Disney a perfect fit for tween sector

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Few record labels can truly claim they rule any sector of the marketplace. But Walt Disney Records, beyond being the clear leader in soundtracks, has got the tween-music market nailed.

Last week, Disney took the top four positions and five of the top 10 slots on the soundtracks chart (with sister label Hollywood Records accounting for a sixth top 10 entry). Four of those top four titles were chipper soundtracks for three Disney Channel shows appealing to 6- to 13-year-old listeners: "Hannah Montana," "Cheetah Girls" and the tireless "High School Music."

"Hannah" also topped the Billboard 200 last week, selling 281,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This week, the album holds at No. 1, selling 203,000; it trumped Barry Manilow's debuting "The Greatest Songs of the Sixties" by a mere 1,500 units.

Clearly, Disney is reaching its oft-neglected target audience in a major way. Robert Marick, the label's senior vp and general manager, says: "Part of our success is that this was indeed an ignored demographic. We've made an earnest effort to make Disney music cool again, and we've succeeded -- certainly with our demo."

Not too shabby a way for a label to celebrate a 50th birthday: Walt Disney Records' precursor, Disneyland Records, bowed in November 1956.

As Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar note in their recent "Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records" (University Press of Mississippi), despite its music-driven films and TV shows, Disney made a belated arrival in the business. It was only after the "Disneyland" TV theme "The Ballad of Davey Crockett" became a No. 1 hit for Bill Hayes on Cadence Records (and Fess Parker, the star of the Crockett serial, cut a top five cover for Columbia) and the first "Mickey Mouse Club" records scored for ABC-Paramount that Disneyland albums began to hit shelves.

As recently as the '90s, Disney sold millions of its soundtracks for "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid," but plainly missed some in-house opportunities. Although heavily exposed on the Disney Channel, the latter-day cast of "The Mickey Mouse Club" never issued any albums -- despite the presence of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, who have sold a few records since.

Today, Disney's cross-marketing is so scientific that Walt Disney -- the mogul who developed multiple-platform marketing into a fine art -- would surely approve.

The "High School Musical" soundtrack -- the biggest 2006 release to date with 3.2 million sold, and still a top 50 Billboard 200 album -- was stoked by 15 Disney Channel airings and constant Radio Disney airplay. Yet another sales spurt can be expected after a two-month tour featuring the film's stars begins Nov. 29 in San Diego.

"Hannah" premiered in March, with new series episodes churning forth since then. Digital downloads of the show's songs were a steady prerelease seller, and six tracks have reached Billboard's Hot 100 with no airplay beyond Radio Disney. The show's young star Miley Cyrus opened for the "Cheetah Girls" tour. She will likely headline her own tour in the future -- and, Marick suggests, she will move from the Disney Records "farm team" to the more adult-oriented Hollywood Records, like precursor Hilary Duff of "Lizzie McGuire."

Synergy, anyone? Says Marick: "This has been the culmination of building our business. Four years ago, we made a conscious decision to be not a children's music label, but a family music label."
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