Betting on Zoog

Countering the trend of most TV-related Web efforts, Disney Channel's program companion, Zoog Disney, is going strong. Now considered a key part of programming strategy, it will be a major player in next month's launch of the network's next original film, Jett Jackson: The Movie.

It means a lot that Disney Channel is betting on Zoog for Jett, which will be an extension of the network's current show about a TV star trying to live a normal teenage life. The Jett
special, debuting in June, is considered the follow-up to The Luck of the Irish, which surprisingly topped all basic cable programs the night of its March premiere, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Disney viewers already know the Jett
series. But "our challenge is to find ways to extend that popularity as far as we can, using the full arsenal of promotional artillery," says Gary Marsh, Disney Channel's original-programming chief, believing Jett
could "without a doubt" be as much of a hit as Luck of the Irish. "The Zoog site is a huge cannon in that arsenal."

As for what Zoog knew that some failed TV new-media projects didn't, Eleo Hensleigh, Disney/ABC Cable Networks executive vice president of marketing, thinks the site was smart in almost underestimating what it could accomplish. For the fourth straight month, Zoog hit all-time traffic records (an average 182,000 daily unique visitors), according to Jupiter Media Metrix.

"There was a little bit of mania about getting online: Put in as many bells and whistles as you can," Hensleigh comments, pointing out that Zoog was always a straight marketing tool and "didn't try to be a business."

Also, Zoog doesn't incorporate state-of-the-art technology or cover everything on the Disney Channel. "Not every show we have naturally has a Web component," she says. For example, repeats of Boy Meets World
are ratings-grabbers, but the show is out of production, so no interactivity was built into it.

And, she adds, "It has to be something every kid can access or something that doesn't take 20 minutes to download." To stimulate buzz for new series Lizzie McGuire, viewers are asked to e-mail Zoog their comments, many of which are later broadcast during the show. The one-million-plus messages received since Lizzie's January premiere are proof of Zoog's staying power, say Hensleigh and Marsh.