UPFRONT & CENTER: Disney Pitches Its Star-Making Powers

Disney Channel is pitching advertisers in New York this week on its ability to make kids into stars.

As reported first in B&C, the network is holding intimate meetings with advertisers and members of the press at a recording studio in New York's theater district to showcase their ability to find the "next big thing."

The network, which finished last year No. 1 in the cable-ratings rankings, is not ad-supported with traditional 30-second spots, but Disney is pitching its ad opportunities on other platforms, including radio and online, and executives are talking up the channel's ability to cultivate and nurture up-and-coming talent and turn everyday kids into megawatt stars.

"We just do a better job at finding and growing talent than anyone else, period," said Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for Disney Channel Worldwide, in addressing press members Tuesday.

Disney had a breakout year last year with its High School Musical 2ranking as cable's most-watched telecast ever with 18.6 million viewers and generating more than $1 billion in retail sales. The channel also spawned a mega-success with its Hannah Montanaseries and its spinoff 3-D film and concert tour.

The network, poised to launch High School Musical 3 and at work on writing High School Musical 4, plans some 5-6 new movies for the coming year. Executives are currently poring over post-writers-strike budgets to determine how many new series the network will aim to churn out, Marsh said.

Disney is stressing the point that some 28% of its audience is adults, without whom such huge numbers in ratings and retail would not be possible. New advertising opportunities to target those adults include multiplatform sponsorships of the original movies. The network completed similar such deals, including ads in stores, on the radio and online, with Target, Honda and Dannon.

To drive home the point, Disney is showcasing a starlet whom it hopes will be the next big thing -- 15-year-old Demi Lovato, who is set to star in the channel's original movies Camp Rock and Princess Protection Program. Lovato flew to New York Tuesday from Puerto Rico, where she is filming the latter, to perform a song from the former at the presentations.

Last year, the kids' market dragged into the summer as haggling over metrics -- whether to include digital-video-recorder viewing -- took its toll. But the market finished its strongest in several years to just under $1 billion.

For the record, finding a breakout star like a Hilary Duff, who played the channel's Lizzie McGuire, requires landing someone who is relatable, accessible, confident, charming and at once worthy of admiration and down to earth enough to seem like a best friend, Marsh said.