By Bill Werde
NEW YORK (Billboard) - If you were caught a little off guard by the explosive success of this year's Disney's "High School Musical," well, you weren't alone.
"I would love to say I had a crystal ball," says Damon Whiteside, VP of marketing for Walt Disney Records.
"There hadn't been a musical done like this for kids in years, and we knew the freshness would work," Whiteside continues. "For the soundtrack, we knew there was a musical movie airing in 90 million homes on the Disney Channel and that kids exposed to our music tend to purchase it. But I didn't think we would have triple-platinum success. We're moving toward 6 million units worldwide. It's really the first tween Disney product that has reached around the world. And it's still growing."
The TV movie revolves around a couple of teens who meet at a karaoke contest. Once the show found its legs, the powerhouse synergy of Disney's various sectors took over: "High School Musical" pep rallies at the theme parks, merchandise, branded magazines, soundtracks, DVDs, games and more. "Our company knows how to maximize a franchise," Whiteside says. "This is just the biggest example of a tween franchise that the company could get behind."
But one of the earliest parts of the campaign may hold a lesson for the music biz -- giving away a song for free.