Disney and Nick meet on live-action battlefield

Disney aims to weave ratings magic this fall
October 1, 2007

Disney aims to weave ratings magic this fall

Lay of the land: Disney Channel US is a 24-hour net that taps into the world of kids and families through original series and movies. It’s currently available on basic cable in more than 89 million US homes. Disney experienced a big growth with its girls audience in 2006, and live-action shows Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody dominated the prime-time ratings with kids two to 11, according to Nielsen’s Q4 2006 numbers.

The goal: To top the runaway success of network original hits High School Musical, High School Musical 2 (which just brought in a record-breaking 17.2 million viewers with its August debut) and Hannah Montana, and continue to make ratings gains against Nickelodeon.

The strategy: ‘Live action has been a huge part of our success over the past few years,’ says Adam Bonnett, SVP of original series for Disney Channel, who has developed many of the net’s hit series, including Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven.

A former director of programming for rival net Nick, Bonnett says the formula for developing successful tween live action lies in creating a great hook and concept, as well as characters kids can relate to. But what differentiates Disney Channel live action from the competition? ‘We try to take our cues from Pixar, layering in levels of humor and comedy so that we have sophisticated content that works for a 14-year-old, but that also appeals to a six-year-old. That has helped our live action stand out and be unique. I don’t necessarily see that in the stuff our competitors are producing.’

And to create co-viewing opportunities, Disney Channel ensures that adult characters are front-and-center in its shows to deliver humor that parents can appreciate.

The standout: This fall, Disney Channel is hoping to cast some ratings magic with new live-action series Wizards of Waverly Place. Debuting this month, the half-hour series follows Alex Russo and her two brothers, Justin and Max, as they engage in typical family squabbles with one significant difference – they are all wizards-in-training, under the tutelage of their dad. Bonnett is banking on newcomer Selena Gomez (Alex), discovered by Disney in a nationwide talent search three years ago, to become the channel’s next breakout star.

Delivering eyeballs: Disney Channel plans to launch Wizards with its most ambitious consumer marketing campaign to date for a live-action series. The initiative targets multiple demos including girls, boys, tweens and families. An intensive television advertising campaign will be the major driver of an integrated off-channel marketing plan, which includes national print and radio advertising, as well as a broad-reaching online digital marketing component.

Nickelodeon puts more kids in the picture

Lay of the land: Nickelodeon has become the most-watched television network by kids in the US since its launch in 1979, and the net’s ‘kids first’ philosophy is the linchpin of its success. The brand has grown from a single channel to include a robust online offering through and broadband channel TurboNick, which gives kids a place where they can view their favorite Nick content, mash it up, play games, make playlists and become programmers in their own right. Thanks to strong gender-neutral series (SpongeBob SquarePants forever), the net has maintained its top spot with kids, but in the tween realm, it’s feeling the heat from Disney.

The goal: To ensure that the network’s ‘kids first’ positioning remains relevant and credible by creating unique and engaging connections with its audience on the platforms they care about.

The strategy: Nickelodeon continues its efforts to create breakout stars with new show iCarly, headlined by Miranda Cosgrove, who also plays Drake and Josh’s little sister. It is interesting to note that both Drake Bell and Josh Peck got their start on another Nick series, The Amanda Show, which propelled Amanda Bynes to stardom.

‘We love Miranda Cosgrove, and hitmaker Dan Schneider (Drake and Josh, Zoey 101, The Amanda Show) came up with an innovative idea of including user-generated content in the body of the show,’ says Marjorie Cohn, Nickelodeon’s EVP of original programming and development. ‘The pitch and catch between TV and the net seemed fun, plus Miranda and her co-stars Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Kress and Jerry Trainor are magic together.’

In keeping with another Nick strategy to be a first-mover and innovator, iCarly (which debuted on TEENick on September 8 at 8 p.m.) breaks ground by directing kids to to post original content, which will either be scripted into future episodes or featured on Carly’s webcasts.

Nick is betting that allowing kids to showcase their own content and shape the direction of the show will create a deep brand connection and sense of empowerment, hopefully resulting in ratings magic.

The standout: iCarly follows the online adventures of Carly Shay, a teen who clicks with kids everywhere as she hosts her own homegrown webcast. The online audience clamors for more as Carly and her sidekick Sam feature everything from comedy sketches and talent contests, to interviews and cooking recipes on their show.

Delivering the eyeballs: Nick is promoting iCarly through a partnership with Teen Vogue. The initiative includes advertising in the October issue of the magazine, a value-added piece called Chic Clique, a sizzle tape on and dedicated text messages sent through the Teen Vogue mobile phone network. The show has also been supported through an outdoor ad in Times Square, and is in heavy promotion rotation across Nick’s online assets.

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