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Industrial Analysis

Profile

The Disney Channel is a basic cable channel owned by the Disney-ABC Television Group division (under President Anne Sweeney) of the Walt Disney Company. It is broadcast nationwide in United States, as well as in over 160 other countries, many of which have international versions of the channel that broadcast a mix of American shows and original international programs and movies. Currently, the Disney Channel broadcasts both self-produced movies (e.g. High School Musical) and shows (e.g. Hannah Montana) along with classic Disney movies such as Finding Nemo and The Lion King. The channel's programming is marketed towards children ages 6-14, with younger children's programs in the morning and older children's programming in the afternoon/evening. Additionally, these demographic divisions are further accentuated in the Disney Channel's sister cable channels, including Disney XD (males aged 7-14), Disney Junior (preschoolers), and the former Toon Disney (ages 6-12).

History

The Disney Channel began broadcasting on April 18, 1983 and was founded by the President at the time, Alan Wagner (Hevesi 2007). The first program that was ever shown on the channel was an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club from the 1950s (Butler 2010). During the day, the channel began showing such programs as Good Morning, Mickey!, Donald Duck Presents, Contraption, Dumbo's Circus, You and Me Kid and Welcome to Pooh Corner and at night aired reruns of classics such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. They also began showing several foreign animated series such as Asterix and Paddington Bear (Disney Channel: History).

As of December 1986, the channel, which was on premium cable (Mazzarella 2007), began to air for the full 24 hours as it had previously been showing programs from 7am to 1am. In the 1980s, Disney channel developed a few hit programs such as Kids Incorporated (1984) (Disney Channel History) and the revival of an old staple, Mickey Mouse, with The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (1989) with many of today’s stars playing parts in the show, including Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, and Justin Timberlake (Disney Channel: History). Then, the Disney channel in the late 1990s reworked its look and divided up the channel into three sections: Playhouse Disney, meant for preschoolers played in the morning, Vault Disney in the early afternoon and Zoog Disney from late afternoon to late evening, both for older age groups. (Preston, 2004) It was at this point that Disney began its promos for its own programs, called break interruptions which were not advertising commercials and were intended to make Disney look more child-friendly (Marketing Practices). When Disney became a basic cable in 1996, it introduced two new logos: one for the channel and one for the Zoog section, trying to expand its audience. These logos lasted until 2002, when the current logo was introduced. In the same year as the introduction of the two new logos, Anne Sweeney, the woman now said to be "one of the most powerful women in entertainment", joined Disney as the president of the Disney Channel (The Walt Disney Company - Anne Sweeney Executive Biography).

As the children's channel developed its older audience demographic under this new president as of 2000, programs were modified to follow this new trend - partly spurred by the change in logo. This lead to shows such as Even Stevens, Lizzie McGuire, That's So Raven and Kim Possible, which became very popular, according to the ratings (Disney Channel: History). After classic Disney channel material was taken off the air in September 2002, as already mentioned, the channel’s logo changed again to mark a fresh start. The Vault and Zoog Disney were removed from the channel and the kid’s channel went through some remodeling, with drama and reality series being taken off and the focus being shifted to live-action comedies and animated series. In 2004, Anne Sweeney, the current president of the kid's channel, successfully geared Disney Channel to making a profit through promoting teen music stars (The Walt Disney Company - Anne Sweeney Executive Biography). In 2005, That's So Raven became the network's highest-rated series of all time, closely followed in 2006 by an extremely successful Hannah Montana. 2006 also marked the start of the famous High School Musical which spurred a sequel and a film and was a big hit among all age groups. Today, Disney Channel is one of the most-watched cable channels in the United States, with some series averaging around three million viewers. Also, due to some fans of the channel complaining about the exclusion of Mickey Mouse and Company, there are now allotted time slots on the channel for the famous Mouse and his friends (Disney Channel).

Current Programming

Disney Channel schedules its programming according to what appeals best to its viewers throughout the day. In the early morning, through until 1pm Disney airs programming for young children who are not yet in school or not yet in school the whole day. After 1pm and until 4am the next day, Disney airs programming aimed at older audiences, because that is when preteens and teenagers are home at their TV screens.

The programs on today for toddlers and Pre-K children are: Tasty Time, Little Einsteins, Dance-A-Lot, Jungle Junction, Timmy Time, and Mickey Mouse. These shows are appropriate for all ages. The programs on today for older children are: The Suite Life on Deck, Wizards of Waverly Place, Good Luck, Charlie, Hannah Montana Forever, and Jonas L.A.

