Empires of Entertainment: Buying Your Disney Ticket Over Televsion

Following the Fin-Syn repeal broadcasters were able to own their programming and the rights to its syndication. Without this barrier, film production companies and broadcast could merge with one another and the broadcast channel could increase the output of their own original programming. Film companies, who had financial resources, could shuffle their original and new content off to the broadcasters that could produce results in ancillary markets. The merger between ABC and Disney proved to be one that would further support Disney’s domination in both feature films, animated films and later on the gaming industry. But the business practices of both companies prior to the merger paved the way for its success.

ABC, like the other three major networks was, “prohibited from operating cable systems since 1970, when the network/cable cross ownership rules were adopted. They were not, however prevented from ownership in cable programming services (channels)…” but ABC was smart in acquiring channels (Holt 67). Following the repeal of Fin-Syn they were able to export their programming to other channels and begin crafting their own brand name.  This not only gives them resources for their own content but provides them as a pathway for other forms of entertainment and content to pass through.

Disney’s success was well underway before the merger and when Michael Eisner took the helm in 1984, the company was propelled forwarded with a renewed sense of childhood entertainment. Emphasis was placed on the theme parks, marketable products that signified Disney and their successful cadre of animated features. Disney knew the potential of its marketability for mainstream entertainment, read children’s entertainment, but diversified the company and its film output by acquiring Miramax in 1993.

Disney had beefed up its content creation while ABC had done the same with distribution. It was no surprise that the two companies would merge in 1995. Not only was Eisner a former ABC programming executive but also ABC and Disney had a good working relationship in the past. Both companies had collaborated on a television series that focused on Disneyland, the flagship playground for any Disney entertainment enthusiast. Aside from being successful for both parties, Hold found that “It also ushered in a new era of cooperation and collaboration between the film and television industries,” (Holt 157). This success of this collaboration wasn’t soon to be ignored either as Disney and ABC both tried to emulate this venture at least three times in the future.

Full House Disney Episode

Showcasing what families could do               throughout the episode

Full House began airing on ABC in 1988 and featured a successful run with the show ending in 1995. The show featured a widowed father and his two friends as they try to raise the man’s three daughters. In a two-part finale of the sixth season the whole cast travels to Walt Disney World and the large cast experiences the trip in many different ways. “Uncle Joey” goes to the animation studios and meets a real life animator who draws him. DJ sees her ex-boyfriend in all the costumed characters in the park and Michelle experiences several different Disney themed attractions. Some stories are universal while others are obtuse but the fact remains that the physical location of Walt Disney World is who is acting during the who two-part finale. Using airtime to promote the the two part finale isn’t new to Disney and this wasn’t the last time they would do it. It is important to note that this episode was produced before the merger but still explains the relationship between ABC and Disney

Step-by-Step, a similar family drama that also ran on ABC also experienced a Walt Disney Themed episode in 1996 following the merger of ABC and Disney. The blended family all travels to the Walt Disney World and the Walt Disney Resort both showing off the attractions and the accommodations.   One character accepts the challenged to be the person who has ridden the most amounts of rides in the park at once. Again showcasing the theme park and its rides.

The third example of this promotion comes from an episode of Boy Meets World in 1996.  In the episode, Cory travels all the way to the Walt Disney World to confess his love to Topanga and win her back. Much like the other two episodes he spends his time exploring the park. If I were a betting man I would say that Girl Meets World would have a Walt Disney World themed episode too. And the example of this occurring in sitcoms is endless. ABC’s The Middle just had an episode with the same plot line.

The increase in Disney themed episodes were and are characteristic of deregulation that enabled film production companies and broadcast networks to merger and begin collaborating on content that promoted content. Synergy between broadcasters and film production companies will signify the continuation of a certain ideology. In all of the episodes mentioned earlier themes of love and friendship were explored but within the location of Disney. There is a commonality between these products that is both recognizable and unfortunately unforgettable. Viewers remember these specific episodes of these sitcoms because there is sometime outside of themselves within them. Something foreign that captures the audience’s attention and acts as a sign for theme parks, for entertainment and for childhood.  Additionally, all the characters are taking out of their original settings, some are given arbitrary plot lines but all are given the specific task of selling you activities. Holt comments that the merger between ABC and Disney “…established the blueprint for most media conglomerates that were formed in its wake. From this point on, the “must have” list for every entertainment empire included both a film studio and a broadcast network, in addition to extensive cable properties,” highlighting the importance of the diversified content and distribution (Holt 158). The entertainment industry has become multifaceted and more explosive in the past couple of years and companies will compete to keep up with consumer trends and technological advancements. While the future of Disney may be moving to a Galaxy Far, Far Away its impact on television film and gaming entertainment will be very much present.

Holt, Elizabeth. Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation. Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.

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Comments

  1. I wish I had thought of this. It is a great connection to Holt’s book. You chose examples closer to the timeline of Empires of Entertainment, but your argument holds true today. I saw an episode of Modern Family playing last week that was set in Disneyland. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of media convergence that we could talk about tomorrow, but I particularly like this one. Marketers can be so sneaky.

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