Disney Channel's Digital Kingdom

Anthony Crupi
MARCH 17, 2008 -

If nickelodeon is the top dog in total day, Disney Channel is the 800-pound mouse in the room between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., thumping all comers in the basic-cable universe last year with an industry-topping average delivery of 2.69 million total viewers in prime. The network absolutely cleans up in its core demos, enjoying a two-year winning streak among kids 6-11 and tweens 9-14, while beating out runner-up Cartoon Network by a factor of two to one.

Yet because Disney is a non-ad-supported play from a revenue perspective, the focus is on its digital properties. According to comScore data, Disney Online received a record 27.5 million unique visitors in January 2007, up more than 10 percent versus one year earlier.

Last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger told analysts that the Mouse's digital platforms would generate more than $1 billion in revenue this year, 42.9 percent over his '07 estimate.

Digital will play a starring role in the network's April 9 upfront, says Disney Channel senior vp, ad sales Michelle Scarola. "Advertisers are looking for different ways to connect with caregivers as well as kids, and we offer environments that complement each other," Scarola says. "If we run a 15-second sponsor message on our air, the client can run a traditional 30-second marketing spot on our broadband platform."

Spots that run on Disney's linear channel cannot be commercial in nature. For example, last year WalMart sponsored the net's High School Musical 2, buying a 15-second spot thanking kids for helping the environment. In keeping with the net's affiliate agreements, the message did not directly tout WalMart's retail operations.

"Synergies between TV and digital are very strong," says Brad Davis, vp, ad sales for Disney Online. "The buyer culture is really starting to change from a planning perspective. And at the client level, most decisions are now being made from a 360-degree standpoint."

Scarola thinks that more dollars will flow into the kids 2008 upfront. "By no means am I saying we would forecast a blockbuster, but I think you're looking at a single-digit increase in revenue, at the least," she says.

Last year's kids upfront closed at nearly $997.5 million, up about 5 percent over the '06 score.

While certain macroeconomic issues suggest that the ad biz is in for a bit of a shake-up, Scarola says that the kids business is less vulnerable. "Even in a downturn, you're still going to buy things for your kids," she says.

Among the new initiatives Disney will unveil on April 9 are its latest original movie, Camp Rock (premiering June 13), and Pixie Hollow, a new virtual world for younger children populated by Disney characters like Tinker Bell. —AC