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Children Change Disney’s Digital Strategy: “App TV” Now Central To Content Planning

by David Mercer | 5月 01, 2015

Multiscreen TV behaviour is at the centre of television’s stormy transformation – viewing of broadcast, linear TV on the TV screen is apparently in decline while consumption on smartphones and tablets is increasing. Making sense of the big picture is increasingly challenging, and legacy players like broadcasters and the major content owners are inevitably somewhat resistant to the idea that their traditional businesses are under serious threat.

We have monitored the early stages of this transformation for the past decade and see its results in our own research, and we continue to predict further industry disruption in our forecasts. But sometimes it is only when you hear the evidence given in person by a senior executive at a leading global player that the scale of the challenge and opportunity are finally brought home.

This happened at last week’s AppsWorld event in Berlin, where I chaired the TV and Multiscreen conference. The speaker was Andreas Peters, Head of Digital for the Walt Disney Company Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Andreas presented some of the most compelling evidence I have yet heard that television is truly a multiscreen medium for the next generation of viewers.

Disney’s challenge in Germany was to launch a television show called Violetta aimed at 8-12 year old girls. It had been introduced successfully in Argentina but had failed in the UK. As it often does, Disney had invested considerable amounts in merchandising and retailers were eagerly anticipating sales of the new product lines. The show was first broadcast on German free TV on May 1st 2014 but it achieved only very low ratings.

The question for Disney managers was whether traditional TV had stopped working. A crisis meeting was held with a view to writing off the investment. Disney had previously not made its shows available online in Germany but the Violetta situation was so serious they were persuaded to experiment. Two episodes were made available on Youtube with a link to Disney’s own website. Viewing of the content on Youtube very quickly went viral until Disney had achieved a reach of 50% of 8-12 year old girls and eight million views. Violetta went on to become a success in German-speaking markets.

The evidence was clear: for some shows at least, younger children cannot now be reached using the traditional broadcast TV/big screen model. Peters explained that the Violetta experience was transformative for the Disney organisation and led to the inclusion of online and digital media as a key element in the business case for many products. In fact it also led to the development and launch of Disney’s own Watch App, which includes live streaming and seven-day catch-up programmes from the broadcast Disney Channel.  

Even after the Violetta experience Disney was sceptical that an app was needed – there was a feeling that the website would be sufficient. Nevertheless the app was launched and Disney had planned for 20,000 downloads. Instead it has passed one million downloads in its first six months. Peters noted: “This was a real shock for us. We completely underestimated the demand.” Around 500,000 viewers are now using the Disney Watch app for linear television viewing, in addition to millions of shows being downloaded for catch-up viewing. Peak app viewing hours are between 6am and 8am and then between 1pm and 9pm on school days, with a different pattern at weekends. Peters made it clear that children did not want lots of features built in to the app – just like TV, they just want to hit “play” and watch.

“Our TV colleagues of course don’t want to believe this,” said Peters. “But the world has changed and it will continue to change.” Disney has also seen a knock-on effect from its app launch with an increase in free-to-air broadcast TV viewing. But the firm is now clear that mobile is not just an add-on to TV or a promotional tool; it must be an integral part of the entire process.

There are many implications for content strategy. TV and Digital have to “understand each other”, which is a challenge when the KPIs in each world are very different. As we have often heard, the video industry is crying out for a set of common metrics which can apply and support advertisers in both TV and online worlds. Video consumption patterns vary and different content may be relevant to different platforms.

But the overall lesson is clear: “TV” is not just the big screen in the corner of the living room. It must embrace multiscreen distribution strategies in order to reach its maximum potential. TV companies are betraying their audiences and their investors if they don’t target the 6.4bn addressable screens available to them.

David Mercer

Children Change Disney’s Digital Strategy: “App TV” Now Central To Content Planning
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