestream of FishCenter, Adult Swim’s daily call-in show featuring footage of fish in an aquarium. In the “Coin Quest” custom segment, fish will swim through superimposed, Snickers-branded graphics to win points. Fans will also be superimposed in front of tank footage and attempt to “eat” Snickers by catching bars floating in the tank.

“We’re able to eventize and capture these real-time moments. These are moments that matter to the audience, and we can bring them inside of it in a way that is different than what we do on TV.”
Christina Miller, president and gm of Adult Swim

Two hours later, at 3 p.m. PT, State Farm will sponsor a livestream of Williams Street Swap Shop. The network has integrated State Farm into a new segment, The Bonus Room Presented by State Farm, where the hosts talk about “unswappable items” (things they value so much, they would never swap), and created a branded content spot, which will also run on its linear and social platforms.

Between Comic-Con and its live events earlier this year, “we’re able to eventize and capture these real-time moments,” said Christina Miller, president and gm of Adult Swim, Cartoon Network and Boomerang. “These are moments that matter to the audience, and we can bring them inside of it in a way that is different than what we do on TV.” The key, said Miller, is creating something specifically tailored to the livestreaming platform, “rather than something else that we can just air there.”

The network has dabbled with livestreaming for three years, but launched its channel dedicated to livestreaming in early 2016. “We took the ability to surprise our fans in the sense of curating streams and dropping stuff in there on a regular basis, stuff maybe they haven’t seen in a really long time, or creating a moment that they can come in and out of,” said Miller.

The numbers have been impressive. Adult Swim said its users spend an average time of 84 minutes per month on the site and app (where livestreams are also accessible). More than 2 million users have registered for the live chat, where they interact with one another during the streams. “That creates engagement as well, and that trademark community that we’re really about,” said Miller.

Adult Swim has seen significant traffic spikes for its newsy livestream events. Its March Q&A with Tartakovsky doubled website traffic year over year, with close to 1 million unique visitors. The Rick & Morty April Fools Day debut, sponsored by Carl’s Jr. Hardee’s, registered 3 million unique visitors over that weekend, while Facebook, which also hosted the livestream, recorded 43.3 million impressions and 8.7 million video views combined. The two Carl’s Jr. Hardee’s posts during the sneak preview had 11.7 million impressions and 2.2 million video views combined.

Most recently, the Rick and Morty Q&A livestream, which FDA sponsored, was even bigger, said Miller, though the network did not provide specifics. “Each one of those have been building blocks,” said Miller.

As Adult Swim has built up its livestreaming platform, it has begun to incorporated sponsors in the past year, starting with FishCenter. The network looks for integration partnerships in its series (like State Farm and Swap Shop), and sponsorships for its live events. “It’s been about the right opportunity and about integration into that. Look at what State Farm is doing right now with Swap Shop, it really shows that it’s more than just a spot,” said Miller. “The series create more custom integrated opportunities. This is an evolution of branded content.”

The shows also make it to linear each Saturday morning at 4 a.m., as the network airs its livestreaming show As Seen on Adult Swim and a rotation of one of its other series. “You’d be surprised; that 4 a.m. spot is a very highly-rated moment for us,” said Miller.

Adult Swim’s livestreaming shows all have one hallmark: interaction. In Development Meeting, viewers can call into the meeting and pitch ideas for Adult Swim programming. “Anybody can call into any of these shows, so it is always about not just watching us, but participating with us,” said Miller. “This medium gives us the ability to have a real-time conversation with people, so we take advantage of that in all of our shows.”

That has allowed Adult Swim to succeed where others have floundered in the livestreaming space. “We’re playing on the edges of trying to figure out what’s interesting, and what’s interesting to our audience, and then we stick with it awhile,” said Miller. “This is a three-year experiment … We are constantly in a state of evolution, and if we ever stop iterating, that’s against the brand DNA.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.