Disney Sets More Family-Friendly Path for Maker Studios

Maker Studios was once a sprawling agglomeration of some 60,000 YouTube channels. Now Disney, which has owned Maker since 2014, has dramatically pared back the unit’s focus — aiming to better align a roster of under 1,000 Maker creators with Disney’s family-safe brand and corporate objectives.

The Mouse House on Tuesday announced the Disney Digital Network, which rolls up all of the company’s digital-first content businesses under one roof, including Maker, which had previously operated fairly independently.

Disney Digital Network reaches more than 1 billion followers across platforms, encompassing 300-plus social media channels and editorial brands like Oh My Disney, StarWars.com, and Maker’s Polaris. Company execs unveiled the new strategy and programming plans at their Digital Content NewFronts presentation at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers.

“This extends our stories to the platforms Gen Z and millennial audiences are on every day, with diverse editorial voices that integrate top creators and influencers,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in the pitch to marketers and agency execs.

With Disney Digital Network, the company will more actively concentrate on bringing Maker creators into Disney-branded content and vice versa, said Andrew Sugerman, executive VP of publishing and digital media for Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Sugerman assumed oversight of Maker Studios in a restructuring last December.

“Historically on the Disney Interactive Media side, our leaning into creators and influencers has been very light touch. We really focused only on Disney-branded endeavors,” said Sugerman in an interview with Variety prior to the event. “Whereas on the Maker side, influencers were really everything non-Disney-branded.”

Now, Sugerman said, “We’re going to infuse Maker into the Disney pieces, and Disney will be infused more into Maker.”

In the new Maker network, creators will be “curated” with an eye toward how well they fit into Disney’s overall brand identity, according to Sugerman. It’s worth noting that PewDiePie, who had been Maker’s No. 1 individual partner, is no longer in business with Disney: The company cut its ties to PewDiePie in February after he posted several anti-Semitic-themed joke videos.

“We are definitely looking to identify the influencers and creators who have the greatest appeal to [Disney’s target Gen Z and millennial] audience,” Sugerman said. “We’ll be looking for opportunities to map those influencers to the broader Disney company.”

At the same time, Sugerman added, Disney will encourage the individual digital creators to continue producing their own content – “because that’s what got them where they are. We want to be mindful that we are providing the right support, and find those opportunities to combine them with Star Wars, Marvel and other Disney brands.”

Disney Co/Op, the in-house branded-content agency, will offer marketers the ability to pair Disney and Maker “digital storytellers” with brands looking to create custom campaigns. The Disney Co/Op also leverages partnerships with social platforms including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Disney says it is actively pairing the digital content creation and programming capabilities of Disney Digital Network with The Walt Disney Company’s broadcast and cable assets across ABC, Disney Channel, and others, so that advertising partners can reach vast audiences across all media platforms.

“We have one unified, integrated digital media network for advertisers that brings everything together – with creators and influencers, in a more impactful way,” said Sugerman.

Organizationally, the Disney Digital Network portfolio is structured around six primary editorial brands:

  • Oh My Disney, digital destination for a daily dose of Disney, capturing the zeitgeist through a Disney lens.
  • Disney Style, exploring the intersection of Disney stories and characters with what’s trending in fashion, nail art, hairstyles and cosmetics.
  • Disney Family, aiming to bring parents and kids together through Disney crafts and DIY projects, recipes, and activities featuring Mouse House characters and stories.
  • Babble, parenting community site where contributors share their experiences and give readers a forum to bond and learn.
  • Polaris from Maker, featuring original content from a community of gaming personalities including talk shows, animation, and games-to-life content.
  • StarWars.com and the Star Wars app, the digital destinations for all things related to the galaxy far, far away. The network programs content for Star Wars fans of all ages across social and digital platforms.

The new slate of original digital shows that will be available across Disney Digital Network starting this year includes:

  • “Science and Star Wars”: Series that explores, explains, and demonstrates parallels between the Lucasfilm sci-fi epic and real-world scientific breakthroughs the saga has inspired. The IBM-sponsored series, hosted by Anthony Carboni, will feature IBM researchers, science experts, guest stars, and IBM’s Watson artificial-intelligence platform. It will run exclusively on Facebook through the Facebook Anthology branded-content program.
  • “Oh My Disney Show,” Season 2: Comedy, news, trends, and sketches combine in this always-on show built for Disney fans’ social feeds.
  • “Club Mickey Mouse”: Variety show celebrating the original show of yesteryear rebooted with a diverse cast of young creators (and, of course, everyone’s favorite mouse). Sponsored by HP and to stream on Facebook exclusively through Facebook Anthology.
  • “Disney IRL”: Oh My Disney brings iconic animated Disney characters and moments to real life, by surprising people on location and viewers at home.
  • “COIN”: Animated action-comedy on Maker’s Polaris with a game-inspired aesthetic that follows a team of misfits tasked to save their world. Brought together by time traveling robot Crohnobot, Donovan (a gruff plumber quick to anger), Kid Victory (a master of weaponry), and the Sisters Vicious (twin masters of illusion who hate each other) must defeat super-villain Gamovah and retrieve the coin of Chorder before it’s too late.
  • “Disney Design Challenge”: Young designers are invited to push the boundaries of their art form to create beautiful, innovative, and memorable works inspired by Disney films. In the first season, students in the fashion design program at Otis College of Art and Design create clothing lines inspired by Disney’s “Frozen.”
  • “Disney Magical Starts”: A show for the parents who want to spend more time creating experiences with their kids, but don’t know where to start. In the show, parents and their kids provide ideas and tips for events ranging from the holidays to back-to-school.

The Disney Digital Network also includes more than 300 social channels for all of Disney’s stories, characters, and brands, ranging from Mickey Mouse to the Muppets.

The ad and sponsorship sales efforts for Disney Digital Network are overseen by Rita Ferro, president of sales for Disney-ABC Television Group, who also presented at the NewFronts event.

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