Disney Sings a New Song

My nephew's not happy. His plans to go catch Superbad tonight on the big screen have come undone. His girlfriend is taking him to a High School Musical 2 watch party instead. And they're not alone; countless teens have been counting down to the Disney Channel sequel for months.

The original High School Musical has certainly helped Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) find its voice in kid-appealing programming. Some of the stats that CEO Bob Iger noted during this month's conference call were pretty mind-blowing.

  • High School Musical has been seen by more than 160 million viewers worldwide.
  • More than 7 million soundtracks have been sold.
  • 7.8 million DVD copies have been purchased, pretty impressive for something that cable subscribers can watch for free.
  • 4.5 million musical-related books have been purchased.

Maybe it's too early to call the original this generation's version of Grease, but Disney is going to run with it while the going is good. This morning's Wall Street Journal claims that "the franchise is expected to generate a total of $100 million of profit in 2006 and 2007."

It's not just about the multi-media market success of the film and its songs. Licensed merchandise, traveling "on ice" shows, theme park stage shows, and even new international versions have given the brand a lot of weight in Disney.

It better hope that tonight's follow-up is well-received, because it's already gearing up for a third, bigger-budget movie for theatrical release next year.

I have to admit that I was wrong to poke fun at Radio Disney. "You're trying to canvas the country with Radio Disney, yet you insult the audible intelligence of kids by doing so on lousy-sounding AM radio," I wrote five years ago.

Then again, that was a time when Disney's musical ambitions ran as big as the occasional soundtrack surprise. Its biggest recording artist at the time was SHeDAISY. Disney's on fire these days. Two different Hannah Montana CDs have hit the top spot on Billboard this year. And High School Musical 2's soundtrack has been so anxiously anticipated that it became part of an exclusive back-to-school promotion at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) .

And, yes, now that I have the luxury of listening to Radio Disney in digital splendor through both Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) and XM (Nasdaq: XMSR  ) , I'm starting to realize why sugary-sweet bubblegum pop didn't sit well with me through the tinny streams of AM. It's just always that bad.

Then again, who am I to judge? Kids are the ones with the bucks, and they love this as much as they are counting on Disney to resurrect The Jonas Brothers' career.

So as badly as I feel for my nephew, I know that there are Disney bean counters -- most older than me -- who will be singing along tonight, knowing that words sound a lot like money when sung by a hit franchise.

Disney is a recommendation in the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service. Wal-Mart is an opportunistic pick in Inside Value. Want to improve your stock-picking voice? Grab 30 days of free lessons with trial subscription offers to either service.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz will try hard not to be near Disney Channel tonight, though curiosity may get the better of him. (Like most kids, his dreams of becoming a member of the Mickey Mouse Club proved fruitless.) He owns shares in Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and it's got a crisper singing voice than Miley Cyrus.


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