Disney Rocks Summer

Disney Channel's ascension last week to the top of the primetime household ratings chart is a culmination of the network's hot performance this summer, one in which its original series and movies have attracted more than just pre-teens.

Led by a 4.6 household ratings performance from its original telepic The Cheetah Girls, Disney Channel finished the week of Aug. 11 to 17 with a 2.4 rating, besting frequent weekly households leader Turner Network Television.

Disney Channel that week also tied Nickelodeon, the perennial total-day kingpin, with a 1.4 mark.

But Disney's performance last week was a microcosm of its overall strong summer ratings. From May 26 through Aug. 18, its primetime ratings grew 46%, and its total-day household ratings swelled 43%, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

The numbers are even more impressive within the network's target demo, aged 6 to 11: Disney's ratings rose 61% in primetime among that group, while its 2.8 total-day rating bested Nickelodeon (2.7) and Cartoon Network (2.5) within the kids' set.

While Disney Channel president of entertainment Rich Ross cited the appeal of such original series as Kim Possible, The Proud Family
and That's So Raven
for the network's viewer growth spurt, original movies have really catapulted the network.

Along with The Cheetah Girls, the network's June 13 bow of The Even Stevens Movie
(3.7 rating) and the July 18 debut of Eddie's Million Dollar Cook-Off
(3.0) helped Disney win the household ratings race during those respective weeks.

All three movies also drew substantial ratings for repeats. Two Cheetah Girls
repeats, for example, drew a 3.2. Yet another Cheetah Girls
repeat last Saturday (Aug. 23) — complete with a revised ending — was expected to draw decent ratings.

Ross also said the network also benefited from the modest success of May's theatrical Lizzie McGuire Movie, based on the network's popular series of the same name. While the show is no longer in production —Lizzie
star Hillary Duff left earlier this year over a contract dispute — reruns continue to draw viewers to the channel.

"We've really created a place where kids turn to first, whether they're seven or 14, which has changed since last summer," Ross said. "Whether it's an original show or an acquisition like Sister, Sister, kids are tuning in."

Talent tasking

Part of Disney's movie success has been its ability to transition top talent like Duff and Raven-Symone (That's So Raven, Cheetah Girls) from its series into films, creating viewer familiarity that drives ratings.

"What we're trying to do is always look at our talent for various project so that it allows the series to continue through the freshness of the talent," Ross said. "For the talent, it creates a learning ground and a hopefully a loyalty program for them to stay and work with us."

This fall, the network will debut new episodes for its signature primetime series Raven, Kim Possible
and The Proud Family. A handful of fresh Lizzie McGuire
episodes also remain in the can, and are expected to be parsed out through Valentine's Day 2004.

The network will also premiere Lilo & Stitch, an animated series based on the blockbuster Disney theatrical.

Ross added that a new live-action series is on tap for early 2004.

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.