Tween Stars, and Marketing Tie-Ins, in the Making

Road to the Upfront: Disney Channel

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The Player: Disney Channel
The Date: April 8, 2008
The Venue: Legacy Recording Studios, New York
Key Execs: Rich Ross, president, Disney Channel Worldwide; Tricia Wilber, exec VP-Disney Media advertising sales and marketing group; Michelle Scarola, senior VP-TV sales, Disney Media advertising sales and marketing group; Gary Marsh, president-entertainment, Disney Channel Worldwide
The Musical Guest: Demi Lovato, star of the network's upcoming summer movies "Camp Rock" and "Princess Protection Program" and pegged by Disney's entertainment president Gary Marsh to be the company's next Hilary Duff or Miley Cyrus. The 15-year-old singer/actress already has a small following: Two tween fans were perched outside the press presentation, wielding hand-written signs and digital cameras to ambush the young star upon her exit.
The Food: Enough fruit, pastries and half-sandwiches to feed any lingering appetites from the morning's Scripps presentation.
The Drinks: A variety of caffeinated beverages to keep everyone alert during the intimate presentation. When there's only 30 people in attendance, no nodding-off goes unnoticed.
The Swag: Surprisingly, none. Or should we say refreshingly? Certainly anyone with kids over the age of 6 already has more than enough "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical" merch lying around the house.
Demi Lovato, star of 'Camp Rock'
Demi Lovato, star of 'Camp Rock' Credit: John Medland/Disney Channel

The Pitch: Disney's pitch to advertisers during the upfront is a unique one. Since the network hasn't accepted traditional commercials since its inception, the only way for brands to get involved is through extensive retail partnerships or individual show sponsorships that act as "pro-social" campaigns.

Witness the marketing blitz around last summer's mega-hit "High School Musical," for which Wal-Mart, Hasbro, Honda and Dannon all got in front of the 17.1 million viewers who tuned in for the highest-rated entertainment program in cable history. The network is offering limited opportunities for advertisers to get in on the action with certain offerings again this year, chief among them June's "Camp Rock," billed as a potential new "High School Musical," and "Princess Protection Program," a new movie built around the familiar Disney theme of princesses, coming in the 2008-09 season. Target is already on board as a retail partner for "Camp Rock," though Tricia Wilber, the network's exec VP-ad sales, said the sales team will be talking to a select group of agencies and marketers over the next month to sell additional opportunities around the movie.

"All the properties have an opportunity to be sponsored," Ms. Wilber told Ad Age, noting that there isn't a set number of advertisers who can sponsor a specific program. "It all depends on who fits within the model. It's important for clients to have a certain share of voice."

And that voice increased to a piercing shriek last year, thanks to Disney's biggest marketing triumphs, "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical." The plan for 2008? Expand on the mega-franchises (season three of "Hannah Montana" on Disney; "High School Musical 3" hits the big screen in October 2008), and constantly try to generate new ones around emerging talent. So get ready to hear even more from 2007 breakouts The Jonas Brothers, who will parlay their opening slot on the wildly popular "Hannah Montana" concert tour into their own series, "J.O.N.A.S.," later this year and starring roles in this June's "Camp Rock."

That made-for-TV-movie will also serve as a launching pad for Demi Lovato. Ms. Lovato was trotted out during Disney's presentation to perform the movie's climactic power ballad (solo-piano, but with enough vocal trills to make Mariah Carey seem modest) to further illustrate Disney's star-making abilities. Ms. Lovato has the female lead in "Camp Rock" and will also appear in "Princess Protection Program."

Constantly finding new talent and franchises to market across every media imaginable has become a top priority for Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide, who was diplomatic about the future of his network's current uber-brands. "Putting a number next to a title is a very old idea. You have to have a new story. If we have new stories to tell we can extend the series."

Mr. Marsh added that the network is on target to make five to six movies over the next year, with a third "Cheetah Girls" movie on tap for this summer as well as new titles like "Dadnapped" and "Hatching Pete." Also on deck are new seasons of "Wizards of Waverly Place" and "Phineas and Ferb," the network's two new shows from 2007.

Last Year's Take: Since Disney doesn't accept traditional advertising, TNS Media Intelligence doesn't track the network's advertising revenues. But rest assured, the network made bank last year: "High School Musical" raked in over $1 billion in retail sales alone, and "Hannah Montana" now has a mega-selling concert tour and a $65 million-grossing movie under its rhinestone-studded belt.

The Ratings Game: For the fifth straight year, Disney is the top-rated network in prime time for kids 6-11, a demo where its main competitor Nickelodeon still beats them during most other dayparts (Nick switches to Nick at Nite during prime, where it targets adults and families). But Disney still beats its competitors in total day viewing among tweens 9-14, its core demo, among whom it averaged a 2.1 rating last year. Disney is also the highest rated basic cable network in prime time among total viewers, a big selling point when it comes to reaching parents, who comprise 30% of its total audience.

The Digital Play: is the top children's web site for kids 6 to 14, with 28 million monthly uniques, and can accept limited advertising for certain properties. Last year, the company acquired virtual world site Club Penguin for $350 million. Although the site remains ad-free, Disney CEO Bob Iger expressed plans to exploit Club Penguin on other Disney properties like video games, consumer games and theme parks to help deliver a return on investment.
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