Disney Sees Big Digital Upfront Gains

Digital video helped drive big upfront volume increases for the Walt Disney Co.’s kids TV business.

While sales of traditional TV grew at a low double digit pace, Rita Ferro, executive VP of Disney Media Sales and Marketing, said that buyers were buying video on all screens and that it she was able to land sponsors for two new apps the company launched.

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Toymakers Hasbro, Just Play and Lego signed up for Disney LOL, an app that features short form content including videos, GIFs and still art that kids can swipe through. The app launched Thursday. The sponsors are integrated into branded content that blends in with the apps’ format. In some cases Disney has to help the sponsors make their video assets fit the 6 to 15 second format. Disney is working on making the branded content in the apps interactive, so that kids can play more with sponsor’s products.

A second app, Mickey Video, features short-form video featuring Mickey Mouse and his famous friends.

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“Our kids have grown up multiscreen and so it’s very logical for us to help clients by putting them in front of the experience regardless of screen,” Ferro said. “You still see the majority of viewership happening on television, that’s no question, but we know you must be in all of these other places to make sure you’re available when they’re on those devices.”

Ferro said that in the upfront, dollar volume was up 20% overall, with its linear business up 11%. TV pricing rose in the high-single digits to low double digits range, about the same as last year.

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The gains were driven by increased spending by toy makers and movie studios with family films coming up.

“The health of the kids business is good and I think part of that is the influence kids have on consumption patterns in the home,” Ferro said.

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Nickelodeon, the biggest player in the kids TV market, also finished its sales as Viacom managed to complete its upfront sales earlier than most other network groups.

This year big change in the market, according to Ferro, was the way TV is being bought.

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“Last year, most of the linear dollars moved and there were some accounts that would buy video, but it wasn’t usually the television buyer who was doing the entire buying,” she said. “Usually we would do the deal with the television buyer and someone else would talk to you about buying video on other screens.”

This year’s upfront was different. “What you saw  a lot of was buyers buying across  video and across all experiences, so while there was some growth in linear for us—our linear business grew 11%—the real driver of the growth for us was the growth of digital dollars, both on mobile social and our desktop, as well as the VOD.”

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Ferro says that discussions about digital continue. “We continue to work on incremental digital opportunities that are part of the scatter marketplace that will lead into fourth quarter, where there is still a lot of volume and momentum around branded content sponsorships and apps in particular.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.