Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘ABC Television’

Disney’s Streaming Service. New Idea or Improving an Old One?

aoltimewarnerSeventeen years ago, America On-Line (AOL), a brash dotcom company, acquired the long-time media giant Time Warner. At the time the marriage of the leading internet service provider and one of the largest holders of media and pictures in the world, was seen as the creation of a 21st century media giant and the future of how we would download, view and use, pictures, movies, news, etc. For those who hadn’t noticed, or weren’t old enough to remember, none of that happened. No one is downloading content. The marketplace has embraced streaming services. The deal is now considered one of the worst mergers in business history.

The Disney Company recently announced the acquisition of a small media company Bamtech, that created Major League Baseball Advanced Media and HBO Now, both successful streaming service offerings. The plan is to create a Disney, streaming service that will offer movies, real time sports and more. What’s going on here? Is the Disney Company trying to right the wrongs of AOL/Time Warner or is Disney simply following a strategy that Walt pioneered back in 1954?

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When Walt founded WED I 1952 (now Disney Imagineering) to build Disneyland he had already put most of his personal wealth in on the line to start development, including using his life insurance policy as collateral for a $500k loan. As ideas for his new park poured out of him and became more challenging, it was clear that he was going to need a lot more money to make it happen. (Final would eventually grow to about $17m) All the banks turned Walt and Roy down. Famously, Walt said, “I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.”

Undeterred, of course, Walt looked for creative ways to secure the financing he needed. He was always on the lookout for the next world changing idea he could put to use to Golden-Age-TV-Stampsfurther his own plans. Television in the ’50s had entered what is now considered its golden age. The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Kraft Television Theater, I love Lucy, The Honeymooners and other others had begun to attract large, weekly audiences. As he did throughout his career, Walt was able to look into the future and see that television would, not only, alter how we would consume entertainment, but was an ideal medium for promotion. At that point Walt had conveyed hid Disneyland dream as a story. Now he needed something more, something visually exciting. Fortunately he had a number of talented artists to turn to.

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Walt and Ryman at work

If you’re not familiar with the story, Walt tracked down WED artist Herb Ryman on a Saturday. He explained that he needed a promotional sketch to convince TV executives to finance Disneyland. Over the next 2 sleepless days, Walt and Herb developed the basic layout and design of the Park. With Ryman’s drawing in hand and a proposal, Walt went to the NY TV executives. He was turned down by the two leading networks, CBS and NBC. But, ABC, desperate for programming, agreed to provide a loan and a future credit line in exchange for part ownership of Disneyland and a promise that Walt would provide a weekly TV show for the fledgling network.

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Ryman original drawing of Disneyland

Initially ABC simply wanted to air existing Disney movies on the program. But, true to his character, Walt wasn’t going to be satisfied putting his name on something of mediocre quality. He wanted to do something more creative and a lot more promotional. With the agreement in place, Walt created the first combination of a media content provider and a reliable system to deliver it to a mass audience. Walt’s one hour of “streaming” programming, once a week, preceded the AOL/Time Warner debacle by 46 years and was 37 years before the first public use of the internet.

In addition to updates on Disneyland, the series featured edited or serialized versions of recent films including Alice in Wonderland. Disney was never afraid that TV would cut into film revenues, but would bolster ticket sales when the films were re-released. Original material like the Davy Crockett series would enhance and become part of Frontierland. The same approach worked for Tomorrowland and the “Man in Space” episode.

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It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the original Disney/ABC partnership was successful. Disneyland was built, paving the way for Disney to become a successful worldwide theme park franchise which now provides about 20% of the company’s profits. The ABC Disney TV program was the second longest running program in TV history at 54 years and aired its final episode in 2008  (The show had moved to NBC in 1961). Disney paid back the ABC loans after just 6 years in 1960, giving the Disney Company full ownership of Disneyland. I would call that a model for a good business partnership. Both sides got what they wanted and made money on their mutual investments.

I think part of the strategy for the unnamed Disney streaming service is an attempt to undermine existing offerings from existing providers like Netflix and Hulu . But, it’s also possible that Bob Iger and the Disney board hope to accomplish what Walt did decades ago, kind of by accident,  without making the same mistakes AOL/Time Warner made in the early years of the 21st century.

First, The Disney Company would own, operate or direct the delivery system and Disney’s existing library of popular movies, tv shows and documentaries. They could make deals for other content, but, unlike Netflix they don’t have to.

