Only a few months after making significant cuts at its Maker Studios digital network, Walt Disney has unveiled its grand vision for what remains of the Maker at the “Mouse House” and how the media and entertainment giant plans to churn out short, digital-specific content tied to its vast stable of popular brands.
In February, Disney slashed roughly 80 jobs as part of a major scaling back of the Maker network, which the company had acquired for about $675 million in 2014. The cuts came after Maker’s revenue growth failed to meet the parent company’s expectations. Disney ultimately opted to winnow down what was once a network of tens of thousands of video creators to only about 300 high-performing YouTube personalities.
Now, Disney will combine Maker’s talent with other Disney digital editorial brands under the umbrella of the company’s consumer products and interactive division as part of the newly launched Disney Digital Network. Disney announced the news at a presentation on Tuesday morning at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers as part of the annual Digital Content NewFronts—a series of presentations from digital media brands aimed at wooing advertisers.
Disney’s new digital network will incorporate Disney editorial content related to high-profile properties like the Star Wars franchise, Marvel, and the Mickey Mouse Club, as well as various brands that the company acquired along with Maker, such as the parental advice network Babble and the gaming entertainment channel Polaris. Disney will rely on those channels, and others, to help drive further online engagement with Disney and its various in-house brands. The company said its digital network, which brings together more than 300 social media channels, reaches more than one billion followers combined while turning out roughly 6,000 monthly pieces of “micro-content” in the form of short videos and social media posts.
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The imposing nature of Disney’s hugely lucrative brands was on full display at the Chelsea Piers on Tuesday morning, particularly as a group of Star Wars Stormtroopers escorted presenters off the stage (including ad sales EVP Rita Ferro) to signal the end of the event. The Star Wars franchise, from the company’s massively successful Lucasfilm division, is one of the key components of Disney’s new digital venture. The new digital network includes the digital editorial team behind StarWars.com and the official Star Wars app, and one of the seven new digital video programs that Disney announced on Tuesday is called Science and Star Wars—a new series that explores parallels between real world science and the popular sci-fi franchise.
Much of the new digital content is family-friendly, with the overall goal of appealing to “Generation Z and Millennials,” the company said on Tuesday. That was a key component of Disney’s pitch to potential online advertisers during the presentation, along with the sheer volume of Disney’s recognizable brands and content, as the company looked to ensure advertisers that their ads would run against relatively safe digital content targeted at desirable demographics.
Disney’s new digital programming will feature Club Mickey Mouse, a digital variety show for teenagers—the most recent iteration of which helped launch the careers of stars like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. The show is sponsored by HP Inc. and will stream exclusively on Facebook. Other examples include COIN, an animated series inspired by video games that will be available via Polaris’ social channels, as well as a reality show where fashion students try to design a clothing line based on the blockbuster animated movie Frozen, called Disney Design Challenge. Disney also announced plans for a reality show competition for illustrators where the winner will land a contract with Marvel Comics.
The new slate of digital content is all a part of Disney’s ongoing push into digital media. While the company’s previous NewFronts presentations highlighted Maker Studios’ content, Disney’s restructuring at Maker meant more of a focus this year on what the company referred to as its collection of “curated influencers.” Disney has even coined a somewhat cheeky/cheesy nickname for this group in the same vein as the “Imagineers” that design the company’s theme park attractions. Disney said it will call its digital content creators “Digitologists.”