Less than three weeks after she was elevated to president of advertising sales for Disney-ABC, Rita Ferro’s first big task was the same one she’s had for the past seven years: drumming up enthusiasm among buyers at Disney Media’s kids upfront presentations.
Among the big initiatives she’s pushing this year during the Disneyland and Disney World upfront events: the breadth of the three Disney networks’ brand programming, access to the company’s first-party measurement data and new partnership opportunities with its upcoming, all-in-one DisneyNow app.
On Monday and today, Ferro met with West Coast clients at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., for Disney Media sales’ annual kids upfront presentation. She’ll do the same next month for Midwest and East Coast clients, heading to Disney World in Orlando from March 13-15.
The Disney Parks locale “really ties into the heritage and the art of storytelling of what we’re doing this year,” said Ferro. This year’s presentation is centered around “Disney DNA,” emphasizing the focus on Disney storytelling and the company’s approach to measurement.
During the meetings, Ferro—who is joined by Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer, Disney Channels Worldwide—is highlighting the many new and returning Disney programs this year based on the company’s most popular brands. Disney Channel will have Descendants 2, a sequel to the hit 2015 movie about the offspring of famous Disney heroes and villains. Next month features the premiere of Tangled: The Series, a continuation of the 2010 Disney animated film, which has already been renewed for Season 2.
This summer, Disney XD will debut DuckTales, a revival of the ’80s animated series, as well as Big Hero 6, an animated series based on the 2014 film. The network will also premiere Marvel’s Spider-Man and feature returning series Star Wars Rebels and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
And Disney Junior features The Lion Guard (a reimagining of The Lion King), Mickey and the Roadster Racers, and a revival of the ’80s animated series Muppet Babies is coming in 2018.
Those familiar brands should give buyers safer, trusted options. “In a world where you have to place big bets and fewer bets, you’re placing a bet with something you know works, with a company that you know has tremendous connections with kids and families,” said Ferro.
She’ll be talking to buyers about sharing Disney’s first-party measurement data, which is scarce for children’s demos. “There is very little to nothing in terms of mobile and tablet measurement for kids,” Ferro said, nothing that 28 percent of Disney Media’s video impressions are on devices and platforms that Nielsen doesn’t measure.
“As we think about partnerships ongoing with brands, there’s a lot of first-party data that informs that, and when you think about the power of our data with a partner’s data around programs, that could be really interesting as part of an anchor,” said Ferro.
Because it wouldn’t be an upfront without new partnership opportunities, Ferro will have plenty of those as well. Later this year, Disney Media will roll out DisneyNow, its new platform that will combine its three apps for Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD and provide new sponsorship opportunities for clients.
The company plans to experiment with ads of various lengths on the DisneyNow platform. “It’s no longer about a 30-second pre-roll. We know that. We’ve done a great job of testing 7-seconds and 15-seconds as part of our Disney LOL app,” said Ferro, referring to the company’s app that features short-form videos of no longer than 2 minutes. Some of the concepts that are tested on the Disney apps will eventually be applied more broadly across the Disney-ABC portfolio.
Beyond DisneyNow, the company is looking to expand brand partnerships with its big events like the 2017 Radio Disney Music Awards, which will take place April 29 in L.A. and will be telecast the following day. This year’s sponsors include American Girl, Aquabeads, Chrysler, Xfinity, Goldfish, Kraft and The Walt Disney Studios.
“We think about partners and how they’re engaging in that content, because it’s not only about the show, it’s about the four months leading up to the show and how you integrate in terms of promotion. Then there’s the activation that day at the venue,” said Ferro. And after the event, “there’s all the music and videos that come from it and how you distribute all of that. The live event is extraordinarily important, but it’s really about how you amplify that pre- and post-show to really make a partnership that moves the needle for partners as part of that event.”
Ferro sees Disney Media’s long partnership with Best Western—which is continuing for the 10th consecutive summer—as a blueprint for innovative ways that brands outside the usual kids network advertisers can work with the company. The hotel chain is sponsoring Descendants 2 this summer, with a campaign that extends across all linear, digital and social platforms, including Disney Interactive.
“They’re not a traditional kids advertiser, but they understand the influence that kids play in that decision of vacation for summertime, for families and the destination,” said Ferro.
This is the first upfront event for Ferro since Disney-ABC announced on Feb. 8 that instead of simply filling its vacant ad sales chief position, it was shaking up its organization, combining sales for its various properties into a single, portfolio-wide ad sales division, which would be led by Ferro. Since joining the company in 2010, Ferro had worked as as evp, Disney Media sales and marketing for Disney Channels Worldwide.
Despite the company’s new ad sales structure, Ferro opted to keep the five separate upfront presentations this year. In addition to the two Disney Media events, she’ll have a presentation for Freeform in April, a Disney Interactive NewFront and the big ABC event in May.
This year, Ferro said clients can choose to transact business across the entire Disney-ABC portfolio or work with individual networks as they had done previously. “Then we’ll evolve to our integrated structure. But I didn’t want to rush this,” said Ferro.