Millions Sold on 'HSM2'

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Twenty five million viewers? Thirty million? Just how many watchers Disney Channel's High School Musical 2 attracted this past weekend won't be known until Nielsen completes its tally Monday.

The much-anticipated sequel to High School Musical, the cultural cynosure among the 9-to-14-year-old tween set, had its initial burst with airings Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m.

That telefilm — which told the story of a basketball star and a math whiz bridging their differences and eventually falling for each other as they tried out for a high-school musical — was watched by 7.7 million viewers when it premiered on Jan. 20, 2006. That was a Disney Channel record.

The original movie made stars out of Zac Efron (who plays the hooper Troy Bolton) and Vanessa Hodgens (numbers buff Gabriella Montez), as well as Ashley Tisdale (the arrogant antagonist), among other cast members. A concert tour, a DVD, a CD, an actual stage musical, high-school adaptations of the same and a book series followed. Soon, a third film will show up on movie theater screens.

All told, the franchise will reportedly produce a profit of $100 million for The Walt Disney Co. in 2006 and 2007.

On TV, the first High School Musical movie has aired 23 more times in the U.S., averaging 4.7 million viewers. As recently as July 22, 5.8 million watched, making it the top movie of the month on cable. Worldwide, Disney Channel officials figure it has been seen by some 200 million unduplicated fans.

Now there's HSM2. It gets to ride on the original's success and Disney's marketing muscle. A screening at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., last Tuesday night garnered national attention, for instance. So just how many tweens, younger kids and parents were expected to see HSM2 over the past three days?

Disney Channel executives declined to do any HSM2 handicapping. Patti McTeague, senior vice president of kids' communications, wouldn't bite on a reporter's queries about whether the blitz would dance its way to somewhere 25 million to 30 million viewers.

She did concede, though, that Disney Channel stood a good chance of wearing cable's primetime ratings crown for a sixth consecutive week.

“I think we can say that,” she said. “It's up to the kids.”

They certainly had plenty to look at. The Friday-night showing was scheduled to be preceded by a The Suite Life of Zack & Cody marathon and followed by a sneak preview of the upcoming animated series Phineas and Ferb, and then a fresh Hannah Montana installment, featuring the Jonas Brothers. As for the movie itself, production elements were to showcase cast members and director/choreographer Kenny Ortega in a barbecue setting.

On Saturday, the telefilm figured to benefit from a Hannah marathon lead-in. The movie, meanwhile, was wrapped in a “Wildcat Chat,” showing pre-produced fan video questions and cast answers to results stemming from the “HSM2 Play Your Part” promotion, which had pulled in 44 million responses, according to Disney officials.

The “Sing-Along” version, led by a Corey in the House marathon, sounded Sunday night. Fans had opportunity to download the lyrics from the channel's Web site or merely sing to the words as they appeared on screen.

For those who missed the moment, or just want to see it again, the network's TV listing indicated they'll get their chance again Aug. 23 at 8 p.m.

McTeague declined to comment on an encore strategy for HSM2, or whether the sequel would ultimately be twinned with its progenitor.

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