Second, Disney can develop and produce new content using exiting movie and TV production entities they own. With the growth and success of original movie and series development by Amazon, Netflix, HBO and others, there is money and market share to be gained from original series and direct to streaming movies. Movies which might have been released through Blu-ray only could now be added to the streaming service with less overhead cost.

Third, there are cross promotional opportunities that can be leveraged between the streaming service, TV, movies and even theme parks, books and merchandise. Disney already does quite a bit of this, but a subscription audience offers more information to mine and the opportunity to re-kindle and leverage interest in older properties.

Fourth, there is an existing audience for much of the content available today. So, unlike other services that must guess what audiences will want, the Disney service will start with an enthusiastic initial subscription audience.

Finally, the information from streaming service subscribers combined with what Disney already has already collected from its own website, theme park magic bands and other sources, improves the Company’s ability to do things like targeted marketing and discount offers. No one would dispute that the power of data unlocks opportunities for the entity that collects and owns the information. Disney would be adding to their already existing about existing and potential customers for anything within the Disney world.

The Disneyland TV series premiered four months before major construction started on the theme park. Walt succeeded in using the Disneyland TV series in three ways: To create excitement for Disneyland by featuring segments about each of the four lands and many of the attractions; Grow and keep the audience for movies and Disney characters to drive merchandising and audiences for future Disney projects; to promote upcoming Disney movies.

These are the same methods and activities that are used by modern media companies. The difference now is that instead of reaching an unknown TV audience of several million in Walt’s day, modern companies like Disney use our connected world to gather very detailed information about us, including our likes, habits, purchasing history and more. They can reach hundreds of millions of existing and potential customers with great accuracy and effectiveness.

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Disney Magic Bands

Leveraging technology does come with plenty of risk. Innovation and the unknown factors which drive user interest and adoption are hard to analyze. Offerings like Instagram can come out of nowhere to eclipse existing offerings. Any remember MySpace now that Facebook rules the social media world? Walt’s gamble on TV could have met with a similar fate. Only will time will tell whether the Disney Company has made the right moves.

 

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Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event

D23-logo-official-fan-clubAs a Gold charter member of the D23 Disney Fan club I longingly read accounts of the many member events in California and Florida. Tours of the Disney Studios, Walt’s office, lunch with Imagineers are all things I’d love to do. But, since I live in New York it’s not practical. The D23 organizers have done some wonderful events in NYC. Just last year, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for the 25th Anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, where Angela Lansbury sang. Before that the Fanniversary tour landed in NYC with highlights from the Disney archives.

As good as those events were, D23 they cooked up a whole day of fun and interesting experiences for 40 lucky Gold Members this past week in NYC. They called it, “D23 Behind-the-Scenes Experience: Magic in Manhattan & More”. And more it was!

We began the day by joining the rest of an enthusiastic audience at a taping of ABC’s The chew openingChew at studio near Lincoln Center. For my wife, Jackie, and I, it was our first experience at a television taping. We were surprised at how small the set space was, and how many people it takes to create a one hour television show. Cameramen, stage managers, food stylists, cooks, stage hands, sound engineers, a DJ, and lighting technicians were everywhere. As wed23 chew set 3 waited, the 5 stars made their way onto the set, introduced by the comedian, R.C. Smith, who kept us laughing the entire morning as he got us warmed up and taught us how to clap and laugh on cue. Finally, Clinton, Carla, Michael, Mario and Daphne sat down to tape the four segments of a show called Simply Perfect Sweets. They are very relaxed, chatting among themselves while reading segments from the teleprompter, all the while having stage managers waving time warnings in front of them. At the end of each segment, dozens of people appear from doors and behind set pieces, like an ant army, to clean up, add new food ingredients, move cameras, apply makeup, shift lights and more. R.C. kept d23 chew set 2our energy up as we hungrily watched the front row of “tasters” sample the dishes that were prepared by the hosts. Meanwhile, Mario, Clinton and Michael chatted with members of the audience. If you watch the show, you’ll notice that Clinton has a different jacket on for the last segment. He and Executive Producer Gordon Elliot were admiring a coat, worn by an of the audience member, so he exchanged it for the one he was wearing for the last segment. Following the taping, we watched Clinton and Carla do promo spots for use by other ABC programs. Then we took a group photo with the stars.

