Disney's Deluxe Digital Display: NewFront News and Views

By Upfronts/NewFronts Archives
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In recent years, Walt Disney Co. has opened the second day of the Digital Content NewFronts with an event for digital programmer Maker Studios. On Tuesday Disney lead things off as usual, but this time not under the Maker Studios banner.

Venue:  Current, the year-old restaurant and exhibit space located at Pier 59 of Chelsea Piers, across from the West Side Highway.  TV One had the first Upfront/NewFront attraction there two weeks ago with its breakfast event, and chances are this place will be the site of even more Upfront events in 2018.  It has an elegant look, with great views of the Hudson River and New Jersey skyline, and it easily breaks into two main rooms -- one for buffet service, another for sit-down meals and presentations.  For this occasion, the front doors were decorated with cartoon squiggles, and those squiggles, posted on a large blue screen, caught the eye of attendees in the presentation room.  A certain nominee for best new Upfront/NewFront location this year. Grade: 4 Jacks

Presentation:  “All together now under one roof” was the theme each speaker emphasized over and over.  Instead of Maker and other Disney units operating independently of each other to reach Millennials and Generation Z there is only one avenue advertisers wishing to tap these audiences need utilize -- Disney Digital Network.  From this point forward, DDN, under the company's consumer products and interactive media unit, will program a variety of content for various platforms.  "Our brand promise: special entertainment with heart," declared James Pitaro, Chairman of Disney's Consumer Products and Interactive Media division.  "This venture will be the place where Disney storytelling and the digital zeitgeist collide."  The variety of content available for both individual messages and branded program support will come from Maker's assortment of creators, working together with Disney-managed editorial staff and social media organizers.  DDN will break down into six categories or "editorial voices" -- Oh My Disney (daily content reflecting Millennial/Gen X tastes), Disney Style (mixing familiar Disney characters and stories with fashion trends), Disney Family (activities parents and children can do together), Babble (parenting forum), Polaris (gaming and game culture) and Star Wars (anything related to the famous movie series). Although the commentary emphasized how these categories will be displayed on mobile phones and social media, executives assured afterward that smart TV sets and devices like Roku and Chromecast will become major DDN platforms.  Grade: 3.5 Jacks

News:  Each category will introduce one or more new signature video series in the months ahead (exact dates to come later).  A few of these series will come with sponsorships in place, thanks to Disney's Co/Op (content opportunity) program.  HP (Hewlett-Packard) will be involved in Club Mickey Mouse, the latest revival of the classic kid-focused variety show with a diverse regular cast.  COIN will be one of the first new scripted series under this tent, an animated adventure where game-playing misfits defeat villains while searching for a magical coin.  Other signature efforts include Magical Starts (Disney characters help parents tackle unique occasions, for Disney Family), Design Challenge (young designers make innovative work inspired by classic Disney films) and Marvel's Next Great Artist (competition series with the winner getting a Marvel Comics contract).  Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Host:  Various executives, starting with Pitaro, handled sections of this presentation.  Every person on stage was engaging without overdoing it, and generous with video clips to illustrate their talking points. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Star Time:  No celebrity performances here.  But at the very end there was a line of stormtroopers from Star Wars marching on and off stage to John Williams' memorable score. (Two of them are pictured at top.) That counts for something. Grade:  2.5 Jacks

Cuisine:  Breakfast buffet, served both before and after the presentation.  Classy decision by both DDN and Current other NewFront players might consider duplicating. (Note:  Scripps Networks' early spring Upfront also does this.)  Best eat: Mickey Mouse head-shaped waffles with maple syrup and small banana slices (in the syrup, a fun touch).  Worst eat: nothing beyond cream cheese and butter to spread on the bagels.  Can we have another alternative once in a while, like peanut butter or hazelnut spread? Extra treat: attendees could nibble a dark chocolate or caramel de leche morsel on their way out.  Grade: 4 Jacks (Note:  Cuisine ratings do not figure into the overall Jacks score.)

Data Insight:  DDN  begins its existence with a collection of 6,000-plus pieces of original content made or curated each month, and a multitude of more than one billion followers through various social media destinations from Facebook to Snapchat.  Grade: 3 Jacks

Innovative Opportunity:  Branded content placement on Facebook and other social media via Disney Co/Op.  Down the road, cross-platform advertising and marketing campaigns connecting DDN with ABC, Freeform, Disney Channel and other linear Disney services and app extensions. Grade: 3 Jacks

Overall Grade: 3.5 Jacks Great first effort by Disney to showcase its digital course under one umbrella, solid in every department from venue to clip material.  Would have boosted the grade to 4 Jacks if the programming announcements had premiere dates.

Next up: Hulu

A quick recap of our Jacks ratings system:  5 Jacks – Excellent, 4 Jacks -- Very Good, 3 Jacks – Good, 2 Jacks – Fair, 1 Jack – Poor, 0 Jacks -- Don't go there!

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