Diversity is top of mind at the upfronts this year, and Disney brought the conversation center stage during its virtual upfronts presentation on Tuesday.
The media giant announced new initiatives to invest in more multicultural content.
“When it comes to this year, we want every partnership — every single one — to have multicultural commitments, as well as inclusive creative,” Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales and partnerships, said during a press briefing ahead of the upfronts presentation. “For this upfront, we are making it easier for brands to get on board and walk the walk with us.”
One such initiative is the Disney Culture Index, which will score cultural resonance in branded content and advertising based on cultural relevance, business outcomes and inclusive casting.
“We are doubling down on our dynamic storytelling of the past and telling meaningful stories where all audiences feel seen,” Ferro said. “When brands lean into the strategy, it resonates big.”
Disney also announced the launch of the Onyx Collective, a content brand by creators of color primarily on Hulu. The hub, led by Freefrom president Tara Duncan, will include an adaptation of The 1619 Project, based on Nikole Hannah-Jones’ New York Times’ editorial project, and Summer of Soul (or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised), Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson's doc about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
Underrepresented stories will be told throughout Disney’s multiple brands and platforms. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, ESPN will air a collection of 50 stories about women in sports and society. Other upcoming ESPN titles include The Captain, a docu-series about baseball star Derek Jeter and Once Upon a Time in Queens, which chronicles the New York Mets’ 1986 World Series championship.
ESPN-owned sports and pop culture website The Undefeated also teamed up with Getty Images to create a visual series spotlighting historical moments in Black culture. And NatGeo partnered with Minorities in Shark Science in a pledge to feature diverse researchers and scientists in its shark programming. NatGeo also donated a $50,000 scholarship to Fort Valley State University, the alma mater of Critter Fixers: Country Vets’ stars Dr. Terrence Ferguson and Dr. Vernard Hodges.
Disney’s reach across multiple platforms was a huge selling point during the upfront. “We have maximum flexibility in determining when, and on which platform, content will be available,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney media and entertainment distribution.
And advertisers have large audiences to target. Hulu’s viewership increased 67% to 103 million in 2020. With ESPN, live sports are a huge draw for Disney, which reaches 200 million viewers across streaming, linear and digital platforms with its live sports programming. Streaming of college football games were up 40% from the prior year.
As for FX, the network touted its skyrocketing viewership, which increased by an average of 55% between broadcast seasons, thanks to the FX hub on Hulu. Comedy series Dave became FX’s most watched new series in history on Hulu, and What We Do in the Shadows nearly doubled its audience between seasons.
FX announced it will increase its lineup to 35 shows a year across FX, FXX and Hulu, with an emphasis on diversity.
“We are proud that FX’s programming reflects our world and is reflective of the artists that make those shows,” said FX chairman John Landgraf.
But, the Disney upfront wasn’t without some laughs. Jimmy Kimmel closed out the presentation with a biting monologue mocking network TV — including his own ABC.
In March, Disney announced a suite of new products to automate its ad sales business across linear and digital platforms including Disney Select, a product that places ads based on buyer behavior, household characteristics and psychographics, and
Disney Real-Time Ad Exchange (DRAX), a programmatic buying system that allows real-time bids to compete alongside direct-sold and programmatic-guaranteed inventory.