Disney Channel also produces some of their own films and airs them on their channel. Films such as: Halloweentown (I and II and III), Cadet Kelly, The Cheetah Girls (three movies), Camp Rock (two movies), The Color of Friendship, Get a Clue, High School Musical (three movies), and Zenon (all three movies). Often, Disney chooses actors from their primetime shows to be main characters in their movies. For example, Lizzie McGuire, played by Hilary Duff plays Kelly in Cadet Kelly[1]. Or sometimes, after a movie is aired, one or more of the actors will become a regular on a show, as in the case of Demi Lovato, who starred in Disney's Original Movie Camp Rock (and its sequel Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam) and later starred as the main character in the show Sonny With A Chance.

Audience

Disney’s intended audiences are preschoolers, young children, pre-teens and young adolescents but it has gained so much popularity in recent years that it even has viewers outside the main target audience, making teens idols out of some of the channel stars (Preston 2004, p.119). It specifically created Playhouse Disney for its preschoolers, playing these programs in the morning, followed by programs oriented to older children coming home from school. Based on the most recent ratings, published on September 28, 2010, Playhouse Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ranked as TV’s No. 3 preschool series among target Kids 2-5 demo. Furthermore, in the same report, Disney was named “TV’s No. 1 Network in Total Day Among Kids 6-11 and tweens 9-14”. This past quarter also set records in television ratings showing that there is increasing viewership for this channel. Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, a program oriented to the older viewers, was also the top movie in terms of viewers (9.1 million) and tweens (2.6 million aged 9 to 14). In addition, Hannah Montana Forever and Good Luck Charlie topped second place in targeting the 6-11 and 9-14 Demographics (Disney Channel Medianet).

Advertising and Marketing

Since its inception in 1983, the Disney Channel has marketed itself as a commercial-free family channel, distinguishing it from other channels such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, which both regularly air commercials. Originally operating as a commercial-free premium channel, where viewers had to pay a monthly fee to receive the channel (Selznick 2008), they switched over to basic cable in 1996 in hopes of increasing their viewership and competing with Nickelodeon’s consistently high ratings. However, despite changing to a basic cable channel, they kept their non-commercial approach until 2002, where they began to occasionally promote sponsors before and after shows (Selznick 2008). Aside from the limited sponsorships, the Disney Channel remains committed to not running any advertisement spots during their programming. While their style of commercial-free programming might at first seem counterintuitive, the Disney Channel is able to successfully compete in the children’s market for several reasons, which will further be elaborated on in the following passages.

First, the Disney Channel has been extremely successful and adroit in their strategy of self-promotion and self-marketing, generating significant amounts of revenue via their merchandising and the integration of the Disney Channel into movies, CDs, books, video games, concerts, theme park rides, plush dolls, board games, apparel, jewelry, toys, and even food (they recently promoted their “Official Hannah Montana Concert Candy”, which included gummies in the shape of guitars and microphones). Instead of selling airtime to advertisers in-between shows, they constantly promote their own original shows, movies, concerts, and anything related to the Disney empire, creating a channel that is, as Norma Odom Pecora has described, “one long advertisement for the Walt Disney empire” (Pecora 1998). Indeed, the Disney Channel capitalizes on its ability to horizontally integrate its shows and characters, promoting the channel and its programming through multiple entertainment outlets, all which bear the Disney brand name. The channel itself relies on the larger Disney empire to promote its programming, essentially functioning as just another gear in the corporate machine that is Disney.

In order to fully understand the reach and success of the Disney Channel’s innovative marketing strategy of horizontal integration, let’s focus on one of its most successful shows, Hannah Montana. The series debuted in 2006, and in its second season, it broke the record for the highest rated basic cable series telecast of all time, with 10.7 million viewers (Andreeva 2007) for one episode. On most basic cable channels, ratings like that would result in the channel significantly increasing their price for a 30-second or 60-second airtime slot and making some serious profit. However, the Disney Channel has generated its profit from Hannah Montana not by selling airtime, but by selling Hannah Montana itself; by creating concerts, albums, films, and original novelizations of the series. In other words, the success of the Disney Channel is not necessarily reflected in the high ratings of its programming, but in the channel’s ability to market and literally sell its programming to anyone who’s willing to buy. And the money just keeps rolling in. The first Hannah Montana movie has pulled in a total worldwide gross of $70,642,036, while the second movie racked in a total worldwide gross of $155,545,279 (Box Office Mojo). The buck doesn’t stop there; the soundtrack albums have reached sales of over 13.2 million in the U.S. alone (Trust 2010). Indeed, it is evident that the Disney Channel’s strategy of marketing via horizontal integration has proved successful, largely due to its association with the well-established Disney brand name.

