Cartoon Network Changed: Why?

Here’s why Cartoon Network has changed and become so bad:

The Cartoon Network has changed for a number of reasons.

Demographics change over time, and kids today don’t like the same things as kids from previous generations.

Additionally, the very nature of TV development and broadcasting has changed, and the network has less available to invest into new shows.

So if you want to learn all about the reason for the Cartoon Network changes and why it has become so bad, then this article is for you.

Let’s get started!

Cartoon Network Changed: Why? (Become So Bad?)

Did the Cartoon Network Change?

4 years old child watching tv laying down on the sofa at home alone

Before we can even try to have this discussion, there needs to be some agreement on the premise.

Did the Cartoon Network really change? Yes.

There are a few different ways to look at it, and I’ll go through them, but it’s safe to say that the Cartoon Network of today is substantially different from that of the 90s, 2000s, and 2010s, and each of those decades clearly differ from each other.

How Did Cartoon Network Change?

watching tv

Since we’re on that same page, let’s talk about how things really did change.

The truth is that it might be fairer to say that the world changed around the Cartoon Network.

The way we watch TV is fundamentally different from the 90s, and that has definitely impacted the network as a whole.

I’ll get into some of that a little later, but first, I want to talk about the real, primary change.

More than anything else, the Cartoon Network has changed its programming.

The cartoons on the network these days are clearly different from some of your old favorites, and overall, the new content is a lot less popular.

That’s the real point I’m going to stick on through most of this.

The cartoons themselves are different, in many ways, and it’s why the network as a whole feels so different.

When Did Cartoon Network Change? (4 Periods)

Child watching tv

So far, everything seems simple enough.

The network changed its content, and now it’s less popular.

That has happened to a lot of networks over the years.

If we’re really going to explore why this happened, we first need to better break down these changes.

We can actually map the major programming changes for the network into four different periods.

I’ll go over each one below and how it differed from the others.

#1 The Golden Age

The Cartoon Network was launched in 1992.

It took a few years to really pick up steam and become widely popular, and that’s why the golden age is usually considered to be from around 1996 to 2004.

During this age, some of the most popular shows included the Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Lab, Edd Edd N Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and plenty of others.

We’re talking about nearly a decade of broadcasting, after all.

If you recognize any of those titles and remember them fondly, then you probably agree with calling this period the golden age.

During this time, the network grew massively in popularity, and many of the most popular cartoons in the world were exclusive properties of the Cartoon Network.

#2 The Dark Age

Times were good, but they wouldn’t last.

Eventually, the very popular original series ran their course, and the network had to replace them with new shows.

Many people were unimpressed by the shows of this era.

Roughly, this age ran from 2004 to 2010.

During this time, the network introduced live-action reality TV and a slew of cartoons that have not been remembered well.

These include titles such as Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, Sunday Pants, and Squirrel Boy, among many others.

The popularity of these series remained lower than those from the golden age.

Basically, the programming just wasn’t as loved by audiences.

That might be part of the reason that the network tried to branch out with things like their reality TV misadventures.

#3 The Renaissance

But, things didn’t remain dark.

After 2010, a new slew of original programs captured a new generation of kids, and the network saw a resurgence. 

The renaissance period is usually claimed to be from 2010 to 2014, and some of the most popular titles are shows you’ll very likely recognize by name: Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and the Amazing World of Gumball.

These shows tried to bridge a gap between generations, providing edgy humor to the now adults who loved the network as children and interesting stories and absurdity that was fun for older kids of the era.

#4 The Death Spiral

Unfortunately, the magic of the renaissance didn’t last long, and since 2014, the network has been in something of a death spiral.

The popularity of Cartoon Network content has consistently plummeted over the years.

It has been nearly a decade since a new original really captivated audiences, and so far, this death spiral has clearly outlasted the first dark age.

Why Did the Cartoon Network Change? (3 Reasons)

Three attractive child girls in casual clothes watching TV at home

That really covers the periods of content for the Cartoon Network and its ups and downs along the way.

There were clear changes at different points in the network’s history.

Now, we can really get into the why of it all.

Why did the network change each time?

Will those reasons prevent the network from recovering?

There’s a lot to consider, so I’m going to take you through the primary reasons for change and what they might mean moving forward.

#1 Demographics

The leading reason for changes to any programming is demographics.

This is especially true for a network that primarily broadcasts cartoons aimed at young audiences.

By the end of the golden era of Cartoon Network programming, the kids who loved the channel had grown into adults.

The network could either show content for adults to keep their original audience, or they could make new cartoons for a new generation of kids.

They actually tried both, and that’s why Adult Swim really took off during the dark age of the network.

The demographic changes never stopped, and the Cartoon Network has tried to keep up all along.

The new content is aimed at yet another new generation of kids, but attempts to appeal to the youngest audiences seem to have alienated adults who used to love the network.

#2 Licensing

Licensing is another huge channel.

One thing that has helped the Cartoon Network over the years is original productions.

A lot of the classic favorites were Cartoon Network originals, but the network always showed third-party content too.

In the years since the network launched, two companies have really gobbled up a lot of media companies and licenses.

Those are Disney and Comcast.

Between those two conglomerates, there aren’t a lot of studios out there producing interesting new content that the Cartoon Network could hope to broadcast.

On top of that, very popular properties, like Marvel and Star Wars, are owned by the giants.

Cartoon Network famously aired the Clone Wars once upon a time.

Now, new Star Wars content is the sole property of Disney.

You can see how this consolidation of properties and licenses makes it harder for a company like Cartoon Network to stay ahead of the game.

#3 Landscape

Most challenging of all, TV production and broadcasting have completely changed over the years.

With the rise of streaming platforms, we just don’t watch content the way we used to.

Now, the executives who are in charge of new content are taking new approaches, and everything from production to licensing to distribution is completely different.

The Cartoon Network can’t continue to exist in the same way as it did before.

Too many people cut their cable subscriptions.

Because of that, the network lost lots of revenue, and there’s simply less money to put into more new and original content.

Why Is Cartoon Network So Bad?

little boy lying down on a carpet and watching tv at home

Here’s the thing, though.

These changes have hit every media company, and plenty of them have been fine.

There are still interesting new TV shows.

There are good new movies.

Why is the Cartoon Network so much worse than it used to be?

First, that’s a subjective opinion.

If you think the current network is better than ever, that’s fine.

Please, enjoy the things you like without judgment from anyone.

But, if you’re of the opinion that the network used to be a lot better, there are reasons for that.

For the most part, the new content focuses a lot less on quirky humor.

The shows of old were great at hitting you with punchlines you didn’t expect, even while sticking to rather simple formulas.

It made them appealing to audiences of wider rangers.

Older shows also weren’t afraid to explore ideas and get into uncomfortable territory.

They weren’t necessarily making social or political commentary, but Courage was all about exploring common fears.

You saw similar themes in many other shows.

The most popular shows on the network these days are inferior rehashes, like Teen Titans Go, whatever iteration of Scooby Doo we’re up to now, and more DC rehashes.

Very little feels novel on the network, and that makes it less appealing in general.

Will Cartoon Network Become Better Again?

Child watching tv

That’s the real question, right?

It’s hard to say.

Networks have been facing these kinds of changes throughout the whole history of broadcasting, and many have been fine.

Others have failed to adapt and never recovered.

If the Cartoon Network can modernize and rediscover its old magic, then it will get better again.

If it continues to double down on reboots and rehashes and stays afraid to take interesting chances, it won’t recover.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.