The Disney Media Solution

Walt Disney Company has been the concept model for snagging the youth market for decades now.

Kids love Snow White. Mickey Mouse and Bambi.

They love to visit Disney World. Then buy Disney-branded products. Go back to a Disney theme park a second or third time. Watch Jungle Book and Wall-E. And watch Hanna Montana on Disney's cable channel. See High School Musical at the theater.

And on and on for generations.

What eventually happens is that the Disney kids grow up, have kids of their own and become big kids themselves -- all while continuing to consume Disney products.

Disney has been textbook about this. CEO Bob Iger was able to do what his predecessor could not do, bring Pixar (and Apple) CEO Steve Jobs into the tent and in return for making Jobs the biggest shareholder at Disney, the entertainment company gets the smartest, most intuitive and innovative employee of all.

Compare that process to the record industry, radio, TV and publishing.

All four media do lip service to the next generation.

Record labels actually sue them -- misread the importance of Napster and still to this day try to bend and shape their old model into a changing world and new technology.

Radio ignored teens when it began to consolidate making the unfortunate assumption that kids would always listen to radio.

Who knew?

Certainly not radio owners as they were gobbling up stations city by city to form a monopoly for listeners over 30.

Television does kids show on Saturdays and marginally in the overall schedule. But you know that kids can power up video on a DVD, a computer or in the backseat of a minivan. Unlike their parents, they have plenty of video choices in their childhood.

Meanwhile the TV industry cuts costs, affiliates eliminate or reduce local news. One of my readers reported that WTTG -- Fox 5 in Washington is going to require their on-air anchors to run their own teleprompters by foot pedal or hand control to save personnel costs -- read it and believe it here.

Newspapers gave up on kids after the comic section and the ironic part is that a lot of old kids are the ones left reading the funnies. No focus on the future at newspapers. The Sam Zell's of the world have learned the hard way that money can't buy you a newspaper empire -- at least one that isn't bankrupt. Newspaper publishers think they are in the printing business (and the more progressive ones think they are in the Internet business). Few understand that they are in the business of journalism first.

NPR is an imperfect example of journalism, broadcasting and new age under one brand, but still an impressive brand. That model would work locally but NPR is a national platform and real impact comes from local media across the nation.

That's why Disney and what they are about to do next is worth tracking.

ESPN -- another Disney money machine is preparing a website for high school girls -- you heard me right -- high school girls.

Traditional media blew teens off a long time ago, but under the ESPN brand of "espnW", it will aggregate content directed at high school girls sports, the previously ignored female athlete and if it succeeds, will own both the male and female side of all things sports.

Not only that -- they will do it from the cradle to the grave -- as they have done with children's entertainment.

ESPN is also experimenting with high school sports Internet websites -- hired 15 people in Chicago -- and will look to become the sole brand for sports of all ages. Want to see your son or daughter's batting average at their high school, it will be all there with lots more. The Tribune is letting them get away with this.

There are other high school sports sites but there is only one Disney. And Disney gets it.

All this is early but I thought you'd like to see their high school girls strategy -- here.

Then, because Disney has Steve Jobs, they are going to do an impressive remark of over 300 Disney stores at your local shopping mall.

Soon you could be seeing (and spending money at) Imagination Parks -- a rebrand of the tired old retail concept of children's entertainment stores.

Jobs' finger prints are all over this -- that's why he'll likely open a Times Square flagship store as well follow the Apple store playbook.

These guys -- Iger and Jobs -- will be dangerous together.

Jobs was thought to be insane when he announced he was building brick and mortar stores to sell computers at the dawn of the Internet age -- and you see now that he was crazy like a fox.

The new Imagination Parks will be, according to a front page New York Times piece the other day, "more akin to cozy entertainment hubs. The chain’s traditional approach of displaying row after row of toys and apparel geared to Disney franchises will be given a high-tech makeover and incorporated into a new array of recreational activities. The goal is to make children clamor to visit the stores and stay longer, perhaps bolstering sales as a result. Over the next five years, analysts estimate that Disney will spend about $1 million a store to redecorate, reorganize and install interactive technology".


Did you see the word "spend"?

Heck, I couldn't get past spend to see the $1 million per store investment in rebuilding the franchise.

Well, you know this is going to work big time.

The next generation meets Steve Jobs . . . meets Disney's billions . . . meets innovation . . . and converges on a changing world and new technology.

Isn't that it?

Isn't that the clue that Disney and Apple give traditional media about vaulting into the 21st century?

1. Radio companies shouldn't be running just formats and selling ads. They should be observing the behavior of the critical Gen Y -- 80 million (corrected figure) of them -- and developing brands that would then be distributed by new social concepts and through emerging and ever changing technology. And the older radio listeners, what is to become of them? Just as with computers, iPhones, iPods and even Facebook, they will gladly follow. To keep grinding out music formats or older skewing talk programming when the brand is more important than the broadcast, could be their fatal mistake.

2. Record labels could have invented iTunes before a computer company did. They could have done it with radio stations as partners and, say, Radio & Records. They should be leading the way in content production not tethered to an old model that requires payments for something that can easily be obtained for free. The labels can't control front door security any longer. Now, if Jobs and Iger ran the four major labels, you'd see innovation built around brand not selling mere product. Disney sells lots of CDs for its High School Musical franchise and everything else related to it as well. Brand first -- content distribution follows brand. Traditional media has it all backwards in a new era.

3. Television is going down the same path as radio -- hanging on to its delivery system, programming values, tight economic management, lack of innovation and creativity. Oddly enough, the innovators like Disney and Apple spend a fortune. Apple alone is worth roughly $35 billion -- approximately double what the entire radio industry will generate this year. Spending -- or as I call it investing in your future -- is the only known way to make gobs of money.

4. Sam Zell and Randy Michaels, as good as they were at Jacor, can't put newspaper's Humpty Dumpty together again. Newspapers also missed the Disney, Apple lesson. As I said, it's about journalism not printing. Localism not nationally-mandated economies of scale. Do you think Iger or Jobs would give a damn about printing a newspaper if they owned Tribune (and they are too smart to own Tribune, let's just say that now). You know this and I know this -- they would provide branded content, innovate, experiment and make damn sure their end product worked into the lives of the next generation and encompassed the technology they are adopting. Steve Jobs, meanwhile is now reportedly working on a new entertainment tablet for Apple that could rejuvenate journalism not save print newspapers -- more on the promise of the Apple Tablet here.

So there it is.

Traditional media has lost that lovin' feeling because it lost its youth focus -- which alone requires innovation and adaptation to new things and new ways to do things.

The way out of traditional media's downward spiral is not the end of the recession (that's a band-aid) but refocusing on brands that are worth saving, growing and investing in.

If consumers stopped using bottled water all of a sudden, it wouldn't take bottlers very long to cutback or eventually cease production.

But in newspapers, if people buy fewer printed papers, publishers try to sell consumers what they don't want and failing that, cram the printed paper into a website where they can't make as much money or attract paid subscriptions.

And in radio, when listeners start heading for new media, group owners fire personalities, cut spending on content and rest assured that 230 million people still listen to a radio every week -- while revenues decline and demographics skyrocket.

TV just throws everything on Hulu and declares victory.

Record labels see their revenues decline and try to rouse public sentiment to buy music to help starving musicians -- the same ones they helped to go hungry.

Disney gets bigger and badder while everyone else falters because they comprehend one important thing -- it's about the brand and marketing it to the next generation -- generation after generation.

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