Aside from its profitable merchandising strategy, the Disney Channel uses another unique marketing strategy that appeals to both children and their parents: a pro-social message that tries to convince parents that by having their kids watch the commercial-free Disney Channel, they won’t be exposed to the world of marketing and advertising that other channels like Nickelodeon show. The non-commercial aspect of the channel is a key feature to the Disney Channel that truly separates it from any other channel that shows children’s programming, with PBS Kids being the exception. But the truth of the matter is that the Disney Channel is advertising to its viewers, perhaps even more so than any other channel with children’s programming. Its self-marketing has been completely overlooked by parents, who see the channel as free from commercial influence and a wholesome, pro-social place that welcomes their children and never throws commercials at them. On their website, the Disney Channel describes how they accept limited sponsorships, “with a focus on pro-social messages” (Marketing Practices). They detail their guidelines for any sponsorship that airs on the channel and describe how it must be not be “deceptive” or “exploitative” in any way, appealing towards an anti-consumerism philosophy, only airing advertising that promotes the greater good. This message seems targeted directly at parents, who support this approach to make advertising more of a moral and pro-social message instead of a strictly corporate one. In their article on online advertising, Andrew Hampp and Jack Neff describe how the Disney Channel has teamed up with Clorox to create online branded entertainment, which technically goes against the channels philosophy of being non-commercial. However, the authors argue that by marketing through the medium of the Internet, they haven’t had to “sacrifice their identity” as a commercial-free TV channel (Hampp and Neff 2009). Instead, they are successfully able to target their viewers online through advertisements that don’t necessarily meet the pro-social message that they preach.

The last merchandising strategy employed by the Disney Channel is its tactic of using audience interaction and the viewers themselves to promote the product. Debra Goldman, in her article on the Disney Channel, refers to their commercial-free approach as a strategy used to fuel the corporate machine that is Disney. Instead of traditional advertising where the company directly tries to the sell the product, she argues that the Disney Channel uses the viewers themselves to help the market the channel (Goldman 1998). By focusing on audience interaction during their programming and promotion-commercials for other shows by constantly telling the viewer to “go online”, or to satisfy their craving for a show, they pull the viewer in and directly tell them to support the channel, creating a mutually beneficial relationship that satisfies both the consumer and the marketer. In other words, by watching the Disney Channel, they will provide the programming that you want to see, and they constantly tell you to watch as a sort-of reminder that without you watching, they couldn’t exist. The channel brings the viewers in, causing them to feel an obligation to support a channel that vocally appreciates and recognizes its viewers as part of the programming. This strategy has proved quite effective, as the active engagement of the viewers causes them to keep coming back for more. Additionally, they have created an online community on their website, allowing users to create their own pages, share their favorite Disney channel shows, and play online games against other Disney channel fans. This strategy of connecting viewers via the medium of the Internet has allowed the Disney channel to let the viewers themselves promote what they enjoy about the channel, which is a brilliant marketing strategy that makes the viewer feel like they are as important to the channel as the shows and original Disney movies themselves. Increased social networking creates a dedicated fan base that will support the channel and likely be introduced to new shows and merchandise via interactions with other users.

Today, the Disney Channel continues to use the marketing strategies of selling merchandise, promoting a pro-social message, and engaging the audience to successfully generate profit on a commercial-free channel. These three tactics allow the channel to avoid dealing with the backlash that has erupted against product placement, and give parents the sense that their child is not being exposed to the advertising world, while in truth, they are. The channel’s unique approach has been met with some recent criticism, however, as is explained in the next section.

Praise and Criticism

Disney Channel is not met with a lot of criticism. It exists, but most people like Disney Channel and what it does:

"For most Americans, "Disney" is synonymous with entertainment, childhood and family values. Disney signifies a special place of celebratory play and uncomplicated amusement. In addition, Disney acts as a register of a golden age of innocence- an imaginary time in an imaginary past. . . Disney appeals to many of us through a complex affective process where we negotiate our beliefs, values, desires, and expectations in the realm of pleasure and meaning."[2]

Most, if not all of the criticism Disney Channel gets is directed mostly at The Disney Corporation. The Disney Corporation is seen as a multi-billion dollar corporation that does not always have the people in mind. Disney has come under fire in the past for not equally representing people of color in their movies and programs[3].

