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"Camp Rock": Another Disney Channel Summer Blockbuster

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With the official premiere of Camp Rock on Friday, Disney Channel will pull off the neat trick of presenting the programming event of the summer on the actual summer solstice. It is more than likely that the movie's arrival and the multi-media extravaganza Disney has in place to instantly propel its newest franchise into the pop-culture stratosphere throughout the weekend will excite more viewers and garner higher ratings than anything else on television between now and the start of the 2008-09 season (and later if SAG goes on strike come July).

A couple of caveats before I proceed: First, many people might be moved to point out that the collective telecasts of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in August on the networks of NBC will be entitled to bragging rights as the television event of the summer. In terms of viewer volume the Olympics will indeed be bigger, but millions of kids and tweens won't be lying awake at night in feverish anticipation of their arrival during the run up to the Games, and they won't continue to obsess over them months after they conclude. Second, while Friday will bring with it the official premiere of Camp Rock on Disney Channel, the movie is already available on Disney Channel's On Demand service on a few cable systems. Further, hundreds of kids saw it last week on the big screen at the legendary Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City during the kind of super-sized movie premiere generally reserved for significant theatrical films. After watching hordes of screaming girls clog West 54th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, all screaming for and straining to see the movie's stars, it isn't much of a stretch to assert that if Camp Rock were opening in theaters this weekend it would be a formidable contender for the No. 1 spot.

Disney Channels Worldwide President Rich Ross; Joe Jonas; Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television Group Anne Sweeney; Nick Jonas; Kevin Jonas.
Disney Channels Worldwide President Rich Ross; Joe Jonas; Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television Group Anne Sweeney; Nick Jonas; Kevin Jonas.

Movie theaters are about the only places Camp Rock will not be available in the days ahead. Following its Disney Channel debut on Friday at 8 p.m. (with a simulcast on Radio Disney), Rock will make its broadcast premiere Saturday on ABC at 8 p.m. (preceded on Radio Disney at 7 p.m. by the debut of the movie's sure-to-be-a-smash soundtrack), then hop back to cable on Sunday with a showing on ABC Family, also at 8 p.m. The launch phase of the Camp Rock media saturation plan concludes Monday with a special streaming of the movie at Disney.com.

Of course, the fuel in the engine of the Camp Rock rocket is the Jonas Brothers, a tween-dream band that was signed last year to the Disney label Hollywood Records. Joe Jonas, widely regarded as the most model-handsome of the trio, is the male star of the film (opposite talented young Demi Lovato), and brothers Nick and Kevin co-star in lesser roles. Joe gets to sing solo, but all three Jo Bros get to sing together, too.

Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas at the "Camp Rock" premiere in New York City.
Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas at the "Camp Rock" premiere in New York City.

All the attendant excitement surrounding the arrival of Camp Rock and its designation as the programming event of the summer already feels like a rerun in the making. That's because last summer's biggest buzz belonged to High School Musical 2, which debuted on Disney Channel on August 17 and became the most watched program in basic cable television history. (A third High School Musical movie will debut this fall in movie theaters.)

In writing about the HSM2 phenomenon, I suggested that the audience for its premiere might have been even larger had it debuted on Disney Channel's big broadcast sibling. With the presentation this Saturday of Camp Rock on ABC it seems Disney is at least testing those waters. Friday's opening night on cable is going to be huge, and Saturday is the loneliest night of the week in broadcast television, so any analysis of Rock's ratings results on ABC will have to take those factors into consideration.

Given the huge response to the HSM movies, Camp Rock and so many other Disney Channel franchises, in particular Hannah Montana, a theatrical movie version of which is currently filming in Tennessee, I have to wonder why ABC and the other broadcasters continue to avoid developing original and compelling fare for kids, tweens and young teens. I know that millions of viewers in those demographics watch American Idol, The Simpsons, America's Next Top Model and other broadcast shows, but that simply isn't the same when you consider the extremely long tails at the end of so many new Disney Channel programs. Nickelodeon is no slouch in that department, either. Waiting in line with JackMyers.com teen correspondent Maya Motavalli at the Camp Rock premiere last week, I asked many of the screaming tweens around me to name their favorite television show. Every one of them answered "iCarly!", a hit Nickelodeon series. That came as no surprise to me, since Maya talks about it constantly and refers to it as "the most interactive show on television." (Kids are invited to send in home-made videos that might be featured on the show's show-within-a-show.)

As a member of the television generation, my childhood memories are filled with moments from broadcast shows that were created for and targeted to kids when I was a kid, on Saturday mornings and in primetime. More recently (in the Eighties and Nineties), ABC strived to program stridently kid-friendly shows at 8 p.m. (Full House, Family Matters, etc.), even branding an entire Friday night block around the genre (known as TGIF). But interest in kids shows declined near the end of the last decade when Hollywood suddenly filled up with a generation of twenty-something writers who seemed to have no working knowledge of childhood or how to communicate with children. (How might we explain so grievous a creative collapse? Were these writers hatched at age 21?)

Thankfully, Disney Channel has made childhood and adolescence cool again. Given the outsize success it is enjoying with shows that cost less, last longer and make more money than much of what we see on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW, I wonder why broadcast television largely continues to ignore this burgeoning profit center, one that seems only to become increasingly empowered by the growth of digital media (where kids get all their essential entertainment info these days) rather than increasingly compromised by same?

Do you think I'm overstating the case? Then consider this: There will be more conversation about Camp Rock in more households this weekend between kids, tweens, teens and their parents -- the latter largely fixed at the center of the all-important 18-49 demographic -- than there will be about any of the new series the broadcast networks present next season. The same may be true of the upcoming Disney Channel series J.O.N.A.S.!, starring you-know-who.

Be sure to read Camp Rock Takes Kids' Music to New Heights.

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