Ratings for Disney Junior preschool programs have grown over the last year, currently exceeding the viewership of key competitors including Nick Jr. and Sprout. Meanwhile, sales of products tied to shows under the Disney Junior umbrella – Doc McStuffins, Sofia the First, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and others – generated $1.8 billion in global retail sales in fiscal 2013, double the level of the previous year, according to Disney. The Disney Junior programming bloc on the Disney Channel debuted in 2011 as a reconfiguration of the former Playhouse Disney bloc, followed by the launch of the 24-hour Disney Junior channel in 2012.
The success of the brand and associated merchandise is carrying over into publishing. More than 1.5 million Doc McStuffins books are in print, for example, while a jacketed hardcover picture book tied to Sofia the First hit the New York Times bestseller list and is in its eighth printing, with 450,000 copies on the market – significant numbers “for a picture book tied to a TV show,” said Suzanne Murphy, v-p and publisher, books, Disney Publishing Worldwide.
Both the Sofia picture book – a higher-end title that was a first for a Disney TV tie-in – and the initial range of Doc McStuffins books came out before the debut of the two TV series, in January 2013 and March 2012, respectively. (TV tie-in programs typically are introduced as much as a year after a TV series debuts.) “That shows there was tremendous demand already, right out of the gate,” Murphy said.
According to Murphy, Disney Junior is selling well across formats and distribution channels. Along with 8x8s and leveled readers, novelty titles have been a highlight, Murphy reported. E-books, many of which are versions of the print books with a read-aloud element, also are achieving sturdy sales levels, she said, “especially those tied to a tentpole moment like a movie event.” Sofia the First, for example, debuted with a made-for-TV movie prior to the series launch.
Not only is Disney Junior performing well for Disney’s vertical publishing operation, but DPW’s licensees, including Bendon, Random House, Reader’s Digest, and Publications International, are also benefiting from the popularity of the brand.
“It’s an incredibly strong license for us, and I sincerely believe it has staying power,” said Ben Ferguson, CEO of Bendon, citing Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First as standouts. “They seem to be leading the pack right now.”
The Disney Junior publishing program is working similarly outside of North America, Murphy reported, noting that Disney Junior magazine – a version of which will debut in the U.S. in 2014 from Redan – is one of the company’s biggest global magazine programs. Available in 30 territories, it is seeing success both in print and digital formats.
The Power of Promotion
Cross-promotions among various Disney divisions are helping maintain awareness for the Disney Junior books. Initiatives have ranged from a Target-exclusive co-pack of the first Sofia picture book with a CD of a song from the show, to a bundling program across all Disney Junior books, in which consumers who buy print titles get a free download of an e-book or app. Of the latter, Murphy said, “We did a test at Disney Stores earlier this year and they were some of the top-selling books ever in the stores.” That positive response led the company to expand the program across all tiers of distribution.
“The Channel really supports what we’re doing,” Murphy added. For example, it features a series of three- to four-minute promotional interstitials called Disney Junior Field Trips that highlight Disney-branded products and adventures, including Disney Junior book titles. The short films air three to four times a day, generating more than one million impressions each time. “That’s incredible exposure for reading and books,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile, Disney Junior books and licensed products are often cross-merchandised in stores, thanks to the efforts of an integrated marketing team that consists of book specialists and experts from the various consumer products categories.
All of the properties under the Disney Junior banner complement rather than compete with one another, according to Murphy, who noted that each has its own theme, such as nurturing for Doc McStuffins or adventure for Jake and the Never Land Pirates. “They each have a unique proposition,” she said. “That’s why they can be successful together out there.”