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Disney XD aims to be where the boys are

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Disney XD aims to be where the boys are

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Last week, The Walt Disney Company couldn't stop crowing about how well "Tinker Bell" was doing. How this new Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment title was selling well ahead of projections, moving over a million units during its first 48 hours on store shelves. But this week, the Mouse is setting its sights on the Lost Boys.

No, not those "Peter Pan" characters. But -- rather -- young male viewers ages 6-to-14 who aren't all that interested in watching "Hannah Montana" & "High School Musical." Which is why they've been ditching the Disney Channel in droves and are now watching Nickelodeon & Cartoon Network instead.

Given that this is a sizable audience segment with lots of disposable income ($50 billion worldwide), Disney's determined to do whatever it has to recapture these lost viewers. Which is why -- in early 2009 -- they're turning Toon Disney into Disney XD, a brand-new cable channel that's deliberately being designed to be as appealing as possible to young male viewers.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

"And how exactly is the Mouse going to do that?," you ask. Well, for over a year now, Mickey has been developing an entire slate of programming for Disney XD. This hyper-targeted cable channel will feature new live action shows, animated series, original movies as well as sports-related programming. With all of this content designed to (I'm quoting from the Disney XD mission statement now) ...

"... reflect the fundamental values of boys 6-to-14, their strong desire to accomplish great things, meet new experiences head-on in a way that makes them feel empowered."

"So what kinds of TV shows can accomplish something like that?," you query. Well, as part of this testostrerone-based Extreme Makeover of Toon Disney, the Mouse will be rolling out "Aaron Stone," an action-adventure series built around this video game virtuoso who leads a secret double life as a crime fighter. This new cable network will also be home to "Zeke & Luther," a single camera sitcom about two best friends who dream of becoming the world's best skateboarders. Disney XD will also feature several brand-new sports-based shows from ESPN-branded sports shows that are aimed at males 6-to-14.

And just this morning, XD Disney announced that it was ordering up another pilot for possible inclusion in this cable channel's line-up. This proposed new series is tentatively titled "I'm With the Band." It would detail the  adventures of a tween musician who's recruited to become the new lead guitar for a 1980s Spinal Tap-like group that's now looking to make a comeback.

Kelly Blatz plays 16-year old Charlie Landers in "Aaron Stone," a new
action-adventure series that debuts on Disney XD in February of 2009.
Photo by Brooke Palmer. Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

In short, Toon Disney is about to become a Disney Princess-free zone. While some of this cable channel's shows are expected to survive the coming transition -- chief among these being "Batman: The Animated Series," "Jackie Chan Adventures" and "Power Rangers" -- many other popular programs will be going off the air starting in February of 2009.

Mind you, the Mouse knows that this retooling / rebranding of Toon Disney is a huge gamble. But given the enormous amount of money that Disney Consumer Products regularly makes off of young males (EX: The "Cars" franchise generated over $2 billion worth of worldwide retail sales for the Company during 2007), Mickey feels that there's even more dough to be had in creating a cable channel that caters to boys 6-to-14.

"And how might they do that?," you continue. Take -- for example -- that "Phineas & Ferb" video game that the Disney Interactive Media Group currently has in the works. By promoting this new game on Disney XD -- which, starting in February of 2009, will regularly showcase this Emmy-nominated series -- the Mouse's marketing department is almost sure to catch the eye of the audience that it's targeting for this new video game.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

You should expect that other divisions of the Walt Disney Company will also try & make use of Disney XD. Use this new cable channel as a way to reach a very desirable demographic. I'm told that even Jerry Bruckheimer plans on getting in on the act, using Disney XD to help make boys 6-to-14 aware of his July 2009 release for Walt Disney, "G-Force." Which is why we should expect to see Bucky the Hamster & Blaster the Guinea Pig turning up in bumpers for this cable channel starting next Spring.

Indeed, Mickey's marketing staff plans on using Disney XD to make boys aware of many of the studio's upcoming releases. Among the productions that are already slated to receive heavy promotion on this new cable channel are "Prince of Persia," "Tr2n," "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland."

Which -- I know -- makes it sound like we're in a tail-that-wags-the-dog situation. That Walt Disney Company is only creating Disney XD so that it will then be able to sell products and/or promote its films to boys 6-to-14. And -- yes -- having a piece of straight pipe that leads directly to this very desirable demographic will be a key part of the appeal of this new cable channel. Especially when it comes to recruiting outside advertisers.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But at the same time, one of the main reasons that Mickey has his A-Team working on the Disney XD project is that ... Well, the suits want to see if lightning can strike twice. If the Company's development team can actually take its highly successful Disney Channel formula (Which -- thanks to programs like "Wizards of Waverly Place" and TV movies like "Camp Rock" -- now has a complete lock on female tween viewers) and then translate that for boys. Better yet, take all of this new content that's being created for Disney XD and then leverage that across multiple platforms like online, mobile and video-on-demand.

