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'Hannah Montana' Superstar

Disney's tween sensation Hannah Montana centers on an everyday girl who also happens to be a pop star. Starting this week, Hannah herself gets even bigger star treatment.

Disney will unleash an international marketing blitz, sending the show's teenage star to Europe to roll out a DVD, honor a theme park in Paris and rock a concert in London—in what will be an accelerated strategy to build on the year-old show's top ratings.

Hannah's Miley Cyrus will launch the series' DVD compilation in Europe with appearances at the 15th anniversary of DisneyLand Paris, a performance in London that will run later as a TV special, and PR stunts throughout the continent.

The show is Disney's fastest-growing series ever, besting its tween-targeted predecessors Lizzie McGuire and That's So Raven. It premiered with 5.5 million viewers and 2.3 million tweens (kids 9-14) and became basic cable's top series in the demo in its first seven weeks.

Now, having solidified relationships with retailers and consumers through Lizzie and Raven products, Disney is flooding stores with Hannah goods earlier than it did for either previous series.

Hannah clothes are already the No. 1 tween brand at Macy's, and the show's self-titled album has hit double platinum, with 2.2 million units sold since October. Toys, board games, sleepwear, watches and other products will join the line soon, and by fall—as the holiday-shopping season gears up—Disney will add Hannah guitars, karaoke machines, digital cameras, cellphone accessories, boom boxes, iPods, speakers and more.

“When we started looking at Lizzie McGuire as a business beyond TV, we were thinking in terms of an 18-month development window,” says Adam Sanderson, senior VP of brand marketing, Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group. “Now we've cut that in half.”

Disney has made great strides in the primetime tween market in the past few years, finding shows that appeal to the young age group and, in many cases, making their leads into multiplatform superstars. But the push on Hannah Montana is a step beyond. By comparison, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody—also a top network draw—is receiving a more moderate retail play, including home décor and sleepwear this year.

Hannah has averaged about 1 million tweens 9-14 in its primary time slot—7:30 p.m. ET on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays—since its premiere last March. While Nickelodeon is still far and away the leader with kids 2-11 during the day, the network has a narrower lead with kids 6-11 and just edges out Disney among tweens. Plus, non–ad-supported Disney is trouncing Nick in the tween demo during primetime, when the latter programs only a section of the daypart for a younger audience. Disney averaged 914,000 viewers 9-14 in prime during February; Nick's programming during those hours, a mix of tween and Nick at Nite shows, averaged 497,111. The N, Nickelodeon's midsize, teen-focused nighttime network, drew 56,000. (For more on networks' targeting tweens, see Special Report, p. 42.)

Nick, for its part, also branches its live-action stars into consumer products. Both Zoey 101 and fellow tween-targeted live-action series Unfabulous have spawned lines of books, CDs and DVDs, videogames, and jewelry. Nick on April 3 will release a DVD for its newest sensation: The Naked Brothers Band is selling limited products online and will introduce others soon.

Naked Brothers' and Hannah's double-life conceit is ideal for promoting both music-based products and anything that appeals to tweens, who have one foot in childhood and another in adolescence.

Says Gary Marsh, president, entertainment, Disney Channel Worldwide, “The underlying story of Hannah Montana embodies the ultimate wish fulfillment of any kid: achieving superstar status with all the perks that go along with that but still being able to lead a normal life.”