The Walt Disney Co. is ready to put its wholly-owned cable channels under one outreach umbrella for the first time.
In a matter of weeks, Disney's ABC Cable Networks Group will officially raise the curtain on "Learning Together," a public affairs campaign uniting ABC Family, Disney Channel, SoapNet and Toon Disney at least through mid-2004.
Each network will deliver one part of the overall campaign, while Disney Channel will deliver two — one on its behalf, and another for its Playhouse Disney preschool block. The networks will take the lead roles at three-month intervals.
The point of connection: To enhance the quality of education via more participation by parents and other family members.
"When families are involved in developing their children, a lot of the issues children face in school — poor grades, attendance, school violence — have a greater chance of being resolved," said Todd Schoen, ABC Cable's senior vice president of affiliate marketing and local ad sales. "When you have a portfolio of services involved, it makes the impact of something like this bigger and better."
SoapNet leads off with "Talk It Over Soaps," through which local cable systems will present high school or town hall assemblies. Clips from ABC daytime dramas will provoke parental and teenager discussion on topics from sex education to self-esteem and domestic violence.
This summer, Toon Disney and Playhouse Disney share the spotlight. Toon will engage libraries in "Passport to Reading," where tykes and adults can share books with Belle, the heroine from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
In "Stanley's Story Time Safari," Playhouse Disney will drive a mobile storytelling unit across the country for special events, and at the same time make book donations to local First Book chapters.
Disney Channel's "Imagineer That" effort is slated for fall. Through this initiative, schools will host workshops and parent open houses, featuring members of the parent company's workforce of Imagineers.
ABC Family will wind things up next winter with "One-on-One." Through that effort, staged in conjunction with national nonprofit group Girls Inc., teenage girls will be mentored by senior high school students on peer pressure, test taking, and other issues.
Some cities will be showcase markets for all five programs. Others will link to one or more of the initiatives, depending on operator participation.
In some locations, affiliates can synthesize any of the campaigns with an existing project. The entire effort will be promoted through public service announcements and Web site displays, representing all four services.
Disney's cable unit did not disclose the budget for "Learning Together," including how much would be donated in books or cash grants.
"Each of these situations is designed to work with, not compete with, outreach already available through the operator," Schoen explained. "In fact, they're designed to make these campaigns more effective."
Schoen originally developed "Learning Together" as a one-network affair while at Fox Family Channel. The scope changed when Disney bought Fox Family in 2001 and Schoen increased his responsibility to cover other Disney-owned cable channels.
When the idea of an across-the-board effort was approved, Schoen and his staff worked out the logistics with each service so that the individual campaigns could reach the widest possible target audience.
As both teens and schools are engaged in the SoapNet initiative, "it was important to have their events run before summer," Schoen explained. "The Toon and Playhouse programs address a summertime learning gap, while Disney and ABC Family have school-geared programs, so fall/winter times were appropriate."
Mediacom Communications Inc.'s 45,000-subscriber system in Cedar Rapids, Iowa agreed to a trial of "Learning Together" two months ago, in the form of an Imagineer That event at Linn-Mar Middle School. More than 400 students participated with their teachers and parents, and local TV and newspapers covered a standing-room-only assembly.
Disney Channel joined Mediacom in donating $5,000 to the Grant Wood Education Agency.
"Disney put together a great event, and the community responded with good feedback," said Mediacom regional vice president Randy Brown. "The best part was having something just for the kids, then an event where the parents could enjoy what their kids created."
ABC Cable and its affiliates will explore national and local advertiser partnerships for the campaigns, as well as community organization tie-ins.