I started twitching last Thursday when I heard that Disney is launching a new network called Disney XD, geared specifically toward boys. It’s too late to lock up America’s daughters: Disney has been courting them ever since Prince Charming’s animated lips first touched Snow White’s in 1937. But until now, Disney has been so busy trafficking in princess fantasies (ancient and modern) that they’ve mostly left boys alone, unless you count the omnipresent marketing of Pixar properties like Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean. As a mom of two little boys and no girls, I’ve been grateful to have my kids off Disney’s demographic profile.
Then comes a press release about Disney XD, worded in cheerful consumerist-speak: “The new brand will include a compelling mix of live-action and animated programming for kids age 6-14, hyper-targeting boys and their quest for discovery, accomplishment, sports, adventure and humor.”
Eeek! “Hyper-targeting” sounds awfully Donald Rumsfeld. Do I want the people who loosed High School Musical upon the world “hyper-targeting” my offspring?
The new network’s marquee attraction (no shock here) is a boy-centric take on Hannah Montana: a live-action series called Aaron Stone, about a teenage boy living a double life as a mild-mannered student by day and the real-life version of a crime-fighting video-game character by night. Come next year, will we see an army of boys as obsessed with Aaron as so many girls are with Hannah? And will it further reinforce gender stereotypes to have one Disney channel filled with Hannah, Gabriella, Sharpay and their sea of shiny pink lip gloss, and another filled with “discovery, accomplishment, sports, adventure and humor” designed especially for boys?
What makes Disney seem so monolithic is how well they create cradle-to-grave consumers. Of course, a hundred other companies seek to do the same with our kids – they’re just not as good at it as Disney. As much as the Disney nation-state can worry me, it hasn’t forced anyone to fork over the billions it earns. Parents and piggybankers spend voluntarily. When the new network launches, they’ll likely spend even more.
What lies in store for our boys in February, when Disney XD takes the place of Toon Disney? Below, via email, Disney Channel’s Senior Vice President for Marketing and Creative, Richard Loomis, answers questions about the new venture. – Melissa Rayworth
You note in your press release that the Disney Channel is especially successful with girls, and your goal with Disney XD is to have that same success ratio with boys. How do you persuade boys that Disney is cool enough to appeal to them? How will the programming nudge boys to see Disney as a potentially boyish, rather than girlish, brand?
Our new Disney XD will launch with the benefit of the Disney brand credibility and a unique, creative point of view. We’re confident it will fulfill boys’ desire for empowering stories and heroic characters. Certainly, we know the Disney brand is appealing to both girls and boys and we work to make the Disney Channel and Disney XD platforms inclusive of both genders. The skew happens to be more toward girls for Disney Channel and more towards boys for Disney XD, but neither platform is an exclusive “clubhouse” for one gender.