As of February 2015, approximately 66.5 million American households (57.2% of households with television) receive Nicktoons.
Nicktoons was launched on May 1, 2002, as Nicktoons TV, part of the digital cable-exclusive MTV Digital Suite, in order to entice cable operators to pick up the network and give them a marketing advantage over satellite services. However, by early 2004, Nickelodeon management changed course and offered it to digital satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network. The network was originally marketed as commercial-free, with comedic promos involving Nickelodeon Animation Studios, two-minute cartoon shorts from foreign markets, and former program promotions which had previously been used on Nickelodeon taking up commercial time. By June 6, 2005, as the network's distribution increased, the network began airing regular advertising. On September 28, 2009, the network's logo changed as part of Nickelodeon's universal rebranding effort that also saw Nickelodeon's first logo change in 25 years, and name changes for sister networks: The N to TeenNick and Noggin to Nick Jr. In conjunction with this, the "Network" identifier was dropped, leaving the network to be rebranded as Nicktoons for the second time.
An HD feed was launched on August 13, 2013. Like Viacom's other HD channels, any programming produced in 4:3 SD is pillarboxed on this feed. In 2016, the channel's website was offline for unknown reasons. This did not affect its sister channel's websites. As of 2016, Nicktoons HD is offered exclusively on AT&T U-verse, Bright House Networks, Google Fiber, Verizon FiOS, and Time Warner Cable.
Despite the channel's name, Nicktoons is not exclusively limited to airing Nicktoons, Nickelodeon's branding for its original animated television series (a brand that has seldom been used by Nickelodeon itself since the launch of the Nicktoons channel). The channel has engaged in channel drift throughout its existence, increasingly adding action-oriented programming that was never seen on Nickelodeon, and even live-action programs in recent years. Like sister network TeenNick, it is also used as a 'burn off' channel for failed or low-rated series (mainly animated) previously ordered for and airing on the main Nickelodeon network, along with outside series popular in overseas markets where Viacom is required to purchase worldwide rights for, but are not expected to rate well in the United States.
Nicktoons was launched in the United Kingdom on July 22, 2002; although, unlike the United States version, it has been an advertiser-supported channel since its launch. Also unlike the U.S. version, it does not broadcast 24 hours a day. There are also other Nicktoons channels in Flanders, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain replacing Nick Premium. A Latin America version of Nicktoons was launched on February 4, 2013. An Africa version of Nicktoons was launched on September 30, 2014 along with Nick Jr.
From 2006 until 2009, Nicktoons Network used a robot mascot in bumpers and advertisements for the channel. The mascot, named "ACOW," which stands for Animation Capital of the World was a complex robot character with a large singular eye, animated using "photo-puppetry." ACOW was prominently featured on the NicktoonsNetwork.com website and was used as part of the "Nicktoons Network: Animation Capital of the World" logo. Several similar-looking eyeball-based characters were seen in promos for the network.