Ferro's Bullish on Disney Channel Sponsorship Opportunities

Is March the month?

After matching Nickelodeon for the first time in total-day with a 2.3 national (2.7 cable) demo rating in February, Disney Channel narrowly lost to Nickelodeon in kids 2-to-11 viewers last month, due to being in fewer homes.

But through the first two weeks of March, Disney Channel has the edge over Nick, which has sat atop the broad kids' demo for 17 consecutive years, in both measures.

During the week of Feb. 27 through March 4, Disney Channel was ahead with a 2.6 to a 2.5 cable rating and 904,000 kids 2-11 viewers to 861,000 for Nick. It followed with a 2.6 to Nick's 2.3 from March 5-11, tallying 888,000 of those watchers ahead of its rival's 811,000, marking a fifth win with that viewer group over the last six weeks. A full-month victory in March with this demo would supplement Disney Channel's strength among kids 6 to 11 and tweens 9 to 14, as it has set the total-day pace for 39 consecutive weeks with both groups, and where it has led for 355 and 90 straight weeks, respectively, in primetime.

"Last week, we beat Nick in total viewers, kids 2 to 11, kids 6 to 11; we're up double-digits in tweens," said Rita Ferro, executive vice president of Disney Media Sales and Marketing. "Clearly, we're on fire, as our programming is resonating, connecting with kids and their parents."

That heat is evidently permeating Madison Avenue, where more and more agencies and advertising are taking notice, even though Disney Channel doesn't sell commercials.

"For the first time in 16 years, we're heading into the upfront in a leadership position. We're already talking to advertisers and agencies," Ferro said, noting that Disney typically looks to move 60% of its sponsorship opportunities during the season. Industry-wide, Ferro anticipates that the majority of the kids upfront deals to be completed in June. "The sense is there won't be as many GRPs in the market, meaning they'll be more expensive, with each of the players trying to garner as much as possible."

For Disney Channel that means varied connections. It doesn't sell spots, but rather works on a select sponsorship model, with client opportunities extending across events, sweepstakes, merchandising, boys-targeted network Disney XD, Radio Disney, the revamped DisneyChannel.com and related properties.

Among its 360-degree sponsorship programs:

 * Nestle Nesquik/Phineas and Ferb: Under the "Where's The Bunny" program, the animated hit's Perry The Platypus aka ‘Agent P," encouraged kids and families to help find the Nesquik bunny who had gone missing from their packaging. Families were encouraged to find specially marked packages to find a special code and enter it at a custom-designed website to instantly receive a Phineas and Ferb digital rewards such as a song download, posters and wallpapers, as well as a chance for a grand prize of a trip to Walt Disney World Resort.

*Chrysler/Lemonade Mouth: The automaker drove its first Disney Channel ad deal early in 2011, around the original telepic. The April 2011 premiere weekend telecasts of Lemonade Mouth were sponsored by the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, backed by a sweepstakes to win a vehicle and a trip to four to LA to meet the film's star Bridgit Mendler, and receive an electric guitar autographed by the cast of the movie, which was promoted on TV, digital and print.

 *Best Western/Make Your Mark - Shake it Up Edition: For the past four years, the hotelier has partnered with the network's initial talent competition,"Make Your Mark the Ultimate Dance Off, Shake it Up" edition. With the promotion, which also featured sponsorship gambits from AT&T and UB Soft, Best Western touted its three-night-stay, one-night-free offer. One family was also flown to LA to attend the finale taping and meet some of the stars of Shake it Up. Best Western will be back for a fifth year with Shake It Up,

Ferro, who is looking for additional sponsors for the upcoming Shake It Up intiative, says Best Western's commitment is illustrative of the success sponsorships generate for companies, as Disney Channel has a "renewal rate that vastly exceeds" others in the kids space.

As for the prospects for Disney Jr., Ferro, a week before the network's March 23 bow into 30 million homes, was confident the service, flanked by the block on Disney Channel, video-on-demand, subscription VOD and DisneyJr.com, would launch with "two or three key sponsors" in tow.

She said her group is working toward expanding the relationship across the different platforms with Kimberly Clark, Chuckie Cheese and Build a Bear, all of which have a presence on the Disney Jr. block on Disney Channel. Disney Jr. is also eyeing deals with other clients, whom Ferro wouldn't identify.