Disney Plays It Cool With ‘Frozen’ Frenzy on YouTube

Frozen Disney

Studio takes a hands-off approach to the toon's rabid Internet fan base

Pity us parents during the winter flu season. As if the usual viruses perpetually afflicting our children this time of year weren’t bad enough, Walt Disney Co. has decided to inflict a whole new contagion: “Frozen.”

The animated smash, which has slid past $900 million at the global box office, has permeated every cell of preadolescent brains worldwide since bowing in theaters last November. Symptoms include compulsive soundtrack-singing, incessant dialogue-quoting and an insatiable need for “Frozen” merchandise.

This malady also manifests itself on YouTube, where my 5-year-old ceaselessly clicks on any and all videos associated with the movie. Obsessive as that may seem, he’s got nothing on the many “Frozen” fans who have gone so far as to upload content they’ve created celebrating the movie.

It’s rare to see a film attract this level of online fanaticism. My son is particularly fond of the zillions of “Frozen” cover songs, many of them sung in different languages. He’s also watched his favorite character, Elsa, rendered as an ice sculpture and particularly enjoyed seeing her signature French braid lovingly re-created (though he doesn’t quite have enough hair to replicate it).

All this free marketing — or as it’s known on Madison Avenue, “earned media” — only makes “Frozen” even more profitable for Disney, which also pumps out its own “Frozen”-themed content as well via its official YouTube channel and on its branded website and apps. But the official stuff is dwarfed by the amount of fan-generated content.

There is a downside to this YouTube bounty; it’s not all entirely, as Madison Avenue also likes to say, “on brand,” even when it comes from the most well-intentioned “Frozen” fans (shouldn’t this community have its own name?  … “Icicles”? “Frozenistas?”). Like the “brutally honest” rendition of one soundtrack song that sprinkles obscenities into the lyrics. Or the widespread piracy courtesy of cameras hidden in the theaters, which parse just about every frame of the movie into clips littered all over YouTube.

Thanks, “Frozen,” for helping me explain to my son what piracy is, though that probably wasn’t the point.

If it chose, Disney, or any other studio for that matter, could scrub YouTube clean of any content that didn’t come from the company. YouTube’s own Content ID system, and firms that specialize in online content monetization like Zefr, empower copyright holders to monitor any unauthorized appropriation of its content, and to collect audience data. A content owner has the choice of removing what it doesn’t like, letting it remain, or taking the next step — imposing ads on it that yield revenue.

And yet Disney seems to have taken a relatively hands-off approach to YouTube, placing little advertising on all this content. The studio seems to have borrowed its strategic mantra online from the chorus of “Frozen’s” hit single: “Let it go, let it go/can’t hold it back anymore … ”

The balancing act that content owners have to do with regard to YouTube — as well as other fan-friendly platforms like Tumblr — is a tough one. On the one hand, corporations must loosen their grip on their own product for their promotional benefit. On the other hand, ceding control can be a scary thing.

But erring on the side of a long leash is the right call. The DIY ethos of YouTube means allowing a mashup culture to blossom even if that impinges on fair use and brand values. The tight rein that studios typically keep on their intellectual property simply doesn’t fly here.

Of course, none of that helps my son get over “Frozen.” My best bet is to fight fire with more fire; what better way to dislodge that film from his mind then by introducing him to another.

But this won’t be easy. Told recently he was going to see “The Lego Movie” at the earliest opportunity, he replied, “Is Elsa in it?”

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  1. I love this cause my siblings love to listen to this

  2. Kevin says:

    lol. that last line is so adorable. Can’t help being an Elsa fanatic. This coming from one. GO ELSA!!!

  3. Lunacy says:

    There was a channel on YouTube that was posting FROZEN pretty much in its entirety in separate clips shortly after the movie was released and it continued to be available for so long that I started to think that maybe Disney itself was behind it. I watched the clips and even had them on my IPAD and still I continued to go see the film in theatres and have probably seen it close to 10 times now. When a movie is great, the attention of social media and even piracy can’t hurt its success.

  4. AmateurHistorian says:

    Love Frozen. The best animation since 2000 alongside Spirited Away, WALL-E and Up! Saw the movie twice, 3D totally worth it, and own the soundtrack and soon Blu-ray. Looking forward to the 8K version decades down the road. (I think the movie is actually rendered in 8K and down sampled to 4K as there are some native 8K clips of Frozen on 8K demo TVs)

    • Jones says:

      There is no indication whatsoever that it was rendered in 8K, so an 8K version would make no sense at all (of course there would be lots of people who would pay for sth that any decent player can create for free).

  5. Cy says:

    It’s ADORABLE that your son’s favorite character is Elsa. ^^ Ahh, there’s hope for this world…

  6. askyourdoctor says:

    I just calculated that I’ve listened to Let it Go on youtube for 52 hours. NO REGRETS.

  7. section1guy says:

    I’ve been very surprised by the fact that so many clips are on YouTube. Disney (like MLB/NFL etc) usually will kill anything remotely close to their material, but they haven’t with Frozen. I’m 30, male and straight btw Bill, and I’ve seen the movie three times in the theater, own the soundtrack, and listen with my little siblings A LOT!

  8. Bill says:

    I’m 47, male and straight and can’t get enough of “Frozen,” either, so it’s not just young kids.

    Idina Menzel’s “Let it Go” is the most amazing vocal performance in years, and the animation is brilliant.

    What’s not to love?

    • Artamus says:

      We should form a “It’s ok for Straight Guys to like Frozen too!” Club…. ;)) I’ve only seen it once so far, alas, not in 3D, darn it…. but I really enjoyed it. Elsa is the Snow Queen of my dreams. GREAT adaptation, right up there with Beauty and the Beast!

  9. FrozenUnicorn says:

    Speaking as a Frozen fan myself, we do have a fan-comminity nickname that I’ve seen be most prevalent: Frozenites.

  10. Maame says:

    What is the meaning of frozen

    • Artamus says:

      I agree, can’t understand why Disney is screwing over 3D fans in America! I was about to buy a 3D TV, mainly because of this movie…. VERY frustrating to say the least.

  11. JR says:

    What angers many is that Disney has pulled the 3D video release from all U.S. markets. (Not sure about overseas).

  12. Artamus says:

    I can relate. I too was totally smitten with The Snow Queen, when I was a lad. Even tho she barely made a cameo in the original story, there was something about her that fascinated me. She’s been my “Fairytale Crush” ever since.

    I love Frozen, because, despite the changes, it retains the Heart and Soul of Hans Christian-Anderson’s original. And it’s one of the very few adaptations that correctly portrays The Snow Queen as NOT being a Villian. Plus, now we know her name – Elsa!

  13. Logan Huggins says:

    Wonderful Article.

    I think this is a very interesting balancing act, as you accurately called it, that media producers will have to find themselves in in this new DIY media landscape. Very interested to see where this path will lead us in the next few years…

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