Textual Analysis

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

Profile

Constructing Target Audience

Cultural Meanings of the Channel’s Brand

Production History

Scheduling

Hannah Montana

Profile

Hannah Montana, currently airing Sundays at 8 pm EST on the Disney Channel and Saturday mornings on ABC Kids, is one of the most popular shows ever to air on the Disney Channel. Debuting on March 24, 2006, the 30-minute teen sitcom follows the double life of Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus), an average teenage girl and Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus), her famous pop star alter-ego. The show has consistently received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Children’s Program as well as consistently high ratings. The series is the epitome of successful marketing and horizontal integration, as the Disney Channel has profited from the success of Hannah Montana through excessive merchandizing strategies. Currently the show is running through its final season, marketed as Hannah Montana Forever, which premiered July 11, 2010.

Constructing Target Audience

The target audience of Hannah Montana is primarily teenage girls, who aspire to the character Miley Stewart, portrayed as an average teenage girl who happens to life a second “fantasy” life as a pop star. The show constructs this target audience through a number of strategies.

The first primary strategy that “Hannah Montana” uses to attract teenage girls is through its portrayal of stereotypical male and female characters, both younger and older. In terms of males, all of the recurring male characters on the show are portrayed as clumsy, obnoxious, incoherent boys who are mostly unaware of their ridiculous antics. In the pilot episode, Miley’s “crush” becomes convinced that ketchup is used as hand lotion, rubbing it on his hands during the episode. In addition, Miley’s brother is also the subject of ridicule, as he concocts an exercise plan to impress other girls and dresses up later as Hannah Montana, wearing a blonde wig and a dress. This portrayal of boys as the subject of physical humor is likely a strategy to attract teenage girls, who can relate to feeling confused about the antics of boys, even if the show is an exaggeration of reality.

In terms of the teenage girls on the show, they are seen as more literate and emotionally-driven then the males, and often communicate their feelings of anger or happiness. At the end of the pilot episode, Miley and her best friend Lilly have a long conversation about Miley’s secret life as Hannah Montana and why Miley chose not to tell Lilly. While filled with the occasional punch line, their conversation is surprisingly mature, and reinforces the stereotype of females being able to openly and easily express their emotions, contrasted to the simple-minded nature of boys. This gender superiority likely is used to attract females to the show who see themselves as similar to the lead female characters. Despite this positive image of mature females, the show consistently promotes consumerism, constructing the female identity as one that is highly influenced by fashion and appearance. Throughout episodes of the show, Miley is treated to a butler, a large house, and an enormous wardrobe that is explored by Miley and Lilly in the premiere episode. This portrayal of consumerism as part of the female identity may not be ideal in the eyes of feminists, but it certainly is used successfully in the construction of the show’s target audience.

The last strategy used by Hannah Montana to construct its target audience is the world in which the show portrays. The entire premise of a show is unrealistic, showing the life of a teenage pop star who is unrecognized by her classmates when she isn’t wearing a blonde wig. In addition, the fantasy world of Hannah Montana is unrealistic, as she is able to make decisions about her career throughout the episodes that would never be allowed in the real world. This unrealistic power granted to a teenage girl is quite attractive to teens watching the show, who likely aspire to live like Hannah Montana does and have complete control over their lives and the people in them. The show serves as an escape to the real world and portrays a world where the characters all have great families, great friends, and control over their lives that most normal children do not.

Cultural Meanings of the Channel’s Brand

Hannah Montana fits nicely into the Disney Channel brand by promoting family values, consumerism, and by offering an alternative role-model who embodies innocence. In terms of family values, the notion of a stable family as seen through Miley’s relationship with her father is a strategy used to attract parents and families, fitting nicely into the Disney Channel brand of family-oriented programming. Throughout the series, Miley constantly approaches her father with issues that she is having with her friends, especially with Lilly. While her father is portrayed as less emotionally intelligent as a female, he does offer advice to her and truly cares about the relationships in her life, constantly reminding her how proud he is of her success. Their mature relationship attracts families who view the Disney Channel as family-oriented.

Aside from traditional family values, Hannah Montana portrays consumerism in a positive light, which (as previously mentioned) is used as a strategy to construct a teenage girl audience. And while the Disney Channel brand is vocally against consumerism, they are actually a vastly-networked, horizontally integrated merchandizing machine that allows them to profit from merchandise and not have to advertise on the channel. Therefore, consumerism can be considered part of the Disney Channel brand, even though the channel doesn’t acknowledge it. The show promotes the consumerist lifestyle led by Hannah Montana through both Miley’s satisfaction with her superstar alter-ego or through her friends’ admiration of her success and abundance of “nice things”.

