Thursday, January 17, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 34 - The Disney Channels

Disney has always had a unique connection to television.  From Walt's days with the Disneyland program used to promote his new theme park to the upcoming streaming service, television has played an integral part in Disney's business model.

In 1983, Disney launched it's premier cable channel The Disney Channel, aimed at the whole family.  Over the subsequent years, Disney has gone through several permutations in in its cable channel offerings.  Currently, Disney's cable offerings include Disney, aimed at kids ages 9-16, Disney Jr., aimed at preschool aged children, Disney XD, aimed at children ages 6-15, and Freeform, aimed at teenagers and young adults (primarily females ages 14-34).

The cable offering represents a good start to coverage across the demographics, with an opportunity to improve.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Give each channel a niche - Each channel in the lineup should have a specific unique focus that appeals to a broad enough segment, but works in concert with the greater whole.
  • Be brand appropriate - Disney has enough brands to reach each market demographic, but it should be done in a brand appropriate fashion.  Put another way, there is no desire to have a channel with adult themes and content with the Disney brand.  FX can cover that niche.  Further, there is no need for a Disney Sports Channel.  ESPN is the stronger brand.
  • Reach deep into the library - With the combined libraries of Disney, Pixar, the Muppets, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC, and now Fox, Disney has a deep well of material for programming, including television programs.  I understand the impulse to focus on the new, but there are ways of presenting the library that make it relevant and fill time slots.   Plus, there is an audience for this material that will never go to streaming.  
  • Take advantage of the changes in viewing habits - since these are cable channels, there is a lot more flexibility with regard to scheduling.  Programs can be scheduled to take advantage of binging, released over a series of consecutive days or taking up a full days worth of programming. There is no need to stick to a conventional seasonal schedule.
With that in mind, here are a few notes for the specific Disney cable channels.

The Disney Channel - I would bring back the full name for this channel, with Disney being an acceptable shorthand.  This is the channel that I would propose the most changes, as I believe it needs to get back to a full family demographic focus and not the kids age 9-16 demographic. In many ways historically, this was supposed to be girls age 9-16, as Disney XD was focused at boys.  With the changes in the other channels, that age range is currently overlapped with Disney XD and Freeform.  Accordingly, I would look to allow those two channels to have a greater focus on the kids, teens, and young adults.  The Disney Channel should be a place for full families to enjoy content together.  Family oriented sitcoms (ala TGIF), family dramas (in the vein of 7th Heaven), and family focused films.  The latter should include the Disney film catalog as well as Pixar, Muppets, and classic Fox properties.  Shirley Temple, Blue Sky, etc.  To me, this channel would be a lot like the Disney Vault nights on TCM, a Disney Classic if you will, taking the best of the movie, short, and television library, as well as new programs that fit the style (like the new Ducktales).
  • Example programs I would add - Country Bear Jamboree, Disneyland
Disney, Jr. - Disney, Jr. is probably the channel I would change the least.  With two toddlers, we watch a lot of Disney, Jr. and I am a fan of their current offerings, in particular the way they tie into Disney franchises, but in a very specific way and with a learning focus.  Each show teaches a message.  I would recommend a little more consistency in the schedule.  Currently it's a mystery as to when new episodes air.  There will be a few weeks of new shows, then six weeks of reruns, and then a new episode.  I know they think it does not matter to preschoolers as they will watch reruns just as well as new episodes, but it makes a difference for the parents.  It helps us keep our sanity.
  • Example programs I would add - Journey into Imagination with Figment, It's a Small World, Ewoks or Droids Cartoon
Disney XD - With Disney XD, I would look to cement the demographic of the channel as children (boys and girls) ages 6 to 15.  This is a little more action based, a little more comedy based, but it should not be seen as skewing to boys only (as it has in the past).  This is for everyone who likes that kind of programming.  On this channel, beyond Disney and Pixar programming, Marvel and Lucasfilm programming would also be very appropriate.  Some Fox content could even fit into the channel, as I could see the Simpsons airing later in the night on this channel, if Disney retains the Simpsons.
  • Example programs I would add - Marvel's Power Pack, Zootopia series, 
Freeform - Freeform should continue to focus on teenagers and young adults (16-34).  In many ways, this is Disney's CW. It should offer original programming leaning into soap opera and sitcoms.  Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox library would all be appropriate here, particularly the ones that focus on teen and young adult protagonists, such as Marvel's Cloak and Dagger or cable airings of Marvel's Runaways off Hulu.  The most successful blocks of this channel are the 31 Nights of Halloween and 25 Days of Christmas and those should be maintained and reworked to focus on brand appropriate offerings (i.e. not promoting other studios material).  I would also explore whether the name could be changed to Oh My Disney! to bring it in line with the internet brand or something like DisneyLife, to further tie this to the Disney brand.
  • Example programs I would add - Marvel's New Warriors, Fairest of Them All
This would give the Disney cable channels coverage of all children and young adult demographics, as well as a full family channel (which is most in line with the overall company target).  Combined with the other channels in the portfolio, this represents a great place to start from.

As always, thank you for reading.  Next in the series is ABC.

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