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Observations and Analysis of Disney in the News

News Commentary from July 17 - July 23

A Party with a Mission

Lani Teshima

If you are a small town looking for a way to spur on the local economy, what would you do? Build a casino or open a shopping mall? How about holding a three-day party to celebrate Walt Disney's 100th birthday?

The town of Marceline, Missouri, is doing just that on the weekend of September 21 through 23, to honor the man who called Marceline home in his boyhood.

Walt Disney's Hometown 100th Birthday Celebration Web site
Walt Disney's Hometown 100th Birthday Celebration Web site

If you visit the Walt Disney's Hometown 100th Birthday Celebration Web site, you might liken this to a pretty serious Mardi Gras party. The schedule is full of various activities and things to do... frankly, an amazing feat considering the population of Marceline is only 2,600. In fact, a closer inspection of its activities reveals just how down-home this town is. Activities like "Barn Raising" and "Bug Safari" are rare enough treats for a city slicker visiting for the weekend, but these are complemented by a slew of competitions in its "Rural Olympics," which include such fair favorites as hog calling... and cow chip bingo.

There is however, a more serious side to all this celebrating than just a love for Disney. According to a July 17 article by the Kansas City Star, Marceline is very typical of many small American towns: it's losing its young folk, who leave for college and never return.

In the article, Phil Tate, the director of business expansion and attraction for the state Department of Economic Development, is quoted as saying, "North Missouri is a real challenge, in terms of creating new investment and new jobs."

To this end, the town's residents are using the birthday celebration to anchor a kick-off to revitalize Marceline, and to make Marceline a bigger dot on the map of "Disney places to visit." The town, according to the article, already enjoys visits from about 20,000 a year who stop in Marceline for its three-hour tour. Started 10 years ago as a way to employ teens, the tour program's 40-page script and training are so thorough that Disney now recruits the tour guides to work in its theme parks.

The town is building a museum dedicated to Disney and his family, they have already raised $1 million out of the $5 million they need for its completion. The town is also busy getting grants for things like new sidewalks and streetlights, to be installed before the September celebration.

This is quite a difference compared to the more famous "Disney places to visit," such as Disney's California Adventure, for which Disney spent several billion dollars to build. There are similarities between the two, however. Both are vying for out-of-state visitors and the all-mighty tourist dollar. Both are banking on their new projects to help pull in much-needed income.

In fact, if there is one key difference between the two, it is that Marceline sits deep in its residents' hearts; its revitalization driven by love, sweat, and the kind of sincerity that's hard to find in the big cities of America. At the end of the evening when the lights go out, you can bet the folks working for Marceline, stay in Marceline. And that's what they want its younger generations to do. To stay home. Sweet home.

You Cant' Click Fast Enough to Get Away

Alex Stroup

Haim Saban, Chairman, Fox Family Worldwide launching a new website at the National Cable Television Association show in Chicago on June 14, 1999. (ImageDirect via FPS) (Feature Photo Service)
Haim Saban, Chairman, Fox Family Worldwide launching a new website at the National Cable Television Association show in Chicago on June 14, 1999. (ImageDirect via FPS) (Feature Photo Service)

In December, 2000, a gentleman by the name of Haim Saban decided that News Corp. (Fox) should buy his half of Fox Family Worldwide. Out of that decision, we find ourselves facing the specter of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers battling evil in Adventureland. How did we get here?

First, there isn't really much chance of seeing the Power Rangers in Disneyland, but a part of me is intrigued by the thought. However, this is the largest acquisition by Disney since the ABC / Capital Cities purchase (and could foretell some smaller purchases on the horizon, Muppets anybody?) and it raises some issues that Disney and media consumers should keep in mind.

I'll get to the broad issues in a bit but want to quickly cover a topic that seems to be appearing in many articles: What should Disney do with The 700 Club? The short answer is that there isn't much they can do. News Corp. purchased the Family Channel from Pat Robertson with a clause guaranteeing The 700 Club a time slot. This clause has now transferred to Disney. To many, this is a delicious irony as they view Pat Robertson as the leader of the type of movements that have led to many boycotts of Disney. This isn't entirely true, but it is the impression they have. There are serious points of disagreement, however, on issues like domestic partners and Gay Days at Walt Disney World.

Further, many seem to feel that Pat Robertson and The 700 Club are voices of bigotry, intolerance, and fundamentalism (unfortunately, too many people feel that last word is just as negative as the first two) and that any right-minded network should refuse to air the show. This is similar to the Dr. Laura flap last year when protesters were saying "We support her right to speak, we just don't support the network's decision to let her".

I don't know if there'll be a vocal outcry, but I am sure that many opponents feel they have a better chance of convincing Disney to drop Pat Robertson than when they would have had to convince Rupert Murdoch or Pat Robertson to drop Pat Robertson. Everybody has a right to say and do what they want but let me just remind people that it is all about ratings and money with no social conscience involved. If Disney continues to air San Francisco radio personality Mike Savage (a true voice of intolerance) then do you really think that Pat Robertson bothers them?

