We knew going in that Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2" was going to be the Super Bowl for kids this year. And in landing as the most-watched single telecast in the history of the medium among kids 6-11, it's fair to say that Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay and the rest of the East High gang didn't disappoint.
This time around, there were were nearly 10% more boys and a whole lot more adults tuning in to the tuner. Among the 6.1 million kids in the 6-11 age range, the gender breakdown for the Friday premiere airing was 62% girls, 38% boys, compared to a 70-30 split for "High School Musical," which became a not-so-sleeper hit early last year. This past Friday night, two out of three kids who were watching TV were tuned to "HSM2." In the girls 6-11, the audience share was an astounding 80, translating to four out of five girls in the vicinity of a TV set, as Variety's Rick Kissell reports in his detailed look at "HSM2's" perf. (And just wait until the Live-Plus-7 numbers accounting for a week's worth of DVR playback viewing roll in next week...)
But of all the impressive stats generated by the sequel, the sweetest number for Disney Channel stewards may be the fact that one-third of the telepic's aud was comprised of adults 18 and over. The number of young adults (18-34s) and older-younger adults (18-49s) who watched stand as empirical evidence for Disney Channel programming execs that their master plan is working. For a network oriented around grade-schoolers, engaging the attention of voting-age viewers is a coup. Getting kids and moms and dads to all sit still at the same time and gather round the electronic hearth as in the days of yesteryear and three networks (NBC, CBS and DuMont) is an absolute slam dunk in our frantically fragmented age, even even for a commercial-free cabler that isn't worried about selling soap.
For the Friday premiere alone, "HSM2" drew 2 million adults 18-49 and some 4.6 million adults 18-49 -- most of them on the distaff side (1.6 million in women 18-34 and 3.4 million in women 18-49). Given that the pic overall drew an cable record-busting average of 17.24 million viewers, it's clear that there were also a fair number of parents and grandparents and probably even kid-less adults on the other side of 49 who were tapping their toes on Friday night.
"It's one of the things that is unique about our content. It's built to entertain kids but it always has a strong family entry point," says Scott Garner (pictured right), Disney Channel's senior veep of programming. "It goes for our youngest (animated) shows and for our older (live-action) shows. There's always a mother or father involved in a significant way in the storytelling. We have real kids, in extraordinary situations, but they have real problems in our shows."
There's always a lot of thought given to the portrayals of moms and dads and other nuclear family members shown in the orbit of the lead character. They try to stand vigilant against two-dimensional June Cleaver moms and buffoonish dads. Garner cites Disney's "Hannah Montana" and "Cory in the House" are shows that often have stories involving parents sometimes struggling with challenges and issues that can't help but affect their families.
"We think it's important...to give kids a look at real life in our programs. They can see themselves in the stories and it can inspire kids and parents to open up a dialogue," Garner says. "That's where good storytelling really comes into play. You have to give dimensionality to all the characters."
It's a harder task in a telepic like "HSM2," but even this movie has a strong father-son relationship on display between Zac Efron's coolest-kid-in-school character Troy and his father, and even the spoiled-little-rich-girl Sharpay gets generally sound guidance from her yoga-loving mother. Just as kids gravitate toward characters they can relate to, so do parents, Garner observes.
"It definitely helps our repeat-ability factor that there's a universal quality to our programming," he says. "It hearkens back to the heart of the Disney brand."
(To the credit of Disney Channel honchos Rich Ross and Gary Marsh and their team, they did knew what they had even before "HSM" premiered in January 2006. They held a press breakfast strictly to tout the telepic about a month before its premiere, where Marsh assured us cranky reporters that "HSM" was gonna be big with the kids. I heard them out and soaked up all the Disney swag they offered -- it was near the holidays, after all -- but I left the hotel thinking that an old-fashioned musical was off base for today's kids.)
As for why the boys turned out in stronger numbers this time around, Garner points to the general phenomenon of "HSM" and also the sports theme surrounding Troy and his basketball pursuits. And he wrestled with sports-versus-singing in the first pic, which established his guy bona fides. ("HSM2" adds a baseball theme to the mix as well as a plot involving Zac's single-minded pursuit of a basketball college scholarship.) From the time the first one first one hit, I've thought of Efron as a new-model Mickey Rooney -- a triple threat with raw talent to spare.
"He's an aspirational character for the boys. For girls he's cute, but for the boys, he's the one they want to be like. Having an emotional touchpoint that boys can relate to is one of the best qualities of this movie."