But the kids understood better than anyone the TV's magic. We sat closest -- prostrate on the shag carpets of America, heads cupped in hands, eye locked upwards in total devotion. We knew an ideal parent when we saw one. If we could have walked through the screen, we would have. We wanted in there.
And so the crumbling of that totem of 20th-century life is momentous. No one gets that more than one of the driving forces of kid TV for decades -- Disney. I was talking with a senior Disney digital executive about the new patterns of kid media consumption months ago and she told me their research had long been showing how little kids cared anymore what screen they were using to access this content. The new evening ritual has as much to do with kids snatching mom's tablet when she comes home. Disney has been programming with this in mind for over a year. Many mobilistas don't realize that Disney is actually one of the biggest suppliers of mobile games in the ecosystem. They have literally hundreds of titles on iOS and Android. Their Disney Channel apps also are brimming with time-shifted programming
The new Disney Movies app is an attempt to port another aspect of modern TV ritual to the app environment -- movie collections. The stack of VHS and DVD Disney titles that flank most family TVs is being packed into a movie app where users can maintain and build a digital Disney collection. The app is connected to your iTunes account in a way that is new and interesting in its own right. When I tied my Disney app to my iTunes account the app recognized that I had purchased "Pirates of the Caribbean" from Apple years ago and planted it in my library. Likewise, I can now buy from a Disney library of 400-plus films directly in the app and have it charged to my Apple account. This is a bit different from the typical in-app purchase, in that it creates this reciprocal link between the publisher's app library and your iTunes library. I also wonder if there is some testing of an extended m-payments solution going on here where an iTunes account can be used more flexibly for charging a wider range of goods. As an m-payments powerhouse, this is one of Apple's critical advantages. It has hundreds of millions of credit card numbers already.
But back to the Disney app. It is trying to make the case for using an app as a kind of DVD collection. It adds value to convince the customers there is a reason to access Disney via the dedicated app rather than just running purchased copies via iTunes directly. The movies can be downloaded to the device, which is important to traveling families. Many of the films come with additional assets like theatrical shorts and behind the scenes videos. Parents can put film ratings filters on the library so kids of certain ages are limited in what they can view. And you can also use the packed-in digital download codes in most Disney DVD/BD discs to add these titles to your library. And there is also a loyalty rewards program.
I have to admit that after all of these years I still find the Disney machine dazzling in its sophistication. These folks understand how to calibrate promotion, entertainment, value adds into some kind of seamless experience that only feels pitchy and creaky when the company goes through its inevitable trough periods of diminished creativity. But when the basic characters and film assets are as strong as they have been again in recent years, ad and content are as one.
Whether Disney will succeed in app-ifying the DVD ritual that itself supplanted the live TV ritual for kids decades ago
remains to be seen. That they understand how fundamentally media consumption is shifting with this generation of kids is revealing in itself.
TV ain't what it used to be. In short order, straight-to-app “TV” content may be an important part of the media economy. Somehow, coursing through all of these changes is a Disney content and marketing machine that is as relentless and adaptive as it is seamless. It reminds me of that 60s childhood prone on the living room rug on Sunday nights watching Walt introduce the Wonderful World of Disney.
Corporate chief, hour-long ad, prime-time entertainment, theme-park branding -- all wrapped into prime-time packages that blurred all lines among those categories of content. “Native advertising?” Bosh! Much of what passes as “innovative” in media models can't even hold a candle to what Disney was doing in our living rooms decades ago.