 

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d23 event snackAfter giving us some much needed snack bags and a gift bag from The Chew, we boarded a bus for our trip to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Ford23 chew bag those of you who are not aware, Walt Disney and his WED Imagineers created four of the most popular pavilions for the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair. It’s a Small World debuted at the Pepsi pavilion, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was the standout at the Illinois pavilion, GE’s Progressland featured the Carousel of Progress and for Ford Walt created the Magic Skyway. At the Park, we were introduced to Mitch Silverstein, Gary Miller and Stephanie Bohn, volunteers who working to preserve the iconic NY State pavilion (made even more famous by its role in the MIB movie). Mitch ny state towersand another volunteer who happens to be a Disney World guide, took us for a tour of the fairgrounds, pointing out the locations of the Disney designed attractions and telling stories about the fair.

For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. Walt took advantage of the work at the Fair to push his WED geniuses to invent and perfect much of the technology that continues to be the backbone for many of the Disney theme park attractions. I’ll start with Mr. Lincoln, the invention that ushered in the age of Audio-Animatronics. There are now thousands at Disney and other theme parks around the world. The boat ride through Small World, was a precursor to Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen Ever After and Living with the Land entertaining thousands of people in a day. And the ride system that guided cars through the Magic Skyway, eventually became the People Mover with similar systems still in use at the Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth. As important to Walt, three of the attractions, Carousel, Small World and Mr. Lincoln were added to Disneyland while many of the Audio-Animatraonic figures from Skyway, were re-purposed for other Disneyland attractions.

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Because of our schedule we didn’t get to the Ford or Illinois locations. We ended our tour of the historic fairground with a very special opportunity to go inside the NY State pavilion. The structure is still in a bad state of repair, hence the hard hats we are all wearing in the picture. You can learn more about the pavilion preservation effort here.

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After a final picture in front of the iconic Unisphere,  we re-boarded the bus and were given the second very special D23 gift, these limited edition reproductions of photos and postcards from the World’s Fair.

d23 vintage postcards

Our next stop was a well needed lunch at Trattoria Dell’Arte in Manhattan, where we enjoyed a three course meal. We also received our third gift, an event inspired picture containing 23 NY/Disney related images and a copy of the special event restaurant menu.

We took the quiz on the bus to guess what the icons represent. If you want to know what all the icons stand for in the image? The answers are here.

d23 event credentialWe took a short bus ride to the Times square area, where we received our next present, a newly designed earhat with the familiar I Love NY logo. We all put them on and took the picture below. With about 30 minutes until our final tour leg, we took our D23 event credential into the Times Square Disney store for a little 50% off shopping spree.

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At 4:00 we re-assembled in front of the New Amsterdam Theater. Taylor  told me that this D23 event was inspired by the 20th anniversary of Disney’s re-opening of the theater after a lengthy restoration. On the theater marquee was a special message welcoming D23 Aladdin (1)our group.  Inside, sitting in the front rows of the orchestra where we were treated to a historical overview of the theater from it’s opening in 1903, to its long time use by the Ziegfeld Follies, then a slow decline, along with the rest of 42nd street, in the 1970s, then the theater’s closure and, finally, it’s rebirth as a Disney managed theater. We were led onto the stage, which is now hosting the Broadway version of Aladdin. The many complex workings of automated sets, trap doors and shown walls were explained and we saw many famous visitors who have signed their names on the theater’s walls.

Our next theater stop was a room Ziegfeld used at the back of the orchestra section. In the room, were props and costumes from many of the Broadway shows that Disney has produced, including Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, Little Mermaid, Aida, Lion King and Newsies. We could touch and try on whatever we were found interesting. Some of the popular pieces were the $7,000 dollar lion king masks and props from Mary Poppins.

The day ended with a wonderful cocktail reception in the lower part of the theater where there was wine, beer, soda and delicious tapas. Our final gift, was an Aladdin playbill signed by the cast.

d23 signed aladdin

I can’t say enough about the logistics managed effortlessly by Tyler and Jen Marie. Even with the difficulties of keeping track of such a large group, NYC traffic and the many different stops during a very long day, they remained up-beat, personable and, most of all, fun. Everyone in the group, some had traveled from as far as California, were all great fun. We traded stories, talked about our Disney interests and enjoyed each other’s company during our NYC road trip. My thanks to Tyler, Jen Marie and the D23 organization for putting together one of the most interesting and enjoyable days my wife and I have had in Manhattan.

Have you attended a D23 event? What was your experience like?

Since I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Disney effect on the NY World’s Fair, I’ll use next week’s post to dig deeper into the four attractions that, for many, have become symbols of the historic Fair years.

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