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Disney Digital Doubles Down on ‘Brand Safe’ Family Content and Commerce, Sets ‘Star Wars’ Fandom Programming

Disney once saw Maker Studios, the YouTube multichannel network it bought in 2014, as a catalyst for turning itself into a digital-content powerhouse.

The tide turned on that strategy last year, when the Mouse House formed Disney Digital Network — and dramatically downsized the Maker creator network to refocus its efforts on maintaining a Disney-branded voice in reaching new audiences online.

On Tuesday, Disney Digital Network execs showed off more fruits of the family-focused drive. At its Digital Content NewFronts presentation in NYC, it unveiled a programming lineup targeted at Gen Z and millennial consumers — and a lot of it’s geared around promoting Disney franchises and history. The new initiatives include Disney Eats, a new food-centered content brand with original shows from Tastemade, and a summer-long “Star Wars” fan event set to include a new docu-series about superfans of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Disney also screened a sneak-peek clip from “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2,” hitting theaters November 2018, for the NewFronts crowd. The event was Stephan Weiss Studio in Manhattan’s West Village.

In presenting the slate, execs used the “brand safe” buzzword several times — a dog-whistle for marketers spooked by ad scandals at YouTube and other digital platforms. Advertisers “are looking for unique, compelling, brand-safe, and diverse ways to reach audiences at scale,” said Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales and marketing for Disney’s recently formed Direct-to-Consumer and International division.

The promotional, brand-supported and commerce lineup from Disney Digital Network comes amid a broader digital makeover for the media conglomerate. The company’s Direct-to-Consumer and International, headed by Kevin Mayer, encompasses DDN as well as ESPN+, the $5-per-month sports streaming subscription service launched last month and the Disney-branded subscription-streaming service (as yet unnamed) set for a late-2019 debut.

Disney Eats, the newest member of the Disney Digital Network family, will deliver “a diverse culinary adventure inspired by Disney’s cast of characters and the many flavors of Disney Parks around the world,” according to DDN — sort of like a big, branded-content push. Indeed, Disney Eats will feature a new collection of cooking products designed to inspire “co-cooking” experiences for millennial families, available for purchase on Disney’s new e-commerce platform, ShopDisney.com.

At launch, Disney Eats will include content from a food influencers and original programming and video series from Tastemade, a food, travel and lifestyle digital-media company. Those will feature “Disney-inspired recipes” and Disney-themed episodes of Tastemade series “Kitchen Little” and “Tiny Kitchen.”

On the “Star Wars” front, DDN is bringing out “Star Wars Season of the Fan,” a cross-network campaign devoted to Star Wars fanbase. The next installment in the Lucasfilm space-epic franchise, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” premieres in theaters May 25 (kicking off Memorial Day weekend).

The “Star Wars Season of the Fan” campaign will kick off this summer with a new docu-series, “Our Star Wars Stories,” which highlights impressive feats of fandom. In addition, Disney will reprise the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, with expanded categories recognizing the best fan content in video production, art, costuming, and photography. The winners will be featured during a special “The Star Wars Show,” live-streamed from Lucasfilm’s offices in San Francisco.

In addition, DDN announced that the Oh My Disney millennial-targeted brand this summer will launch a new Oh My Disney App — a free, over-the-top and mobile app that will feature curated social content and short-form videos from Oh My Disney, including select Maker creators and partners from across the Walt Disney Co. There’s also a new line of summer products under the Oh My Disney umbrella, including “Little Mermaid”-themed pool and swimming accessories.

At the NewFronts event, execs also reinforced the message to advertisers that Disney Digital Network is teaming up with the TV side of the house, through collaborations with ABC, Freeform, and other cable nets.

Disney Digital Network reaches more than 1.3 billion followers across multiple platforms worldwide, according to the company. The division’s portfolio includes Oh My Disney, Disney Style, and Babble, with more than 350 cross-platform social media channels spanning the company’s characters and stories.

Here’s the 2018 programming slate Disney Digital Network highlighted at its event:

  • “Club Mickey Mouse” (Oh My Disney): Club Mickey Mouse returns in a back-to-school special with new celebrity mentors, dance videos, original music videos, and all the behind-the-scenes action with the Mouseketeers.
  • “Disney Backstage Podcast” (Oh My Disney): Disney Digital Network’s first podcast series will bring listeners behind the scenes and into the history and heritage of the Walt Disney Co. The first episode will give audiences an inside look at the making of the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ film “The Lion King.”
  • “Kitchen Little” (Disney Eats/Tastemade): Kids call the shots as they team up with celebrity chefs to recreate Disney-themed recipes in new episodes of the Tastemade-produced series.
  • “Tiny Kitchen” (Disney Eats/Tastemade): Culinary artists will create miniature replicas of the too-good-not-to-eat foods from beloved Disney films.
  • “Must Be Science” (Disney Eats/Tastemade): The worlds of food and science collide in this new series, which tests Disney food experiments using ingredients you can find in your kitchen.
  • “Designing Disney” (Disney Style): Series on Facebook Watch spotlighting artists who design, sew, style and create crafts — centered on something Disney-related, naturally.
  • “Disney Dream Job” (Disney Family): Show follows five children as they work with Disney cast members, from animators to Imagineers, to live out their dream for a day. Disney Dream Job will premiere on Facebook Watch and will later be distributed on Disney.com.
  • “Most Extra Parents” (Babble): Awards that recognize parents who go the extra mile to make family time a little more special.
  • “90 Days of Mickey Mouse”: Disney Digital Network will countdown to the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse with 90 days of original Mickey themed content. The countdown will feature new show episodes and series from Oh My Disney, Disney Style, and Disney Family.

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