Almost exactly 20 years ago, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) The Lion King captivated audiences around the world. Since then, the enduring film has sold millions of copies, spawned two direct-to-video sequels, inspired three video games, and even enjoyed a 3-D re-release.
But Disney's not done yet.
Meet Kion, the second-born son of Simba and Nala and the central figure in what's likely to be Disney's most pervasive Lion King follow-up yet.
First, Kion will star in The Lion Guard, a direct-to-TV movie Disney has slated for release on Disney Junior in November 2015. Then, beginning January 2016, Disney will kick off a TV series based on the film.
Before you go rolling your eyes, hear me out. I admit this might sound underwhelming at first, but The Lion Guard is following Disney's well-established formula for success. Specifically, Disney Junior is effectively taking a decades-old, still-popular brand and revitalizing it with a family-friendly spinoff that appeals to its bread-and-butter demographic of kids between the ages of 2 and 7.
When those viewers are hooked, Disney can then focus on The Lion Guard's vast merchandising opportunities, selling everything from toys to apps, books, bedding, apparel, and anything else parents might be inclined to buy bearing the image of the new show their children love so very much.
As the father of a 6-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy, I can attest to the borderline-ridiculous effectiveness of this approach. For all you fellow parents out there, think of the incredible range of products Disney already sells based on Sophia the First, which has ties to nearly every one of Disney's classic princesses. Or consider Jake and the Never Land Pirates, which features cameos by Peter Pan and incorporates a friendly-ish version of Captain Hook as its primary antagonist.
But don't take my word for it. According to Disney's latest annual report, Disney Junior finished 2013 as the No. 1 channel in the U.S. among kids ages 2 to 5. In fact, retail sales for Disney Junior merchandise exceeded $1.8 billion last year. That's not too shabby, considering Disney Junior only made its official debut in March 2012 and, in the words of Disney CEO Robert Iger, "was little more than an interesting idea" three years ago.
Of course, it's worth considering that perhaps The Lion Guard may not be able to sell merchandise on the same level as Disney Junior's existing properties. It is, after all, hard to compete with the classics in princess toys and pirate attire. But it's equally difficult to imagine a scenario in which bringing The Lion Guard to tens of millions of living rooms around the world won't be a net positive for the entertainment conglomerate.
If any company is up to the challenge, it's Disney. And if one thing is certain, it's that Disney's consumer products segment is already hard at work figuring out the best way to capitalize on this little lion.