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Disney's Media Blitz to Save "Star Wars" Land Has a Slow Start

By Rick Munarriz – Sep 25, 2019 at 11:15AM

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The first day of the broadcast and cable network takeover by Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge to promote Disneyland and Disney World feels more like a take-under.

The weeklong takeover of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge across most of Disney's (DIS 2.04%) media assets began with a whimper instead of a bang. The lone mention of the 14-acre Star Wars-themed attraction during Tuesday morning's Live with Kelly and Ryan on ABC was drowned out by audience applause. The scripted theme park plug later that night on black-ish felt a bit forced.

Disney surprised investors last month by revealing that attendance declined during its fiscal third quarter despite Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opening at the original Disneyland in California halfway through the period. With signs suggesting that the sluggish turnstile trends continue in the current quarter despite the expansion now open at both parks, it's not a surprise to see Disney call in some favors through its owned networks, including ABC, Disney Channel, Freeform, Disney Junior, and even ESPN. The media push should help grow awareness of the new land and generate positive buzz, but it did get off to a slow start. 

Disneyland's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge elevated show showing the Millennium Falcon and building that houses the ride.

Image source: Disney.

It's a light saver

Disney probably thought that the deluge of tie-ins would get off to a strong start on the popular ABC morning show hosted by Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest. Making a seven-day trip to Disney World and Disneyland the show's giveaway to a call-in guest on Tuesday's Live with Kelly and Ryan would be an easy way to promote its theme parks and its latest expansion. Things didn't go as planned. The moment that Ripa begins revealing that the prize is a weeklong getaway including stops at Disney World and Disneyland, the audience applause makes the subsequent plug for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge practically inaudible.

It gets worse.

"This prize is valued at approximately $17,000," Ripa says near the end of the plug.

The audience breaks into another round of applause. Seacrest lets out a "Wow." Suddenly you realize that Disney is sending the wrong message by playing up a week at the parks as a $17,000 travel experience, something that's probably not in the impulse travel budget of folks watching a daytime television show on a weekday. "Wow" is right. 

Things get only marginally better on prime time later that day. There's no laugh track drowning out a black-ish coworker talking up a wedding present that includes a visit to Disneyland's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. He's also able to mention Batuu -- the galactic outpost that the themed land inhabits -- as well as the joys of drinking blue milk (a Star Wars staple that is served up at the park). However, the promo feels like a throwaway reference, as it and the coworker are never heard or seen again. 

Things will get better. The costly expansion will receive media mentions on ABC's Modern Family and The Goldbergs on Wednesday night. Disneyland will be featured prominently on The Goldbergs, as the season premiere is a nod to National Lampoon's Vacation with Disney's original theme park filling in for Six Flags Magic Mountain -- err, I mean Walley World. 

The ABC media blitz will only heat up on Thursday with newsy mentions on Good Morning America, The View, Tamron Hall, and Strahan, Sara & Keke. Even Nightline is being recruited to help prop up attendance at the theme parks on Thursday night. The promo push then carries over to Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and even ESPN over the weekend. There will be a two-hour dedicated special on Freeform -- the hardest sell of them all -- but is there anyone really watching Freeform? 

Disney knows that it stumbled in taking a soft approach to marketing what should've been its biggest domestic expansion in more than 20 years. It realizes that you need to earn consumer discretionary dollars, and sometimes you price yourself out of contention in a Star Wars-leaning expansion that initially seemed like a slam dunk. The battle's not over, and now Disney ready to use the force -- and the Force.  

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short October 2019 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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