For a noncommercial network like Disney Channel, it’s CD sales—not upfront advertising sales—that can play an important role in building a successful franchise.
Enter Imagination Movers, a group of four men—all fathers, teachers, musicians and Hurricane Katrina survivors—that may just be the next big thing in preschool programming.
Or at least that’s what executives at Playhouse Disney and Walt Disney Records are hoping for with the children’s music group, which has been finding a strong following through its self-titled series on Playhouse Disney, the Disney Channel’s preschool programming block.
Nancy Kanter, senior VP for Playhouse Disney Worldwide, was introduced to the Imagination Movers almost four years ago when she saw them performing live at the kids tent at Jazzfest in New Orleans. Ms. Kanter was on the lookout for a new preschool musical act to bring to the network.
“I was really looking for somebody that I thought could, first and foremost, relate really well and had great music for kids, but also entertain moms and dads when they were listening,” Ms. Kanter said.
That’s where Ms. Kanter, accompanied by Walt Disney Records President and Disney Music Group Executive VP-General Manager David Agnew, approached the band about doing a TV show.
The Movers, made up of Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, Dave Poche and Scott “Smitty” Smith, already had a history together and had previously tossed around the idea of creating a local children’s TV show in New Orleans.
“They did have some very clear ideas about what they wanted their music to be about and how they thought about being integrated into a television show,” Ms. Kanter recalled.
The band initially got together in response to the lack of male role models in kids live-action programming, and they think of themselves as a music group with “age-appropriate lyrics.”
Formed in New Orleans, they had built a strong local following. Even in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when three of the four group members lost their homes, the group continued with their music. (Today, the show is produced in New Orleans and local employees make up about 95% of the crew.)
The “Imagination Movers” series helps children with the creative thinking process, as customers come to the Imagination Movers’ warehouse seeking help to solve their own mysteries. The show is infused with songs spanning a variety of genres.
And it appears children are tuning in.
Ratings for the “Imagination Movers” series have been increasing since the show debuted in September. The show topped out during the last weekend in February with its highest-rated weekend among kids 2-5 (6.6 rating for the Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. timeslots) and a total of 2.3 million viewers 2 years old and up, according to Nielsen Media Research figures for live-plus-seven and live-plus-same-day from March 9-22.
Parents also are buying in to the franchise, according to Mr. Agnew.
Walt Disney Records has sold about 60,000 copies of the band’s compilation album “Juice Box Heroes.” It features material from three of the band’s previous albums, which sold a combined 30,000 discs over the span of three years on an independent record label.
“In the preschool market, it usually takes about six months of constant TV exposure in order to generate sufficient demand to spike sales or records,” Mr. Agnew said in an e-mail. “We recently hit the six-month mark with the ‘Imagination Movers’ show on Playhouse Disney and we’re beginning to see very nice weekly sales increases.”
Mr. Agnew has high hopes for the group. “We project that a year from now the Movers will be the biggest thing in preschool music. Period,” he said.
As for Ms. Kanter, she said, “We got into the Imagination Movers business because we believed in them, their mission, their music and what they wanted to say to kids through their music, and we just try and stay as true to that as we can.”
A second season of “Imagination Movers” was announced in December, with production scheduled to begin this week. A compilation DVD and soundtrack for the show’s first season is due out in May.