Of course, the big question here is ... Will the Mouse actually be able to lure young male viewers away from such longtime Nickelodeon favorites as "SpongeBob Squarepants" and "The Fairly Oddparents" ? Will the shows that Disney XD already has in development and/or production really be strong enough to go head-to-head with Cartoon Network's latest hit, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" ? A series which -- FYI -- Mickey had really hoped to land for Disney XD, lobbying George Lucas long & hard before ultimately losing Clone Wars to Turner Broadcasting.

So what do you folks think? Does Disney XD actually sound that it will be able do what the Company wants? Which is help build brand allegiance with boys 6-to-14?

Your thoughts?

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  • Sounds to me like they are just too darned desperate for their own good.

    Bring back Vault Disney and be done with it.

    Heh. ;)

  • I like what I hear with the proviso that they keep a lot of the shows from the Disney Afternoon.  THIS lifelong Disney fan was brought up on Ducktales, Rescue Rangers, and Gargoyles and so will his sons...

  • Maybe they could have an animated show where a super talented/super beautiful/super intelligent high school girl is surrounded by a cast of male characters who are uniformly idiotic, bungling and/or evil.

    Every episode she could save the world and her male sidekick lose his pants. A guaranteed winner and a great role model for boy demographic that they're looking for here.  

  • For once I agree with Tuckenie.  When I was a 6-to-14-year-old boy, DuckTales and Rescue Rangers were the height of afternoon entertainment.

    OK, so I was 10 when DuckTales premiered, but still...

  • My sone (who's ten) keeps asking me when Disney XD will start (I made the mistake of mentioning it to him when Jim first reported it). My son still enjoys the Disney channel, but he wants Disney to have more stuff for him (he loves Phineas & Ferb, enjoys some of the Disney Channel shows, etc).

    He would love to see Gargoyles on the air again, since he vaguely remembers it from its earlier run on Tonn Disney.

  • Sounds fine to me, especially since it's been pretty obvious that over the past several years, Disney has been aggressively targeting the young female audience (and their money-spending parents), while essentially ignoring the young male crowd. Hopefully this might lead to the company providing something along the lines of a Bibbiddy-Bobbiddy-Boutique experience, but geared towards boys.

    It's sad to walk through the Magic Kingdom or World of Disney store, seeing parents scoffing at the idea of buying a small toy for their sons, yet clearly spending big bucks on the Princess makeover for their daughters. Maybe if the channel is successful in snagging that market, it'll lead to some sort of equivalent experience to even that out a bit.

  • 6-14?  I think the Mouse House should consider narrowing that target demographic.  I can't imagine a single channel appealing to both 6 year-old boys and 14 year-old boys, especially considering how image-conscious boys are during middle school and high school.

    The only way I could see that working is if they have two separate programming blocks, sort of like Noggin and The N (before they split into separate channels).  You'd have one for younger boys (6-10) during the day, and one for older boys (11-14) at night.  That might work.

  • Rufus> Gotta say I wish Disney had kept making WITCH. As for KP, I got the sense that Kim herself was pretty stagnant. Nothing scared her, she was a powerhouse and a girly girl- and the real progress happened with Ron working his way up to being her equal.

  • Good to know that the Disney Channel will finally be catering to its younger male audience. With the upcoming Rapunzel and the Princess and the Frog, and the newly released Tinker Bell Movie, I was beginning to wonder how they would compensate for the flood of Princess/Fairy merchandise.

    At the moment, though, I'm not too impressed with the ideas for those live action shows, specifically the one about the tween rocker. That immediately put me in mind of a male Hannah Montana, and I'm pretty certain that this show, like Hannah Montana, will be merely a gateway for hit records and sell-out performances.

    Which, hey, I know, Disney is a business and that's not necessarily a bad thing. What I'm saying is that IF these shows were all conceived at the same time, in the same board meeting, merely trying to throw together things that they think boys like, ("Uh...skate boards? Boys like 'em. We could make a show about that...") instead of coming up with a good STORIES, then many of those shows aren't going to have enough juice to run on.