Now, what does this deal mean for Disney and consumers? I'll leave the financial impact to others (perhaps Dan Steinberg will have something to say) but I want to talk about some the buzzwords I keep hearing. Synergy, market share, penetration, repurposing, multi- screening, amortization across platforms. These are all corporate buzzwords that seem to show up in every article I've seen.

Michael Eisner (Chairman and CEO -The Walt Disney Company) at the premiere of "102 Dalmatians" Photo by Eric Charbonneau / Berliner Studio / BEI. (PRNewsFoto) (PR Newswire Photo Service)
Michael Eisner (Chairman and CEO -The Walt Disney Company) at the New York premiere of "102 Dalmatians" Photo by Eric Charbonneau / Berliner Studio / BEI. (PRNewsFoto) (PR Newswire Photo Service)

Synergy is a word that has a picture of Michael Eisner next to it in the dictionary. Disney does synergy very well. The opportunity here comes from the 3,200 hours of children's entertainment that comes with the deal; the most prominent title being the The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. I don't see a huge synergistic opportunity here; maybe if it were 1993 again (when the show was so popular that half of my college classmates would cut class to watch it), but there's always hope for a Pink Ranger vs. Maleficent coloring book.

Market share and penetration refer to the fact that in one fell swoop Disney has a new channel that is available in 81 million homes (not to mention networks in Europe and Latin America). As the total viewership for network television continues to decline, it becomes increasingly important to diversify into many different channels. Go look at the cereal aisle in your grocery store. 14,576 different cereals trying to catch your eye. An amazingly competitive market, cereal is. Except that 14,343 of them are produced by only ten manufacturers (numbers exaggerated, point valid). Cable networks are increasingly experiencing the same phenomenon. This is very good for Disney as it increasingly makes them price setters, rather than price takers. For years, Disney has increased the carrier fee for ESPN at the maximum-allowed rate. Packaging channels has to make good business sense (want ESPN? Then you're going to have to take SoapNet as well).

Repurposing, multi-screening, and amortization across platforms all mean that you are going to be seeing the same content on different channels. If you miss Days of Our Lives you can catch it later on Lifetime (of which Disney owns 50%). If you can't stay up until 12:30 watching Nightline you might be able to watch it while eating your cereal in the morning. You can do the same thing with your VCR, but Disney doesn't get to resell the advertising slots if you do.

As a consumer, what should we be thinking about?

I think the biggest issue here is the continued consolidation of media markets. Fox Family wasn't an important network (most people I know had to check their listings to see if they were even affected) and you can't really say that any diversity has been lost (as the channel is moving from News Corp. to Disney) but it is bothersome.

Look at a list of Disney's TV properties (just in the United States!):

ABC (and Disney owns, outright, 10 stations that reach 24% of the national audience)
The Disney Channel (70 million homes, owned outright)
Toon Disney (17 million, owned outright)
SoapNet (5 million homes, owned outright)
The ESPN family - ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Extra, ESPN Now, ESPN Today (over 80 million homes, 80% stake)
Lifetime Television (78 million homes, 50% stake)
E! Entertainment Television (66 million homes, significant minority position)
A&E Network (79 million homes, significant minority position)
The Biography Channel (significant minority position)
The History Channel (significant minority position)
style (10 million homes, significant minority position)
Buena Vista Television and Buena Vista Productions produce shows that appear on many non-Disney networks.

You can't go nine channels on the clicker without hitting a Disney station (and Buena Vista Television does its best to make sure you saw a Disney product in the gap). This purchase gives Disney yet another venue that reaches more homes than any other property save ESPN and ABC. At least they don't yet have a 24-hour news network or a home shopping channel.

The one big piece missing from this picture is a cable network; that is the one purchase that keeps Disney from being as disturbing as AOL / TimeWarner / Possibly AT&T. This deal still need governmental approval on anti- trust considerations, but I don't think that should be an issue. Does it really matter if News Corp. owns Fox Family or if Disney owns ABC Family? Not really, but I'd certainly feel better if I knew that someone was watching these deals with a leery eye.


One of the lesser-known features of MousePlanet is our News headlines in our MousePad discussion forum, where we try to direct you to any important news stories about the entire Disney company.

One thing we can't provide in that resource is an idea as to how those stories, generally about very specific portions of the company, may fit into the larger Disney picture. Towards that end, the Reporter's Notebook provides brief comments on those recent stories that are of interest.

We welcome your questions and comments, but keep in mind that all submissions to the Reporter's Notebook become property of this Web site. They may be edited for length or style and in consideration of a family readership. Questions may also be quoted on other parts of the site.

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