Hollywood’s biggest movie draw to close out the season is a sequel -- on television.
Disney Channel averaged a whopping 17.2 million viewers for its premiere of “High School Musical 2” on Friday night, making it the most-watched basic-cable telecast on record. It’s also the largest aud for any television program on any net in about three months.
The average audience for the premiere Friday, according to preliminary Nielsen estimates, makes it well more than double the 7.7 million who tuned in for the premiere of the original telepic in January 2006.
Of course, the original pic became a phenomenon, with millions of kids and tweens watching it multiple times over the last 19 months, helping build anticipation for its sequel to a fever-pitch. Disney also picked a great date for the weekend launch of the second pic, timed to the when youngsters were prepping for the return to school as well as the start of the summer cool-down at the box office.
An understated Disney Channel Worldwide entertainment prexy Gary Marsh said Sunday he was having a “good weekend.”
“This was our Super Bowl,” Marsh said. “I think we have officially crossed the line from ‘High School Musical’ the movie to ‘High School Musical’ the mania.”
And as big as the numbers are, no one will ever really know how many viewers actually caught “HSM2,” as countless viewing parties across the country put large groups of kids (and their parents) in front of the same set.
“What’s powerful to me, there was this desire to be a part of a collective experience,” Marsh said.
Disney-ABC Television Group prexy Anne Sweeney also had reason to smile Saturday.
“It’s very rare in our industry to catch lightning in a bottle creatively, but to do so twice in a row is almost unheard of,” Sweeney said. “Kudos to Rich Ross and his amazing team for doing just that, and for making television history Friday night.
“Their efforts have delivered a new important franchise for The Walt Disney Company, and a cultural touchstone for millions of kids and tweens around the world.” Although Disney Channel doesn’t air commercials, the “High School Musical” phenomenon has already poured $100 million into Disney’s operating income, and has created a ripple effect -- impacting every division, from international channels and home entertainment to theme parks, licensing and merchandising.