Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Disney Goes "Transmedia" for Gen iPad

This is London: Adults are changing their behavior but kids are born into this," says Tricia Wilber, the Walt Disney Company's chief marketing officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as she explains how so many young consumers are not just embracing the internet, smartphones and video on demand. They have never known anything different.

"Transmedia" is the buzzword that Disney likes to use.

This takes in everything from physical to digital and all points in between - from cinema and cable TV to new fast-growing areas such as online streaming and social media and traditional live experiences such as theme parks and theatre shows.

"Consumers now have access to that brand in any way they want. That creates opportunities for us," says Wilber.

Yet this also makes it more complex for Disney, which owns top children's brands such as Mickey Mouse, Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean as well as TV networks ABC and ESPN.

In the transmedia age, no single communications channel is dominant. So Wilber says Disney tries to avoid being wedded to any particular platform. "Our content and story-telling and emotional connections are what make Disney Disney," she says.

Every platform can potentially play a leading role, depending on the particular brand and target audience.

For example, Disney used both traditional media and Facebook to promote the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie to teenagers. In contrast, Disney Channel on cable TV was crucial for Cars2 to reach younger fans. Clearly digital and social media offer great opportunities to increase engagement - both in terms of depth and over a longer timescale. Disney UK's official Facebook page for Toy Story 3 won half a million followers. But in a sign of the times, a fan from Luton created his own unofficial page, called "Move out of the way, children, I've been waiting 11 years to see Toy Story 3", that got 1.7 million in the space of a week.

Disney had to think fast and decided to collaborate, giving this fan special content and access - an interesting example of how even the world's biggest media company needs to be nimble and willing to cede a degree of control.

Even younger Disney fans are experimenting with social networking on its games website Club Penguin.

Despite the growth of digital, it is still traditional media such as cinema, cable TV, DVDs and theme parks that generate the vast bulk of Disney's $38 billion (£24 billion) in annual revenues.

Theme parks are particularly important because, as chief executive Robert Iger says, it is "where we make the closest emotional connection with consumers as millions of them experience first-hand the magic of Disney".

At a time when consumers are looking to engage more deeply with brands, the theme park and other live events offer an opportunity for fans truly to immerse themselves - as well as being a powerful beacon for the brand.

Disney has been investing in digital to make its theme parks more relevant (see right). But as even the iPad generation is discovering, digital is not essential when it comes to having fun.

Ultimately, the live experience is when a brand comes alive in the transmedia world.

"This is like being in a computer game," shouts one nine-year-old girl excitedly as she zaps aliens on the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast ride on a recent visit to Disneyland Paris.

Meanwhile, over at Stitch Live, a group of enthralled children interact with a cartoon character who appears on a digital cinema screen, tells jokes, addresses them personally and even takes their photos in real time.

These attractions demonstrate how Disneyland Paris is embracing digital as it seeks to match consumers' changing expectations.

Yet any visitor is also struck by the fact that most children are just as thrilled by many of the older fixtures - from boat ride It's A Small World, with marionettes in national costume, to the daily parades with life-size characters such as Mickey Mouse.

This is not all about digital. Rather it is the live experience that counts.

The theme park has always been a way for Disney to connect with fans, ever since Disneyland opened in Los Angeles in 1955. Yet arguably "live" has become more important in the internet age because it engages in an emotional, 360-degree way that the virtual world cannot match.

Disneyland Paris reinforces the brand and generates big revenues as families splash out on entry passes, accommodation and merchandising.

Euro Disney, the listed company that runs the park and is half-owned by Disney, has annual sales of over ¤1.2billion. Revenues rose 7% in the past quarter, thanks in part to an increase from the UK. Around one in eight visitors are Britons.

Little wonder that rival children's brands have been looking at theme parks this year - albeit on a smaller scale. Viacom opened Nickelodeon Land in Blackpool and Entertainment One has Peppa Pig World in Hampshire. Disney has no UK theme park but sees live events as important - from West End musical The Lion King to a newly revamped Disney store in Oxford Street, which has a daily opening and closing ceremony and digital touch-screens where shoppers can watch their favourite movie clips.

No comments: