Entertainment Marketers 2008

Entertainment Marketers 2008: Rich Ross

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Rarely has an entertainment concept multiplied as rapidly across so many platforms as Hannah Montana did last year, when the Disney Channel hit cable series simultaneously topped charts of TV ratings as well as sales of DVDs, video games, and concert and movie tickets.
Selected for:
'Hannah Montana'
Photo: Bob D'Amico
  • Speed to market keeps teens in buying mode
  • Makes American show a worldwide phenomenon
  • Uses advances that make "initial marketing tools look almost prehistoric"

And don't forget the merchandise. Miley Cyrus, the teenage actress-singer who plays a pop star on the show -- and in real life -- has driven wildfire sales of everything from dolls to apparel.

Her squeaky-clean image was put to the test late last month, when a provocative (for a 15-year-old) photo of Ms. Cyrus appeared in Vanity Fair, but the $1 billion Hannah Montana juggernaut rolls on as Wal-Mart Stores prepares to open 750 Hannah Montana in-store boutiques this summer stuffed with more than 140 different Hannah-inspired products.

Disney Channel President Rich Ross, who's handled marketing and programming tasks at every stage in a career that's included stints at FX Networks and Nickelodeon, orchestrated a multiplatform extravaganza tied to Hannah Montana.

"My job is to ensure that no department 'owns' Hannah Montana or any other concept and every department is constantly coming up with ideas," says Mr. Ross. "The goal is to make every good idea happen as quickly as possible, and with the pace of change in digital media, it's positively dizzying."

Global kid network
"The internet played a huge role in the way word spread, as kids sent e-mails and texts to each other across the country and even around the world," Mr. Ross says. Walt Disney Co. played up that phenomenon by making Hannah Montana episodes available 24 hours a day on Disney.com, and it was Mr. Ross' idea to translate the show, which made its debut in March 2006, into five languages early on as its popularity surged overseas.

"Throughout Hannah Montana's run, we have supported the brand with robust web content, both in entertainment and targeted ads on kid media," he says.

Disney scored another first this year when it turned the sold-out "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" tour into the highest-grossing 3-D movie, at $63 million, in five weeks. "What's amazing about Hannah Montana is that new digital ... technologies available in the last six months make initial marketing tools look almost prehistoric," Mr. Ross says.
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