Disney Turns to Mobile Apps as Show Pilots

Interactive division planning its second Web show based on popular iPhone game

Disney may have found a new formula for launching original online series: find mobile games that already have a following and treat them as backdoor pilots.

The company’s Interactive division announced plans to launch a 10-episode series, Talking Friends, based on a popular series of iPhone gaming apps, Talking Tom Cat. That series, the result of a partnership between Disney and the app developer Outfit 7, will debut shortly on both YouTube and Disney’s digital kids properties.

Talking Friends arrives on the heels of the Where’s My Water?, another kids-aimed Web series based on a hugely popular educational gaming app. That show will also roll out shortly on Disney’s kids-aimed YouTube channel, one of close to 100 new channels debuting this year on the Google-owned video hub.

“These shows are tapping into IP we already have created, and we're basically expanding these games' worlds,” said Zadi Diaz, Disney Interactive’s head of content, following the division’s upfront presentation in New York on Thursday. In other words, it’s a lot easier to launch a Web show when it’s already got a built-in audience. Beside the two app-derived shows, Disney has also recently introduced Power Up, a retro gaming show hosted by Christina Grimmie, an 18-year-old with a significant pre-existing YouTube following. That tween-oriented show (sponsored by Xbox) has already run four of eight planned episodes on Disney, with some episodes eclipsing 100,000 views.

However, as much as Disney is pushing its programming-to-kids-on-YouTube experiment, the company seems equally or even more focused on mom’s programming. This summer, Disney will roll out a cooking-themed series That’s Fresh, hosted by Helen Cavallo, who describes herself as “half Italian, half Columbian and 100 percent New York.” That show will be distributed on several of Disney’s own properties, including Babble.com

Others series in the works are Mom’s of…, which will showcase mothers of famous athletes, musicians and the like, and Thinking Up, which will look to highlight creative people.

Disney is also developing Dadsaster, a reality show focused on a group of stay-at-home dads.

In February, Disney debuted the daily talk show Daily Shot, hosted by the comic actress (and wife of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos) Ali Wentworth. Daily Shot, which is distributed on Yahoo Shine, features the irreverent Wentworth talking mom issues while reviewing the headlines of the day.

Disney officials aren’t saying how many viewers Daily Shot has reached since premiering in February, but the company is clearly behind the project. In fact, Wentworth taped an episode for this Friday during the upfront event. “It’s Friday, April 27,” Wentworth said. “It’s everyone makes out with each other at the Soho House day.”