Disney, going less chunky?

Disney Disney is moving briskly away from long tail and chunky strategies. Yesterday, it appointed its president of marketing, Oren Aviv, as president of production.

So how mass is Aviv?  Completely, by the looks of things.  He has been assigned the task of slimming down the number of Disney movies from 18 to 12.  He will reduce the edgier, more adult, Touchstone to one or two pictures a year.

Disney and Aviv are now looking movies "four quadrant" films, like Pirates, that appeal across what Adage calls "the broadest demographics."  When Aviv was asked by the Hollywood Reporter what constituted a Disney picture, he referred to G to PG-13 ratings, movies that speak to the "whole family," and movies "have appeal across the board."

It is all very well to start mass.  This was the way that Hollywood succeeded in the first place.  It refused arty and avant garde strategies for movies that played it straight down the middle.  But things have changed.  It is not clear there is any mass now to court. Even if there were, it’s not clear Hollywood could craft the blockbusters of yesteryear.  (As I was pointing out a couple of days ago, Disney very nearly rejected one of the most appealing things about Pirates.)

No, in a perfect world, I think, you want to balance your portfolio. Maybe lay some bets in the long tail world of indie production.  You never know, you might back a sleeper hit.  Certainly, lay some bets on the chunkier world of the mid size film.  This strikes a balance between the big talent that only Hollywood can afford with a certain freedom of topic and treatment that will speak first to a chuck of the market, and then perhaps the whole darn thing.  Let’s face it, it’s much easier to find a sleeper in this terrain than in the long tail world. 

We observe with interest that the woman Aviv replaces, Nina Jacobson, an eight-year Disney veteran, has been connected to some very chunky projects, including The Sixth Sense, Remember the Titans, the Princess Diaries, Twelve Monkeys, Dazed and Confused.  The Hollywood Reporter says that Jacobson was thinking of getting Disney into the horror genre, which is very chunky when it isn’t long tail.

Aviv sometimes makes chunky noises, as when he says that Narnia destroyed King Kong by getting at the "organic elements speaking to specific audiences," specifically kids (with the child actors), teens (with the special effects) and readers of the 70 million Narnia books published. I guess this is a sort of umbrella strategy.  It’s starts mass and reaches down into chunky marketing with specific appeals to particular audiences.  And then it goes after these chunks with very specific, chunky marketing strategies.  And perhaps this is a good way to have one’s cake and eat it too. 

But I think it’s just as possible that Disney has hired a marketing guy at the very moment marketing is demonstrating an inability to deal with the fragmentation of the new marketplace (filmic and otherwise).  This marketing guy has all the old instincts, and he’s acting on them.  He is pursuing the fattest part of the market when most of these sweet spots are ephiphenomenal, simple aggregations of smaller pieces.  You can talk to them, but no one much cares for the blandness that results.  (And let’s be honest, there will come a time not so far from now that Hollywood burns through the children’s book and superheroes on which mass proposition now largely depend). 

Well, we shall see.  Mr. Aviv’s candidacy will be a very interesting test.

References

Crabtree. Sheigh.  2006. Aviv establishes first task: what is Dis?  The Hollywood Reporter.  July 20, 2006, p. 4.  (subscription required)  here.

Stanley, T.L.  2006.  Disney Elevates Marketing Exec Oren Aviv to Head Production.  July 20, 2006.  (subscription required) here.