A lot has been written and said about the “gaming” phenomenon that is Angry Birds and the meteoric rise of its maker, Rovio, from Finnish minion to a powerhouse that it is today: 1.7 billion people can be reached, by my own back-of-the-envelope calculations, there will be on average (!) more than one Angry Birds game installed on every iPhone, etc, etc. It claims more than 263m monthly active users and has a YouTube channel that boasts more than 1 billion views (and which is, funnily enough, still run by “Rovio Mobile” rather than “Rovio Entertainment”). As of late, they also are their own ad agency.

More Than a Game

However, whoever thinks that Angry Birds is just the Crazy Frog of the smartphone age, think again: The company was astonishingly quick to turn its games into a lifestyle brand. And it does so with a refreshing chuzpe and gusto: It has announced a feature film. Now, this many have done (or tried). However, Rovio was not content to flog a license to one of the big studios. Oh, no. It hired top talent itself: John Cohen (“Despicable Me”) and David Maisel (“Iron Man”) joined and Rovio will produce the whole thing itself. Lock, stock and barrel.

The challenge for branching out in other verticals used to be distribution: how on earth will you get your movie into cinemas? If you don’t launch on 6,000+ screens in the US, you are not a AAA release (which is certainly what Rovio is after). But then, the same was said on theme parks (there are now more than 20 of those), soft drinks (Rovio outsells Coke and Pepsi in Finland and rolls out the drinksĀ  across other countries quickly) or merchandise (yes, you can not only find them on pop-up stalls outside the Ferry Building in SF but also in Toys’R’Us). You can – of course – also get an Angry Birds pre-paid debit card!

And they did it (well, most of it) entirely on their own.

Angry Birds Toons: Widest Reach Ever – On Day 1

Now then, last week, the birds descended unto Austin for the annual digital bonanza that is SXSW and announced Angry Birds Toons, their new animated series. They also announced how they will distribute. And this caused a few gasps (and probably red ears in and around Hollywood)…

They did a few traditional syndication deals in Australia, India, France, Germany, Brazil, Norway, Finland, Indonesia, Korea, Ukraine, Chile, etc. But the big things is this: because, you know, they’ll push it down the pipe to their entire install base. I reckon this will make them the most widely distributed animated series anywhere in the world. Bar none. Instantly. I bet some network execs get sweaty palms when calculating the data that will hit their networks…

Direct Reach

And this is why Angry Birds is a lot more than a gaming phenomenon: Rovio has a direct channel to more consumers in the world that anyone I can think of. What if Coca Cola, Disney, GM, the NFL, GE, Exxon, whoever would want to speak to their fans directly? Big campaigns, many millions of ad dollars, no direct channel back to gather feedback – unless you count their respective Facebook pages and Twitter accounts but, hey, those are a lot smaller than that and, most importantly, they ride on someone else’s platform where they compete with a ton of other brands, pictures of kittens, babies and snow and a plethora of status updates. Rovio simply adds a button to all those games and keeps expanding its grasp of user attention.

Very impressive indeed, my friends!