Not even a receding economy can bring the Mouse down. Boosted by an 11 per cent revenue increase in the second quarter of its 2008 fiscal year, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts nonetheless enters a summer where recession-plagued families may be less inclined to shell out for expensive trips to its Florida or California theme parks. To combat that, the company has turned to a new ad platform to help entice more moms and dads to come spend a week with Mickey and Co.
Disney Travel On Demand is a video-on-demand channel that launched in May 2007 with distribution through Cablevision and Time Warner Cable. Born out of the success of Disney's travel-themed DVDs, the VOD platform seeks to adapt the same programming for a more interactive format. Last week, the VOD channel joined the dial on Comcast, more than doubling its distribution to 26 million homes.
Celebs help showcase parks
Designed to help families plan their trips by showcasing the parks' various features, the channel features programs such as "What's Cooking With Cat Cora," in which the first female "Iron Chef" contestant gives a culinary tour of Disney eateries, and "Disney Travel Insiders," with guest hosts such as "CSI: Miami" star Eva LaRue and Elisabeth Hasselbeck from "The View."
Although VOD is hardly the only medium by which Disney is promoting its parks -- the company launched a national ad campaign across Clear Channel radio stations last fall -- the interactive metrics are what keep the company invested in the platform. During each program, viewers are presented with a "click to call" option, where a click of the remote control can connect them with a Disney travel representative within 15 minutes.
Jim Mollica, director-advanced TV for Disney's global new media group, said in the channel's first year of usage, the average time spent per viewer has been about eight minutes, with 23% of all viewers activating the click-to-call feature. That's an impressive figure for what is essentially a direct-response campaign, made all the more significant when combined with the company's other metrics.
"Our goal is to provide content on multiple interactive screens, so when you're a subscriber to [an operator's] online service, [you get] the same thing with Cablevision or Comcast," Mr. Mollica said. "When you think online, you think more mature data is captured in that environment ... but when you marry that with the TV screen, there's an even deeper emotional connection."
Disney's VOD venture makes the company one of the few marketers to scale their own branded channels in what is a still-nascent space for most marketers and buyers. Currently available in about 36 million households, VOD is the basis for a consortium of multi-service cable operators known as Project Canoe. The group's goal is to create a standardized set of metrics for VOD campaigns so advertisers can scale their VOD buys more efficiently. Buyers of VOD often have little information to work with when they launch campaigns because the cable provider's set-top-box data is inaccessible or the metrics don't match up.
Mr. Mollica said he is able to access the majority of Disney Travel's set-top-box data, including how often programs are rewound and fast-forwarded, and tends to use other VOD features such as search and bookmarking to gauge how popular the channel is becoming with viewers.
"Without phone promotion or other robust traffic drivers, it's very difficult in some systems to navigate your way through the various menu streams," Mr. Mollica said. Comcast and Disney's other cable partners have also done a good job of keeping VOD user-friendly, he added. "You want to ensure you have that ability to get there in a click."
Up next for Disney Travel on Demand: an international push. Mr. Mollica said the company is currently seeking any partnerships with "organizations really committed to this idea of building a robust platform that allows for that consumer two-way communication. ... Disney on-demand stands for original, long-form branded entertainment that is implicit marketing and is interactive."