    I'm just hoping that these live action shows aren't the shallow vehicles this article makes them out to be, that they aren't written and produced like sitcoms with canned children's laughter, because at the moment, that's ALL Disney has to offer besides reruns (which become scarcer by the day).

    I guess I'm also bothered by the huge focus on sports. I know a vast number of boys love 'em, and that's great, but I seriously hope that the suits up at Disney Television don't think that that's THE answer to what boys like. I hope there's a good amount of coverage on all sorts of inclinations, and that Disney XD won't be confined to stereotypes about what intrigues the male gender.

    I can say that I'm looking forward to finding out what these NEW animated shows are, because God knows how those have seemed to disappear altogether from the face of DC. Here's hoping these shows were conceived with creativity, not just demographic-pushing.

    Like I said, it's good that they're going to be paying more attention to the male audience, and to the audience of girls who are actually apart of the Jetix/"tomboy" crowd. But this article sort of left a bad taste in my mouth, because the whole idea of devoting an ENTIRE CHANNEL to just one demographic, when Disney (yes, including the Disney Channel) used to be about reaching anyone and everyone just with good storytelling, seems forced.

    Many shows that were originally aimed at boys have huge, cultish girl followings, I.E., "Avatar: the Last Airbender." Likewise, many shows/movies that were aimed at EVERYONE still fell into girl territory by default, like "The Little Mermaid." Ron and Jon have stated that they didn't necessarily mean to make "a girl movie," they were just making a movie that they thought people would enjoy. It's just a lot less likely for someone to make a show with girls in mind, and then for it to attract a lot of boys to it.

    The idea that this channel might be fueled by stereotypes on what makes a boy tick also left a bad taste in my mouth, but, hey, I haven't laid eyes on any of the shows or ads yet, so I could be severely wrong. I just wanted to express my concerns and hopes that I have nothing to worry about.

    But above all else...I just wanted to say that that logo is pretty lame. ;)

  • OK, the unanswered question here, though: without Toon Disney (once it becomes Disney XD), where is Disney going to air all their classic cartoons?

    (I can't be the only one who misses Good Morning Mickey, right?  =)  )

  • That sounds great, and being a father of a 7 year old (who has two older sisters constantly stuck on the Disney Channel) as Jim says, he does switch over to Nick or Cartoon Network. The only problem in our neck of the woods is Comcast in their wisdom has moved Toon Disney onto a more expensive "digital" package that, other than maybe this Disney XD, is totally worthless... so unfortunately, unless Disney can get this channel moved back to basic cable like CN and Nick are, they will have an uphill battle for my son, and most of the boys in out neighborhood.

  • I think this is a great idea. Having one daughter and one son, I always felt as though my son kind of gets left out with all the Disney "Princess" stuff. I've been dying for Disney to cater to boys more. It might be a little rough in the beginning, but hopefully it's a success and spills over into the parks. My son would get a kick out of more "boy geared" character meals and meet and greets. Also, has anyone ever paid attention to the huge difference in sizes of the girls section of the World of Disney to the boys section. It's like a closet compared to the girls side. Disney is really missing out on the fact that my pockets run just as deep for my son as they do for my daughter, and I'm sure I'm not the only parent who would be willing to spend the same amount on their son as their daughter.

  • While I'm excited that Disney is looking to create more family-friendly programming for tweens, I am NOT liking the gender polarization that has smitten Disney since the launch of the Princess line.  I would genuinely prefer a single channel that offers shows appropriate for BOTH genders, rather than separate channels that play off stereotyping.  

    Granted, that model works for Disney as a business.  If you create an image of something and sell it hard enough - saying "this is how you want to be; this is acceptable", kids will want to live up to it.  We saw it with the materialistic, "girlie-girlie" nature of the Princess line, and we are seeing it again with the rock-inspired "Hannah Montana".  A boys' channel, as promoted by Disney, will probably fare quite well business-wise.  That being said, I generally am at odds with the morals and fundamentals of "business".

    I hate to sound like an ultra-feminist [I really don't believe in the superiority of EITHER gender], but I really think it is a bit unfair.  Give me great stories, great characters, and I'll come.  Shows like "Phineas & Ferb" and Ducktales appeal to EVERYONE, not just a marketing demographic.

  • Jim, any word on any other shows that will survive the transition? Life-long "Gargoyles" fan here, and I'd love to still be able to catch that on XD

  • I'm curious if Disney XD will show the Disney XD Europe show "K-9". While it will likely get boys, It may draw a few girls too...not to mention their parents who have been fond of the tin dog since he first appeared on the BBC's "Doctor Who"...

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