Gary Marsh, who just took over as president and chief creative officer at Disney Channels Worldwide, gave us his take on Disney’s global strategy, the future of children’s programming and, of course, how Disney manages to create such great synergies across its product lines. CableFAX inducted Marsh into its 2011 Program Hall of Fame on Oct 18 in L.A. For more insight from Marsh and other Hall of Famers, check out this VIDEO.
Now that you’re fully in charge of Disney Channels Worldwide, what are your immediate plans?
Some might say that with my newly expanded role, I got a little more power. And to borrow from my corporate cousin, Spider-Man—“With great power comes great responsibility.” We all know that television is a powerful medium, especially when you’re using it to reach kids. Across Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD, my primary focus will always be ensuring our content is of the highest caliber, that it models positive family values, and that it strives to entertain and inspire. That said, I will continue to challenge my team to experiment, with new forms of storytelling, to seek out new talent, and to embrace new technology in service of better serving our audience.
What’s your most important goal for Disney Channels Worldwide? What’s do you see the biggest opportunity?
Anne Sweeney taught me to take pride in our success—and then to use that success as a platform from which to move even higher; to disdain mediocrity, and to believe we can always re-invent or re-interpret something to make it better, more accessible, more relevant or more entertaining. Those have been my marching orders for years; they are not about to change now.
What’s the global strategy for Disney’s kids TV brand these days? It seems like the most robust economies are actually in the developing world. To what degree are those markets increasingly important?
Over the last dozen or so years, we’ve emerged as a powerhouse in kids entertainment. Today, we’re a global business with 101 localized channels or feeds available in over 326 million households. Still, our global expansion remains a work in progress, with plenty of opportunity as we look for gaps in our footprint. Most recently, we’ve launched Disney Junior and Disney XD channels in Canada, as well as a new Disney Junior Channel in Australia. And we just launched a Korean-language Disney Channel and Disney Junior in South Korea.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter how many markets we reach, unless we’ve got something the people in those markets want to watch. The good news is that nearly every one of our U.S.-produced properties has succeeded around the world. But what’s even more exciting is the content development that’s happening at the local level. For instance, Disney Channel India has produced their own Hindi-language adaptation of Good Luck Charlie (“Best of Luck Nikki”) and it is their highest rated series. And our European animation team is producing multiple series that will fill our Disney XD pipelines around the globe.
Disney was an early leader in terms of repurposing its TV content for the Internet and is now part of Hulu. Then there’s cable’s authentication push. When you look at this landscape, how does Disney’s video strategy preserve the current business model while also taking advantage of new platforms? What’s the proper balance?
While we remain laser-focused on our consumers’ needs, we have also been willing to experiment. As a content provider, we see any viable method of securely distributing our content as inherently good because it provides another touch point for viewers to connect with their favorite shows. Of course, determining which content to experiment with is vital, as is respecting our relationships with our existing distributors.
In addition to your new role, you remain Chief Creative Officer. So tell us: What do kids want these days? What kind of shows tend to resonate the most and why?
We’ve made over 85 Disney Channel Original movies and countless series in the last 15 years. Throughout, we’ve lived by four “brand promises” that inform everything we do. To wit, our content will always showcase kids who:
Believe in themselves
Follow their dreams, and
Celebrate their families.
If you look through our history, the projects that have had the most success are those that most closely embraced these promises. What could be more illustrative of “expressing yourself” than the kids of High School Musical, who bust out of their confining stereotypes to join the school musicale? Or the kids of “Lemonade Mouth” whose belief in themselves is so strong that they take on the school establishment, risking expulsion, in order to start a rock and roll band? And what better example of “following your dreams” could you imagine that the weekly adventures of step-brothers Phineas and Ferb as they concoct a new backyard dream every week?
These shows work because they accurately reflect the hopes and dreams, the challenges and successes of kids everywhere in the world.
Everyone lauds Disney for its attention to synergy across all its business lines. Has it become effortless at this point—or does that kind of coordination remain extremely difficult? How does Disney keep its synergistic mojo intact?
Great content creates great opportunity. At Disney, synergy is about maximizing those opportunities across multiple lines of business. So, Phineas and Ferb may begin as an animated television series. But through close collaboration with our other lines of business, it has grown to a massive consumer products business, a live stage show, multiple gaming and on-line extensions and millions of books. Even a feature film is in the works. But make no mistake: no amount of synergy can create demand unless the content is strong. So the “mojo” is quite simple: start with world class content; add smart, strategic executives who understand better than anyone else how to launch and leverage brands. Voila!