In 2006, Disney’s Pixar released the hit movie Cars, which grossed $462 million worldwide. Since then, Cars merchandise has generated over $2 billion in sales each year. Pixar has since created a series of Cars shorts to be aired on the Disney Channel with a subsequent DVD release. A Cars sequel was released in 2011. In 2012, Disney’s California Adventure theme park will open its 12-acre Cars Land attraction.
At Disney, the brand is the name of the game, and the cross-platform success of the Cars franchise is by no means the exception to the rule. Disney also has the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, High School Musical, the Disney Princesses, Pirates of the Caribbean … the list goes on and on. The man behind the magic is Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, who has led a dramatic revitalization of the Disney brand since succeeding long time head Michael Eisner in 2005. When he took the post, he shifted Disney’s focus to its stable of “franchises.” These franchises are distributed across Disney’s multiple company platforms and divisions, such as Disney’s various television broadcast platforms (the Disney Channel, ABC, ESPN), its consumer products business, theme parks, Disney’s Hollywood Records music label, and Disney’s publishing arm Hyperion, to name a few.
Iger’s franchise strategy has been supported by the other major move he made when he became CEO. His first day on the job, Iger told the board that revitalizing Disney’s animation business was a top priority. This would involve purchasing Pixar. As part of Iger’s franchise strategy, the deal made perfect sense, for many of Disney’s more recent TV shows, Disneyland rides, and merchandise offerings were based on Pixar characters.
Finding a new market for the Disney franchise became a priority as well. The Disney brand was growing flat, and it was becoming clear that Disney had missed some opportunities for broader success as the result of a narrowing of its target market, which was at the time largely associated with younger children.
Iger’s first move was to broaden Disney’s viewership by moving the Disney Channel from premium to basic cable and launching local versions in key global markets. Then, Disney began pushing franchises to capture the rapidly growing tween market. By throwing its support behind the Disney Channel’s High School Musical, Hannah Montana, and the Jonas Brothers, who were emerging out of Disney’s music label, Disney quickly generated a series of franchise juggernauts in the tween girl market.