Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008 #9:
Hollywood Programs the Disney Channel

By David Mumpower

January 8, 2009

Disney gets so mad at Hutchens when she plays Shirts vs. Skins.

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2008 saw a pair of unusual engagements at the cinemaplex. Both of them had already made a name for themselves in another media format. Specifically, Hannah Montana and High School Musical had become staples of Disney Channel television programming long before they made their theatrical debuts. What was noteworthy about each title is that they got a theatrical release at all.

By now, all of us have a hyper-understanding of the Hannah Montana and High School Musical brands. What is impressive about this is that the same would not have been true 18 months ago, at least for those of us who do not have children. The date where everything changed was August 17, 2007. On that date, High School Musical 2 made its debut on the Disney Channel and earned over double the number of viewers as its predecessor. The 17.3 million people who watched the premiere of this sequel got Hollywood's attention in a big, bad way. At an average ticket price of $6.88, that number would have reflected box office of $119 million. On one day. From that moment on, Disney execs knew that the next release in the High School Musical franchise would be released theatrically.


Hannah Montana was the surprise. The show about a young girl leading a double life as student by day and rock star by night had seen its popularity spike over the summer of 2007. Kids of that age were able to relate to this unlikely premise in a passionate way that would impress even the identical cousins of the world. Gambling that a rising tide would guide this boat even higher, Disney execs slotted their most promising new show after the expected blockbuster, High School Musical 2. The end result was the best night the Disney Channel will ever have. After 17.3 million tuned in to see two hours of singing and dancing, 10.7 million of them left the TV on Hannah Montana afterward. Not only was the 10.7 million a cable record, but records were also set among the kids' demographic of 6-11 year olds (4.2 million) and tweens aged 9-14 (4.1 million). This single episode of Hannah Montana still stands as Disney Channel's third- highest rated broadcast of all time, following on the heels of High Musical 2 being the best. When you have two of your three best performances of all time on the same night, you've had a good night.

After the blockbuster success of Hannah Montana on August 17, 2007, people at Disney embarked upon a plan to capitalize on the higher profile of the show. Its star, Miley Cyrus, was given a key role in a 2008 release, Bolt, that would go on to make over $100 million, domestically. The real masterstroke, however, was a "special one week engagement" concert that combined the nascent celebrity, Cyrus, with her character's fictional vocation, rock star. Through an onslaught of advertisements on the Disney Channel, kids were made well aware of the fact that they would only have seven days to bear witness to a movie theater screening of one of her concerts. Let's just say that the brainwashing in this regard was successful.

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