Each summer, Disney Channel has been a fixture
among the top five most-watched cable networks
— and has battled Nickelodeon for
bragging rights among top kids’ demos
throughout the millennium. But not even
during the network’s magical heyday
of the late 2000s, the era of such branddefining content as High School Musical,
Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven!, did the
tween-targeted network complete the total-day
ratings trifecta of most watched network among
total viewers, kids 2-11 and tweens 9-14 that it is
on the verge of accomplishing this summer. Multichannel
News programming editor R. Thomas
Umstead recently talked with Disney Channels
Worldwide president and chief creative officer
Gary Marsh to talk about Disney’s sizzling summer
ratings success, as well as the network’s fall
ratings prospects in a very crowded and competitive
MCN: Disney Channel is poised to become
the first network to defeat Nickelodeon and
become the most-watched cable network on
a total day basis and among kids 2-11 during
the summer since the early 1990s. What’s the
significance of that milestone?
Gary Marsh: It validates the overall strategies
that we’ve been pursuing for the last number of
years. What we’ve done is create a culture that
values the quality of the content over everything
else — programming decisions are not driven
by sales, scheduling or marketing deadlines, but
only by great storytelling. If you hew to that
closely, you will not stray far from delivering
great content to your audience.
What we’ve tried to do is build viewer loyalty
through a diverse slate of programming and
inspired scheduling choices. What’s especially
gratifying to me is [that] it’s not just one or two
series, but it’s upwards of eight series — including
A.N.T. Farm, Good Luck Charlie, Phineas &
Ferb, Gravity Falls and Code 9 — each of which
has a broad-based following. On top of that, add
in the scheduling of events starting with the
Let It Shine movie, which did a great number,
a special Good Luck Charlie episode, and more
recently the Shake It Up: Made In Japan special
and the Phineas & Ferb special episode “Where’s
Perry?” and you can understand how we’ve had
the success we’ve had this past summer.
MCN: Are you surprised at all by Disney Channel’s
GM: I feel very good about the quality of the
content we’ve created over the last year and a
half. We were very conscious of the fact that High
School Musical and Hannah Montana became definitional programming for us a few years back, so
we were determined not to let their absence drag
down our ratings and the appeal of our programming. We very specifically and consciously developed
five different series that would help fill the
bill that all had different touch points and entry
points for our audience, but cumulatively created
a juggernaut that’s propelled us to this place.
MCN: Did the Summer Olympics have any effect
on Disney’s scheduling and ratings this summer?
GM: Interestingly, the Olympics did a bigger kids
number than most people had anticipated and
certainly performed better than it’s done in the
past. The scheduling team was smart to avoid
tentpole Olympics events like the opening and
closing ceremonies, the women’s gymnastics or
men’s swimming finals. We dodged those times
when we knew kids would be distracted, and then
zeroed in on those opportunities where we had a
chance to grow. The result is that we had some of
our best numbers over the past two weeks during
and after the Olympics.
MCN: While Nickelodeon’s summer total-day
numbers were down, Disney’s numbers are currently
flat from last year and may finish slightly
down from last year. Does that say something
about the kids’ TV space? Are younger viewers
finding other ways of viewing kid-targeted
GM: We’re actually pretty close to last year’s
numbers. There has been a lot of chatter about
how online viewing and alternate screens have
taken away from the primary linear viewing experience.
We never had more non-linear viewing
and we’ve never had higher [linear] ratings. In
our case, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation
between expanded non-linear consumption of
content and lower ratings. We’re tracking as high
as we’ve ever tracked on the linear platform and
we’re tracking higher than we’ve ever tracked
with non-linear and second-screen viewing.
MCN: Can Disney Channel continue to hold
its top position into the fall and through the
rest of the year?
GM: I’m never good at predicting the future so I
never try. (Laughs.) A lot of cable networks roll
out original programming in September, and
obviously, there’s competition from networks
coming out of repeats. Our competition is certainly
very, very aware of the success we’ve had
and I’m sure they’re making plans to try and
blunt that. I’m excited about what we have to
roll out — we have a wonderful new show that’s
going to roll out in a couple of months called
Dog With a Blog that features fresh storytelling.
We’re trying not to walk in the same steps we
walked before, and add new elements to which
we engage our audience. I’m hopeful and optimistic,
but nothing is certain.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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