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Disney's "Sofia the First" gets a second season, while ABC's "Zero Hour" times out

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Disney's "Sofia the First" gets a second season, while ABC's "Zero Hour" times out

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Television is a very weird business.

How do I know this? Because as I write today's story, I'm looking at an e-mail that the nice folks at Disney Junior sent me yesterday afternoon. Giving me a heads-up that "Sofia the First," their new animated series which is built around Disney's first little girl princess, just got picked up for a second season.

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Mind you, anyone with half a brain in the industry knew that this renewal was coming. After all, "Sofia the First" has the sort of ratings that other television executives would kill for. This animated series is currently the top TV show among Kids 2 - 5, Girls 2 -5 and Boys 2 -5. Not to mention being the No. 1 preschool cable TV series in Total Viewers and Women 18 - 49.

But looking past the raw numbers here (Or -- more importantly -- the fact that Disney's "Sofia the First" actually is a well-written, smartly produced show with great production values), this animated series is a huge success today because The Walt Disney Company got solidly behind "Sofia." And it made sure that every division of this corporation was doing everything that it could to properly support & promote Disney's first little girl princess.

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Take -- for example -- that "Sofia the First" illustrated storybook that Disney Press put out on store shelves on October 30, 2012, almost three weeks ahead of when "Once Upon a Princess " (i.e. the original animated TV movie which introduced Sofia to the world) debuted on Disney Junior. Then  -- on January 11th of this year (i.e. the exact same day that the "Sofia the First" TV show debuted on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior) -- Disney Digital Books launched its "Sofia the First: Story Theater" app. Which has since gone on to claim the #1 spot in the iPad and iPhone Books category for five of the seven weeks that this app has been out in the marketplace.

Everything that Disney could do to help make the public aware of "Sofia the First" (EX: Walt Disney Records took the songs that music director John Kavanaugh wrote for both the "Once Upon a Princess" TV movie as well as select episodes of "Sofia" 's first season and then put together a "Sofia the First" soundtrack . Which -- since its debut on February 12th -- has since gone on to No. 1 on iTunes' Top 10 Children's Albums chart and #2 on the Billboard Kid Albums chart), Disney did. Which is why this new animated television is now poised for a long healthy run on both the Disney Channel and Disney Junior.

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Now counter this with what just happened with "Zero Hour," that ABC Studios-produced conspiracy theory drama which just cancelled after three airings. ABC ran a fairly conventional promotional campaign for this new hour-long series. In the weeks & months  leading up to "Zero Hour" 's February 14th premiere, the alphabet network broadcast all sorts of teasers for this new one-long drama. It also bought full page ads in lots of major publications & newspapers. And during the actual week of "Zero Hour" 's premiere, ABC Studios sent Anthony Edwards out to make promotional appearances on ABC's "Good Morning America," "LIVE! with Kelly and Michael" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

And what sort of response did ABC Studios get for its by-the-book promotional effort for "Zero Hour" ? Its season premiere got the lowest rating that the alphabet network has ever gotten for a scripted show during the regular television season. And given that the ratings for Episodes 2 and 3 were even worse than that ... Well, that's why "Zero Hour"  officially got its clock punched yesterday after just three airings.

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Look, I know. Comparing the performance of a new animated series on a cable channel aimed at preschooler to that of an hour-long nighttime drama broadcast on a major network aimed at a far broader audience kind of redefines apples-to-oranges. But during a time when the hot new trend in broadcasting would appear to be binge-viewing, does it really make sense for ABC to pull "Zero Hour" (i.e. an hour-long drama with a gradually unraveling, conspiracy theory-driven storyline that would seem to be tailor-made for this new viewing phenomenon) off the schedule after just a handful of showings?

And when you consider that Nielsen (i.e. the company of record when it comes to measuring television viewership) has recently had to admit that it has left huge chunks of the modern TV viewing audience unaccounted for. Which is why -- beginning in September -- it will begin counting people who now watch television programs through broadband devices like game consoles. Not to mention revamping its entire ratings system so that Nielsen can then takes into account those folks who now watch TV shows on their tablets & mobile phones ... Well, it would just seem that this isn't the time for ABC to be sticking with the same, old tried-and-true promotional methods when it comes to launching and then supporting & promoting new television series.

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Okay. To be fair here, ABC did make the entire first episode of "Zero Hour" available for viewing online over at ABC.com in the week prior to its February 14th premiere on the Alphabet network. More to the point, it's important to acknowledge that this 8-p.m.-on-Thursday-nights timeslot has become something of a deathtrap on the ABC schedule. I mean, when you consider all of the hour-long dramas that preceded "Zero Hour" in that timeslot (i.e. "Last Resort," "FlashForward," "Charlie's Angels," "My Generation" and "Missing," among others) only to then wind up being cancelled ... One wonders what can be done to fix that hole in ABC's schedule.

Well, I don't know about you folks. But when I see something like "Sofia the First" so successfully launched and then when I watch a promising program like "Zero Hero" suddenly crash & burn, I can't help but think that maybe it's time for the folks at ABC to go to talk with the people who handle promotion at the Disney Channel & Disney Junior. Because there's gotta be some aspect of the "Sofia the First" promotional playbook that would then be useful / adaptable at the network level, don't you think?

Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Because given all of the upheaval that's currently going on in the network television world (i.e. binge-viewing. Nielsen overhauling its entire ratings system. Not to mention what the recently wrapped February 2013 Sweeps has to say about America's rapidly changing viewing habits. Which showed NBC going from being No. 1 back during the November 2012 Sweeps period to becoming No. 5, falling behind Univision), this is obviously not a time to stick with tried-and-true.  

But what do you folks think? Could the folks at ABC actually pick up a few worthwhile promotional tips from Disney's first little girl princess?

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Your thoughts?

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  • Well, I had downloaded the first few episodes of Zero Hour but hadn't gotten around to watching it yet.  Not much point now, I guess.

  • Never seen either one of these shows. Still more upset about Tron: Uprising. Wish Disney could make endless DVD sequels to that.

  • Hey, Jim, you forgot to mention the Disney Parks synergy with Sophia the First.  They put a whole Sophia segment into the Disney Playhouse puppet show at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Since they debuted this new segment in February, after a January referb, it is clear that they had this change in mind well before the show even premeired on Disney Junior.  How's that for confidence in your show?  Disney Parks never makes these kind of attraction changes quickly.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Actually, if you check out the "Sofia the First" piece that I posted on March 1st (i.e. http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2013/03/01/disney-isn-t-horsing-around-when-it-comes-to-sofia-the-first-toys.aspx#.UTdXHFecs3w), you'll see that I've already addressed the "Sofia" -related update that was done to the "Disney Junior Live" show last month as well as the Sofia walk-around character which will be coming into the Parks this summer.

    The reason that I didn't mention these two Disney Parks-related "Sofia" items in yesterday's article was ... Well, to be blunt, I didn't want to repeat myself. But you're right. The fact that The Walt Disney Company has moved so quickly to bring the Sofia character into the Parks speaks volumes about the confidence that Company officials have in this new Disney Channel / Disney Junior show.

  • Maybe ABC should run "Sofia the First" in their Thursday night death zone.  It couldn't do much worse than all of the other shows that have been destroyed there.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I know that you basically said this in jest, Wally. But since "The Big Bang Theory" is now racking up record ratings for CBS, "American Idol" (though admittedly fading) is still pulling decent numbers for Fox, and NBC has its cult of "Community" followers tuning in to that sitcom, maybe ABC really does need to go another way with that 8-p.m.-on-Thursday-night. Maybe a bit of counter-programming like "Sofia" (which is obviously aimed at a different audience than "Big Bang, "AI" or "Community" is) is just what the doctor ordered. In fact, why not bundle a half hour of "Sofia the First" with a half hour of "Doc McStuffins" and see what happens.

    Sure, this would have to be a temporary piece of stunt programming. But it would be hard to imagine that a hour-long block of Disney Junior shows on ABC in prime time would do worse than "Zero Hour" did in that Thursday-nights-at-8-p.m. slot.

  • Nice article Jim, as usual.  From the biased view of the father of a Disney-loving two-year-old, I think Disney has a potential monster hit with Sofia.  I would absolutely try to find a slot to put some Sofia on ABC as not only counter programming, but more importantly to expand the awareness (and thus the merchandise potential) of the show.  You've covered the merchandise in detail and I think they've just scratched the surface.  We are regulars at Disneyland, and given a choice between meeting the princesses at Fantasy Faire or seeing Sofia in the upcoming Disney Junior update, I think she'd pick Sofia every time.

  • The problem  with putting them on at 8pm is that their target audience would be asleep! :-P

    If the problem was with the Sunday 7pm timeslot then you'd have an interesting idea. However, putting some of the more popular Disney Channel series on at that spot wouldn't be a bad idea at all. (ie Good Luck Charlie, Jessie)

  • Couldn't hurt. I think this reflects a difference in outlook between ABC and the Disney cable media networks.

    Disney Channel and its offspring have known for a while how to harness the Disney marketing machine to generate buzz for a new show or DCOM, or harnessing it once DC/DXD/DJ belatedly realizes they've got a hit on their hands. The folks at the Alphabet have never really used Disney's marketing muscle to promote series, or at most have made weak attempts to do so - anybody remember ABC's promotions at D23 Expo 2009 or San Diego Comic-Con?

    ABC's mainly used to marketing their shows in the same way they always have. In the brave new world of Internet-savvy and DVR-savvy  consumers who don't watch commercials and watch their favorite shows online, that's not going to cut it anymore - for them or the other broadcast networks. The ABC marketing people may want to ask for a meeting with the Disney Channel marketing folks to get a few pointers.

  • I think alot of it boils down to money.

    Sophia the First is a cheaper show to produce than Zero Hour, plus Sophia the First has a MUCH, MUCH bigger upside than Zero Hour will EVER have. Sophia will fit right into the Disney Princess line and could become an evergreen property for Disney, but what can they do with Zero Hour?

    Once Upon a Time is a fairly decent hit for Disney/ABC, but where is the long term upside? Or even better, Lost was a HUGE hit, but where is it now?

  • How about the fact that Zero Hour was universally panned by most critics   and in online forums everywhere , it was called ludicrous and hilarious not exactly what you want..  You cant put lipstick on a pig Jim.

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