Story Opens A New Chapter At Disney

Thursday, May 20 2010
Story Opens A New Chapter At Disney

It’s never easy launching a major overhaul of your business, especially not when you’re restructuring in a way that is both hugely ambitious and groundbreaking. Doing it slap bang in the middle of offering up a slate that includes what is set to become one of, if not the biggest grossing, bestselling animated film ever, and a truly innovative digital 3D offering, as well as a hugely varied range of other titles, taking in numerous genres and catalogue plans that are aiming to deliver big numbers, and you’re looking at an even tougher task.

But that’s just what WDSHE – aka Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment – is planning for this final quarter.

The major unveiled both its strategy, long-term thinking and titles for the final three months of the year recently (see here for more on the news angle) and the company is confident it is up to the task.

The restructure, now nearing completion, is arguably the widest ranging change at the company for years – senior vp Julie Sneddon described it as the biggest change in her near two decades at the studio – and will see an integrated sales team talking to retailers about any part of the business, particularly in the home entertainment, games, consumer product and licensing sectors.

And alongside that, there’s its bold move into 3D, spearheaded by A Christmas Carol in November.

As general manager Anthony Peet noted: “3D is the killer app that silences the naysayers who say DVD is good enough for them. If you want 3D, you have to be behind Blu-ray.” The company’s relentless drive to push take up of Blu-ray is one of the themes running throughout its Q4 activity and, following innovations such as its combi-packs (now being taken up across the industry as single, double and triple play options), WDSHE is again looking at innovative ways of pushing the format.

Anyway, here’s a look through its key sectors and titles for Q4:


If 2009 saw a number of landmarks, including WDSHE’s biggest ever BOGOF in q4, which took in Blu-ray for the first time, as well as the launch of Shop Disney and and an eight-week long pre-Christmas drive that helped shift almost 3 million units of WDSHE catalogue titles, then the major is far from sitting back or resting on its laurels this time around, it has, WDSHE’s senior brand manager Martin Bradshaw said, made key learnings from last year and is planning to make its catalogue business even bigger. “We’re determined to play a part in your campaign [this Q4],” he said.

WDSHE was, Doug Sadler said, aiming to leave an “integrated 12 week retail footprint”, delivering a predicted retail revenue of more than £60 million. It would, he promised, drive value in the catalogue market “harder and faster than ever before”.

And how would this be achieved? Dan Brooks outlined some of the initiatives, which would include  keeping awareness high and offering a continuity of message throughout Q4, using above the line from TV ads through to online and in-store activity; by having a strong release slate that “positions us perfectly”, which will feature box sets and Blu-ray titles, and by offering “truly impactful areas of branding space”.

For the traditional October BOGOF, there would be upweighted marketing after the initial week one burst, driving sales throughout the month, alongside the introduction of fresh, big titles.

Similarly, the Devember Christmas sale activity would also see upweighted marketing and again offer “new news” – key titles entering the catalogue market such as Prince Of Persia.

The pledge to deliver a 12 week footprint is also strengthened by the fact that WDSHE is honing its TV strategy for catalogue, offering more complete collections (aided, no doubt, by the fact that the likes of Lost will be entering catalogue after they have ended their run) and backing them with TV advertising.

Blu-ray is also going to play a bigger part in catalogue activity, and, as Bradshaw said: ‘We have an impressive selection of Blu-ray for Q4.” WDSHE is also looking at driving adoption by working with hardware manufacturers on bundling deals.

The Search For Santa Paws

The Buddies franchise continues to grow – last year it shifted more than 1.1 million units, with almost a third of those coming from the latest DTV title, Santa Buddies. This has, in turn, spawned its own sub-brand, arriving on November 15 in the shape of The Search For Santa Paws.

A Christmas Carol

Due on November 8, this 3D title comes with the added kudos of being the first, truly digital 3D title from Disney. WDSHE’s Claire Kombou presented it as Christmas past – with more than £20 million in UK box office, it is now the most successful Christmas film ever, while as Kombou pointed out, Christmas films continue to perform year after year (a title such as Elf sold more in its second year of release than its first); Christmas present – this year, she said, it was all about Blu-ray and only that format could really do it justice; and Christmas yet to come – represented by Disney Digital 3D, already making a noise that was “only going to get louder”.


Disney’s ABC Studios currently boasts some of the biggest series and most talked about programmes on our screens, and many of these high profile programmes will be arriving on DVD in the final quarter.

Chief among these is the final season of Lost, due on September 20. As the series has ended the final stretch its viewing figures have grown once more, it is the highest rating season since the third and is outperforming 24 on Sky1.

There’s also the eighth season of Scrubs due in August, this too is nearing the end of its run, although it is set to return with a new look and line-up for the next series.

Other series due include Greys Anatomy (September 13), Flash Forward (currently the number one drama on UK television, due on September 27), Brothers And Sisters (October 4) the Living channel’s current number one, Cougar Town (November 1) and the sixth season of Desperate Housewives is also due.

