Can Disney Attract Boys?


Thanks to tween sensations like Lizzie McGuire
superstar Hilary Duff and That's So Raven
star Raven, Disney Channel is flush with red-hot programming for girls. But what's a boy to do? Disney's answer is Phil of the Future, an upcoming live-action series starring 17-year-old Ricky Ullman. The show, slated for a first quarter 2004 debut, features 2121 Phil as a teen who gets stuck in the present when his time machine breaks down. Disney Channel President Rich Ross says Phil
will be more "gender-neutral" than the net's current hits.

Lizzie McGuire
and That's So Raven
"ended up being back to back, and they have become ubiquitous for kids and certainly girls," Ross says. But he contends that Ullman has the star potential to "join the pantheon of Hilary and Raven in terms of mega-stars."

The timing is good for a new show. After making a feature-film version of Lizzie, Duff is moving on. Disney still has a few original episodes left to debut and will continue to replay the show. That's So Raven
is fresher. The show debuted earlier this year—it immediately became one of Disney's highest-rated shows—and is currently shooting its second season.

Phil of the Future is an important addition for Disney. The network is on a ratings tear. Its 1.7 household average in prime for the second quarter was among the best on cable. Its research shows that 60% of Disney's young viewers are girls, with more boys tuning into rivals Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. To be a player, Disney needs to deliver a balanced audience that evens the sexes. The net says its boy numbers are already coming up, and that's pre-Phil.

Disney doesn't have to fret over satisfying advertisers with its demos and ratings. Because of distribution deals with MSOs, the network doesn't run traditional 30-second spots but accepts "sponsorships" from companies like McDonald's.