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Disney Gets Ready to ‘Rock’

Apr 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Considering the kind of success the Disney Channel has enjoyed in the past two years with “High School Musical,” one might expect the network’s executives to focus on that franchise in talking about the children’s upfront.
But when asked what’s going on at the network, Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for Disney Channels Worldwide, said, “Nothing is more exciting right now than the Jonas Brothers, and in June they will be starring in Disney Channel’s newest original movie, ‘Camp Rock,’ a high-energy, music-filled movie that promises to capture the hearts, minds and musical souls of every kid in our audience.”
The New Jersey pop band—made up of brothers Joseph, Nicholas and Kevin Jonas—also will appear this spring in short-form segments on the channel, called “Jonas Brothers: Living the Dream,” which will follow the brothers on their “Look Me in the Eyes” tour.
Music is important to Disney Channel and a big part of its appeal. But it’s more than that. “It always starts with really, really good storytelling. That’s what we always say when people ask us about what kids want,” said Michelle Scarola, senior VP of TV sales for Disney Channel. “That’s what Disney has always been about—really strong stories and relatable characters. Kids can really relate to the kids that are in our shows. They’re all different sizes, different backgrounds and ethnicities.
“That’s what really gets them in touch, and then you combine that with really great music on some of the shows, and we believe that is what really drives them, [along with] the fact that their whole family is involved,” Ms. Scarola continued. “They’re watching relatable characters and hearing music that they think is really cool, and they can actually sit there with their mom or their dad or their brother or their sister and watch the programming, too.”
“Every program, every storyline, every character on Disney Channel is a reflection of the world kids live in,” said Mr. Marsh. “Holding up a mirror to kids’ lives and reflecting it back to them—with all the dreams, celebrations, disappointments and fun that they experience—creates incredible connectivity. The world they see on Disney Channel is an extension of the world they live in. No wonder they feel welcome!”
“The Disney brand has always meant trust with kids and families,” said Ms. Scarola. “We know that there are others out there in the marketplace trying to establish that now in the same way, but that’s how our brand has been defined. It’s our legacy. That sets us apart, and I think you see that in part of all our programming. It’s programming that parents can trust and kids love. We always say that the Disney Channel is kid-targeted, family-inclusive and mom-approved. That’s what sets us apart. That’s our mantra and what we develop our programming around.”
Children have made the Disney Channel creation “Hannah Montana” a sensation and have brought their parents into the viewing experience, whether in live concerts or on TV or elsewhere in the Disney universe. “‘Hannah’ has been great for every division of the company. Right now adults watching Disney Channel is somewhere between 27% and 30%, adults 18+, and that’s not just ‘Hannah Montana’ viewership. That’s our programming in general. We really feel our lineup appeals to kids and adults.”
Animated series continue to do well at Disney, including new ones such as “Phineas and Ferb.” “We expect big things from that program over the upcoming year. And next week we’re announcing a lot of other projects,” Ms. Scarola said. That includes live-action shows such as “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” starring twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse. “We’re introducing the Sprouse brothers in a new way,” she said. “They will have another series on the channel called ‘The Suite Life on Deck.’”
The unexpected ratings success of “High School Musical” and “The Cheetah Girls 2” has shown that live-action movies are popular, especially as a way to expand franchises. “We’ll be drawing talent from our live-action shows in a number of new, original movies next year,” said Ms. Scarola. “We really see our movies as events, because in many cases and many airings they do as well as, if not better than, the Kids Choice Awards and a lot of other programming on cable. We really draw in the entire family.”
Later this year, Disney Channel will present another new telefilm. “Bookending the summer in August is the premiere of ‘The Cheetah Girls One World,’” said Mr. Marsh. “The movie follows our multicultural recording stars as they head off to India to star in their first Bollywood musical movie extravaganza. Shooting entirely on location in India, it is, without a doubt, our most ambitious Disney Channel original movie ever.”
The Disney Channel experience for kids is not limited to passive TV watching. The characters and programs are delivered in a variety of ways, across multiple platforms. “All of the research will tell you that 65% of the time kids are sitting in a room with two or more media, experiencing two or more media at the same time,” said Ms. Scarola. “You have to live in their world, and a lot of the time that could be four different kinds of media going on in the room at the same time.
“You need to connect with them everywhere they are, and not just by taking the same content and putting it on every platform, but by making the content relevant to that platform so that each experience is a new and unique experience for them,” she added. “We really believe that having content across platforms is really key to the Disney media environment.
“It’s been a great year for us. The momentum is very strong. From a marketplace perspective, we broke into a bunch of new categories this year, like the adult marketing category. The marketplace overall has been strong. We’ve seen increases revenue-wise over last year. We had a strong upfront last year so things have been good so far,” said Ms. Scarola.

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