It’s not exactly ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, but The Cheetah Girls this week will try to knock out High School Musical as Disney Channel’s champion of online, television and portable-media marketing.
Following the unexpected success earlier this year of its movie, downloads and videos about dancing high-school athletes, Disney Channel is hoping for a second major tween-targeted, multimedia hit with the Aug. 23 premiere of The Cheetah Girls 2, according to the network.
Disney is engaged in a massive promotional and marketing campaign for The Cheetah Girls 2 that encompasses not only television online and portable media, but also the music-recording and retail apparel industries. (For a review of the film, see “What’s On,” page 35.)
Gary Marsh, entertainment president for Disney Channel Worldwide, said the 2003 movie The Cheetah Girls blazed the trail for other shows to become so-called multiplatform products, including High School Musical.
The movie, which features That’s So Raven star Raven-Symone as one of four multicultural teens seeking fame and true friendship through their singing group, drew 6.4 million viewers when it debuted August 2003.
The movie’s soundtrack — a first for a Disney Channel original flick — sold 2 million copies and spawned several hit singles.
“The Cheetah Girls 1 really planted the seeds that begot the success of High School Musical,” Marsh said. “It was the first movie to successfully use the strategy of putting the music within the program to extend the reach of the movie beyond the network.”
But that success also brought high expectations for the sequel. Further driving those expectations was the unexpected success of High School Musical.
The Cheetah Girls 2 soundtrack will be hard pressed to beat the 2.8 million CDs that High School Musical has sold thus far this year. The Musical soundtrack remains the number one selling album of 2006.
The High School Musical movie itself is also the most-watched original film in Disney Channel history, drawing 7.7 million viewers this past January and attracting 37 million unduplicated viewers over 13 airings. The movie also sold 2 million DVDs.
But Disney Media Networks co-chair and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney said the success of Cheetah Girls 2 is not dependent on how it measures up with High School Musical, but rather by the quality of the production and how its core tween viewership ultimately reacts to it.
“I think all of these movies and all of these shows build on one another, and they become aspirational to the next cast,” she said. “The only mandate we have is to continue to push yourself creatively and explore … it’s not about making the same show over and over again, but finding out what our audience really wants.”
MARKETING TO LATINOS
In an effort to build momentum for The Cheetah Girls 2’s Aug. 23 premiere, Disney last Wednesday released the soundtrack for the movie. The unusual move proved to be fortuitous as soundtrack at press time was on pace to sell 80,000 units in its first week of release. In comparison, High School Musical sold 6,600 in its first week.
Also, Disney last week began posting music video content from the movie for purchase on Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store. Disney would not say whether it would make the movie itself available for downloading to iPods like it did with High School Musical.
For the movie itself, Disney will concentrate most of its marketing efforts on reaching Hispanic viewers. Disney will offer closed-captioning in both Spanish and English for the premiere telecast, according to network officials.
In addition, the network on Sept. 15 will offer a first-ever primetime, Spanish language telecast of the Cheetah Girls 2 with English subtitles in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. An English-language telecast with Spanish subtitles will follow that telecast.
Disney has also purchased spot cable buys on Spanish language television networks like Univision and Spanish language radio stations.
Further, Disney Channel has teamed with EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network to develop a joint promotion. From Aug. 13 to Sept. 16, new subscribers to the DishLatino tier of Spanish-language networks and existing subscribers who upgrade to DishLatino Max will have the chance to enter a sweepstakes that will offer a grand prize of a trip to either New York or Los Angeles for a $1,000 shopping spree at Sears with one of the stars from the movie.
Marsh said the movie’s Hispanic-tinged story line and Latino-influenced musical numbers provide the network with the opportunity to reach out to Hispanic viewers.
“At our core, multiculturalism is part of our DNA and it’s embedded in one of our brand promises to show real kids in the real world,” he said. “You can’t deliver on that promise unless you showcase a multitude of ethnicities.”
Online, DisneyChannel.com has offered teaser video snippets from the movie since June, according to the network. Leading up to the premiere, site users can submit questions online at DisneyChannel.com to be answered by the Cheetahs on-air live during the Aug. 26 repeat airing of the movie.
In addition, the network is running yet another sweepstakes online in which viewers can win a bedroom makeover that includes a video game console and other electronic equipment. Disney will reveal three “Cheetah codes” during the movie’s premiere that viewers can type in online to enter the sweepstakes.
For cell phone users, Disney will make available Cheetah Girls 2 ring tones through its Disney Mobile studio. Disney publishing will release several Cheetah Girls-branded items, including a novel, a postcard book and a “Cheetah Chattah” Dictionary. Disney last month also rolled out a line of Cheetah Girls apparel and accessories — everything from Cheetah Girls glitter-embroidered t-shirts to leopard-print cell phone cases — in Sears stores across the country.
Despite the popularity of High School Musical and other Disney films, Raven-Symone — who serves as executive producer for The Cheetah Girls 2 — says the popularity of the Cheetah Girls franchise will stand the test of time.
“We have a fan base that has followed us from the first movie, so in a sense we’re like that underground cover group that someone is always watching,” she said. “I think we’ll always be popular no matter who comes after us.”