The Disney Channel

It’s been a huge success story for the past few years, and is the number one kids’ viewing destination, growing year on year and now boasting double the ratings of Nickelodeon and 4 million individuals viewing a week.

The biggest news from the tween and teen side of things is the imminent arrival of Camp Rock 2 The Final Jam, the sequel to the half a million selling sensation, out on September 27. It is preceded by a brace of related shows, including Sunny With A Chance, starring Demi Lovato, and Jonas starring the ubiquitous Jonas Brothers.

The aforementioned Camp Rock 2 will further have a boost thanks to a summer’s worth of activity leading up to the screening (and DVD release) on the channel, driving fans into stores on its release.

Beauty And The Beast

Like the already announced Prince Of Persia, WDSHE is aiming to drive further Blu-ray adoption by giving a full one month Blu-ray winow for its diamond edition of Beauty And The Beast. On November 1 the title will be released in two double play SKUs, one on Blu-ray style packaging and the other in a DVD-sized box, backed by TV, press and online advertising (“We will be working with yourselves to ensure consumers aren’t confused by the offering,” said Caroline Burchett).

“Why are we doing this?” asked Burchett. “To really drive family adoption [of Blu-ray].” It follows a similar strategy for Snow White in the US last year, that ended up becoming the biggest Blu-ray of Q4, ahead of Transformers 2 and Star Trek.

Tinkerbell And The Great Fairy Rescue

With more than 1 million DVD and Blu-rays sold across two previous feature length outings and a total retail revenue of £40 million, Tinkerbell is, said brand manager Mike Scammell, a perfect example of everything that is “magical” about Disney franchises. What’s more it continues to grow, so much so that her latest adventure, Tinkerbell And The Great Fairy Rescue, will benefit from a nationwide theatrical release. Pixar supremo John Lasseter has executive produced the project and, as Scammell noted: “[He is] really driving the quality on this film.”

An estimated box office of £4 million, backed by WDSHE’s marketing, will ensure that the DVD and Blu-ray release (available in three SKUs, including a double play Blu-ray, single disc DVD and three disc box set) has a higher profile than the previous outings.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Loosely taking its cue from Fantasia, this live action, effects heavy tale is part-Pirates Of The Caribbean and part Harry Potter and has the ambitions of attaining the heights scaled by those franchises. It will, Scammell said, have a “huge marketing campaign” on its December release, making it “one  of this year’s must have movies”.


Speaking of Fantasia, there’s also new versions of what Gavin Quirk described as Walt Disney’s “masterpiece”. WDSHE is currently finalising its planned SKUs for the release, due at the end of December, but is looking to include double play editions for both Disney’s third “Classic” film – also one of the most eagerly requested titles in its catalogue – and its millennium-inspired updated version, Fantasia 2000.

Toy Story 3

The figures behind this, Disney’s biggest animated franchise, are hugely impressive and worth mentioning. The original 1995 film set the benchmark for CGI animated fare, and now boasts 95 per cent awareness among mums, with nine in 10 mothers having seen either the first film or Toy Story 2, and more than half of all kids own some form of toy Story merchandise – and that doesn’t include DVD ownership either.

The planned release for the third instalment is part of WDSHE’s avowed plan to fully co-ordinate its activity across its many arms. As Steve Holloway, the head of customer services tasked with overseeing Toy Story said: “The scheduling of activity and awareness for the theatrical and [later this year] DVD.” Offering up the “biggest sales opportunity in the final quarter”, the franchise as a whole will be worth,  WDSHE estimates, some £300 million this quarter. In total there are some 280 new licensed SKUs, across toys, homeware, stationery… It is second only in franchise terms to Star Wars. Meanwhile the film, due to open on July 23, has a “conservative” estimated theatrical haul of £50 million – which would make it the biggest animated film ever.

WDSHE is promising the “full mix of marketing materials” for the its release, which will be split across three SKUs, a one disc DVD and double and triple play versions. “We will be channelling our spend into the right areas,” said Quirk. It is in-store that again Disney’s new cross-channel focus will come into play, with a “consistent look” for both in-store and in online environments, but one factor that WDSHE stressed was the need to site cross-category pos throughout stores. Again reiterating its stance on Blu-ray, WDSHE is aiming to use Toy Story 3 to help drive the format overall, and is looking to leverage hardware penetration using the film.

Online, it will, as WDSHE noted, be its biggest ever online release. “There’s an enormous opportunity for this with pre-orders,” said Steve Holloway, head of customer services tasked with helping oversee the Toy Story franchise activity this year.

The promotional activity will come to the fore ahead of the theatrical release and, Holloway said: “We need to look at replication this level of activity for the Blu-ray and DVD release.”

The presentation ended, as ever, with sales chief Philippe Roucoule rounding up and summarising the proceedings. Reiterating the £300 million Toy Story 3 opportunity, he went on to outline a slate for 2011 and beyond that, was, he says, “equally exciting” and kicks off with the eagerly anticipated Tron in spring next year…

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