Finally, the show portrays Miley Stewart / Hannah Montana as a positive role model who embodies innocence and stands out from current female role models. The topics of the episodes never involve anything risqué and most of the humor is derived from simple physical comedy. This construction of a good role model for teenage girls fits nicely into the innocent nature that the Disney Channel strives for, creating programs that are family-friendly and appeal to children and teenagers. This strategy, similar to the family values strategy, is also meant to attract parents who are trying to expose their teenage daughters to positive female representations.

Production History

Hannah Montana is produced by “It’s a Laugh Productions, Inc.” and “Michael Poryes Productions”, in association with “Disney Channel Original Productions”. While at first glance this multitude of production companies may appear to be reflective of a non-vertically integrated program, “Hannah Montana” is just the opposite. “It’s a Laugh Productions, Inc.” is owned by The Walt Disney Company, producing a number of current Disney Channel live-action sitcoms, including “Good Luck Charlie” and “Wizards of Waverly Place”. Michael Poryes is the co-creator of the show, and also served as executive producer of the Disney Channel hit series “That’s So Raven” (CITE). Indeed, it is evident that through its relationship to the production companies, the Disney Channel has complete control over the show’s content, erasing any potential conflict between the three stages in the programming exchange. This cutting out of the middle man directly connects the production to the ownership structure of the show, reinforcing the ever-powerful empire that is The Walt Disney Company. God help us all.

Scheduling

Currently airing new episodes Sundays at 8 pm EST, Hannah Montana is scheduled to end on November 7, 2010 with an hour-long series finale. The Disney Channel likely chose Sundays at 8 pm in order to target both teenage girls and their families. Choosing Sunday, a day where most adults aren’t working and most teenage girls are done with work from school, the primetime airings can draw in high ratings, consistently reaching up to 3-4 million viewers. Hannah Montana fits nicely into the Disney Channel’s primetime scheduling strategies, as the channel uses the 7 pm – 10 pm timeframe to air new episodes of its most popular series, along with classic Disney movies and new Disney Channel original movies. By establishing the primetime timeslot as their outlet for premiering episodes and movies, the Disney Channel is attempting to draw parents (who otherwise would be watching primetime network television) into the “hodgepodge of homogeny” that is the Disney Channel. (Note: By “hodgepodge of homogeny”, we are referring to the notion that while the Disney Channel airs an abundant number of shows on their channel, almost all of them conform to the formulaic teenage sitcom genre with stereotypical characters and unoriginal plotlines.)

In addition to airing the series during the primetime hours and attracting its target audience, the Disney Channel occasionally produces “crossover episodes” which combine characters from different original series into a “mega-episode” consisting of multiple parts. For example, on July 17, 2009, the channel aired a special Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana, a trilogy of episodes that included characters from Wizards of Waverly Place, The Suite Life on Deck, and Hannah Montana and drew in 10.6 million viewers (Seidman 2009). Not only do the crossover episodes bring in high ratings, but they allow audiences of one teenage sitcom to be exposed to and drawn into watching other similar series. In terms of scheduling, these special episodes generally air during primetime and fit into the brilliant scheduling strategies of the Disney Channel. All three of the shows in the 2009 crossover episode normally aired new episodes at 8 pm on different days, creating a consistent time period where teenagers can tune in every night and watch a new episode of a 30-minute sitcom. This consistency in scheduling allows viewers to not have to wonder about when new episodes will air.

Despite its consistent airings of new episodes in the evenings, reruns of Hannah Montana are aired seven days a week at staggered times, from 12:30 am to more common after-school times like 2:30 pm (Disney Channel TV Schedule). This strategy of airing reruns throughout the day is a two-fold strategy; the rerun episodes can help devoted viewers catch up on episodes that they missed, while at the same time providing an outlet for converting potentially new viewers into consistent fans. Indeed, the Disney Channel employs a number of scheduling strategies in order to gain and maintain a large audience for Hannah Montana, and to place the series into the traditional primetime slot where it has consistently placed its most popular programs.

References

  1. http://tv.disney.go.com/disneychannel/originalmovies/
  2. Teaching (Popular) Visual Culture: Deconstructing Disney in the Elementary Art Classroom. Kevin M. Tavin, David Anderson Art EducationfckLRArts EducationfckLRVol. 56, No. 3 (May, 2003), pp. 21-24+33-35fckLRPublished by: National Art Education AssociationfckLRStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3194050
  3. Seeing White: Children of Color and the Disney Fairytale PrincessfckLRThe Journal of Negro EducationfckLRVol. 74, No. 3 (Summer, 2005), pp. 221-232fckLRPublished by: Journal of Negro EducationfckLRhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/40027429

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