Disney Movie Skips to Another Record

High School Musical? That’s so yesterday for Disney Channel viewers. The spectacle of the moment is Jump In!

That fast-paced, high-stepping movie involving a Double Dutch rope-skipping competition is now Disney’s most-watched telefilm ever, drawing a record 8.2 million viewers in its Jan. 12 debut.

That beats last year’s debut at this time of the multimedia phenomenon High School Musical by a half-million viewers. Musical drew a then-record audience of 7.7 million.

That, in turn, leads to the question of the moment: Just how hot is Disney with young viewers?

The Jan. 20, 2006 premiere of High School Musical is now only the fourth-most watched film on the network in the past year. Besides Jump In!, it trails last August’s girl-powered musical Cheetah Girls 2 (8.1 million viewers) and this past October’s Return to Halloweentown (7.8 million), the fourth installment of the fright-fest franchise.

If that wasn’t enough, the soundtrack of Jump In! — featuring High School Musical star Corbin Bleu as a boxer-turned-Double Dutch champion, and released a week before the movie’s Disney debut — debuted at number five on the Jan. 10 Billboard Music Charts, with 48,840 copies sold.

By comparison, the High School Musical soundtrack took seven weeks to break the top five, on its way to No. 1. It eventually finished as the country’s top-selling album last year, with more than 2 million units sold.

“We’ve gone from strength to strength,” said Disney Channel Worldwide president of entertainment Gary Marsh. “We all thought High School Musical was the top of the ladder, but it was only a bridge to the next level,” he said.

Marsh attributed Jump In!’s success to the network’s now tried-and-true game plan: Blitz kids with previews of the movie on both the channel and on disneychannel.com weeks prior to its premiere to build up anticipation. Then, sit back and let tweens and their parents tune into the movie’s debut in record numbers.

In December, the network debuted several music videos from Jump In! featuring Bleu and movie co-star Keke Palmer (Akeelah and The Bee) on the network and the Web. That drew viewer interest in the film, Marsh said.

“We learned a lot from High School Musical, and the strategy was not all that different,” he said. “[The music] was the entry point for the kids. … The music really drove kids to the set.”

The movie also boosted the network’s weekly ratings. The Jan. 12 Jump In! premiere, along with the same-day debut of That’s So Raven spinoff Cory In the House— the net’s most-watched original series premiere ever with 7.6 million viewers — helped Disney to an easy win in the weekly ratings race.

The network averaged a 2.6 primetime household rating, besting the 2.1 rating generated by USA Network. Disney, on the strength of its original movies as well as original series such as Hannah Montana, tied USA for the top ratings spot in 2006 with a 2.2 rating.

Given the incredible success of Jump In!, you’d figure Disney has finally reached its ratings pinnacle, right? Not necessarily, says Marsh.

“The answer is to keep making great movies that inspire kids with positive messages and positive music, and if we keep doing that, there is no limit,” he said.

Marsh can hedge his bets on how high is up for its original movies because he knows he has one major wild card left in his hand: the sequel to High School Musical is scheduled for August.

R. Thomas Umstead

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.