Disney kicks off upfronts, boosts multiplatform measurement

Disney-ABC ad sales president Rita Ferro dishes on strategies driving the Mouse House’s 2018 upfront presentation, including portfolio-wide buys, audience measurement and mom-targeted brand partnerships.
February 28, 2018

For the first time, Disney’s upfront presentation is being held as a single two-day event for all of its clients at Disney World in Orlando, with proceedings wrapping up today.

According to Disney-ABC ad sales president Rita Ferro, bringing everyone together under one roof gives Disney access to a cross-section of advertisers and agencies, as well as additional categories of spending. “It’s helpful for clients as participants to get value out of the days they spend with us,” says Ferro. “It’s also eye-opening, particularly in the kids and family business, to share best practices and insights across the board.”

The move also falls further in line with why Disney combined its entertainment ad sales teams into a single, portfolio-wide division in 2017. This year’s upfront presentation, in fact, marks the first time brands can consider Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior as part of a portfolio-wide buy that may also include ABC and Freeform.

“Coming together as a sales organization has helped the company take advantage of the broad relationships we have as a portfolio organization,” Ferro says. “As for having an open dialogue around data and insights, we know, for example, that moms spend a lot of time in the kids space. So how do we think about telling stories that engage not only kids, but their families, too? How do we take advantage of developing and sharing content across screens that really speaks to these different audiences?”

To support content development and help the company’s brand and marketing clients receive more value for audience data, Disney’s annual content-based Videobiquity study tracked multiplatform usage in the kids and family space for the first time this year. Disney has also become the first kids content provider to leverage Nielsen’s new Software Development Kit (SDK) by implementing it within the DisneyNOW streaming app.

“The Videobiquity study is one we’ve done for a couple of years across our adult portfolio that allows brands and marketers to take advantage of audiences across platforms,” says Ferro. “Given the transformative nature of the television and media landscapewhere kids move faster across platforms than any other group—it’s still a place with less advancement in terms of measurement and targeted advertising, thanks to restrictions around kids ads. By extending the study to our children and family portfolio, we believe this is a great way for us to fully measure the audience.”

“As for being the first kids content provider to implement Nielsen’s SDK, we’re excited because we can measure and quantify the streams that are happening within the app in ways that were not previously possible,” Ferro adds. “And we can include the data in our Nielsen ratings. The SDK provides a big opportunity for the kids space to develop and grow measurement tools, and let brand partners count every impression.”

Looking at what drives Disney’s content, Ferro points to three pillars—heritage, animation and authenticity.

“Heritage continues to be an important piece for how we tell stories that resonate across generations. Think about all of the live-action film versions of our original animated titles. Our heritage even now extends to the hit Disney Channel property Descendants,” says Ferro. Newly announced TV movie Descendants 3 will begin production in Vancouver, Canada this summer for a Disney Channel debut next year. Another upcoming project falling under the heritage category is Disney Channel’s live-action original TV movie version of the network’s beloved animated comedy/adventure series Kim Possible, which debuted 16 years ago.

In terms of animation, which Ferro says is part of Disney’s DNA, the company recently ordered more teenage female-led series with greenlights for Amphibia and The Owl House, as well as a fourth season pickup of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. And during yesterday’s first upfront day, the House of Mouse continued the female-driven toon trend by announcing that Disney Junior has started production on The Rocketeer, a new series inspired by Dave Stevens’ popular comic book series of the same name.

The company is also set to premiere its rebooted Muppet Babies series on March 23 on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. Disney-owned Marvel, meanwhile, will launch its first preschool-animated content later this year, when short-form series Marvel Super Hero Adventures! launches across multiple platforms.

When asked about Disney’s authentic pillar, Ferro says shows like Andi Mack (pictured), That’s So Raven and Stuck in the Middle come to mind as programs that best exemplify the diverse nature of today’s families. Andi Mack, for its part, was recently renewed for a third season. (After premiering in April 2017, Andi Mack ranks among TV’s top-10 series for kids and girls ages six to 11.)

As for brand partnerships, Ferro says Disney is aligning with companies like Best Western and Honda, which don’t necessarily come to mind when you think of the kids and family space. “We know that toycos and movie studios are great kids advertisers and continue to be the leading drivers of ad dollars in the marketplace, but it’s really about packaged foods, travel and other experiences that kids definitely influence in terms of buying,” says Ferro. “Although mom ultimately makes the decisions.”

Ferro pinpoints a recent partnership with American insurance company Aflac as a great example of how ad sales are shifting at Disney.

“Not only did the company sponsor the new DuckTales series on our platform, but we also did an integration on Good Morning America where the Aflac duck came on set and talked about the series’ launch,” Ferro says. “It was a really interesting and fun way for that brand to play in the space, and it allowed us to look at cross-portfolio opportunities in ways that are very different from what we used to do when we were three separate sales organizations.”

She adds that Disney Digital Network (DDN), which launched last year with flagship and digital-first series Club Mickey Mouse, will present at the 2018 Newfronts on May 1. “We are in the process of gearing up for the Newfronts after we presented our second phase of Facebook Anthology to the marketplace in December with eight to 10 new partnership ideas. The network has been a big driver for us in how we tell stories to new audiences on different platforms,” says Ferro. (DDN’s branded content service, Disney Co/Op, partners with social channels including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook through Facebook Anthology, which pairs publishers with Facebook advertising insights.)

As for Disney’s pending US$66.1-billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox and its upcoming kid- and family-focused, ad-free direct-to-consumer streaming service for kids and families, Ferro and the company won’t comment on any new details.

Disney’s upfront follows mixed Q1 earnings for the company, with weaker results from its cable TV, studio entertainment and consumer products divisions.

Nickelodeon will present its upfronts for media buyers on March 6 at New York’s Palace Theater. Cartoon Network, meanwhile, has yet to make a 2018 upfront announcement.

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at



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