Disney and Rebels – You’re Killin’ Me Smalls

SandlotGonna get a little controversial here so buckle up…

When Disney finalized the purchase of the Star Wars license they made the controversial decision to cancel the hit series, The Clone Wars, on Cartoon Network.  Disney execs decided they needed a new show with closer ties to the Original Trilogy which would play a vital part in the upcoming Sequel Trilogy hitting theaters in December 2015.  Supervising Director of The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni, and his creative team were tasked with developing a new series which would broadcast on Disney’s boy-centric DisneyXD network.

Exit Clone Wars Enter Rebels

For the past two weeks Disney was busy touting the viewership numbers for Star Wars Rebels, with good reason.  The 1 hour movie premiere on Disney Channel had an estimated 6.5 million viewers worldwide, with another 75,000 watching Spark of Rebellion via the Watch DisneyXD app or iTunes.  When the show made its move to DisneyXD with the broadcast of Droids In Distress, it still managed to bring in some 1.03 million viewers in the US making it the biggest animated premiere on DisneyXD, and its biggest animated show of the new Fall season.  Despite what appeared to be impressive numbers, there was something nagging at me.  The numbers looked soft.

Some Bad Signs…

Star-Wars-Rebels-CrewFrom its premiere on the Disney Channel to DisneyXD the show dropped over 62% of its total viewers.  That number may appear a bit alarming at first glance, but when you consider the Disney Channel is available on approximately 90% cable/satellite providers while DisneyXD is only carried by 68% of all providers, the drop off appears to make some sense, but if you looked deeper into the Nielsen numbers by demographics there were some very bad trends.

According to Nielsen, of all kids 6-11 who watched the DisneyXD premiere, Droids In Distress, approximately 25% of them were girls.  A number of fans touted the number as a good sign that the franchise was making inroads with young female viewers.  Unfortunately the actual number is far less impressive… Of all viewers ages 6-11 only 73,000 of them were girls.  What’s worse is the total number of female viewers from week one on Disney channel to week two on DisneyXD had cratered dropping about 78%.

Then the news got worse…

Wait, Star Wars Is On?

InquisitorLate last night, Amanda Kondolojy, reporter for TV BytheNumbers. posted the overnight Nielsen ratings for Star Wars Rebels, and they weren’t good:

STAR WARS REBELS DXD 9:00 PM 581 0.1

Not only had Rebels shed over half of its viewers from week one to week two, but now the show had shed another 40% of its total viewership.  Now to be fair these numbers are up about 100 thousand viewers from the same time last year (and I’m sure Disney will spin them as such), but this is Star Wars we are talking about, and this is supposed to be a franchise you were using to lure large numbers of viewers to the DisneyXD network.  Even adding the total number of viewers from the Watch DisneyXD app and iTunes only adds around another 70 to 80 thousand viewers to the total numbers.

So What Happened?

The Network – I’ll be honest, before Rebels was announced I had only watched a handful of shows on DisneyXD over the years, and this is coming from as big a Disney fanatic as I am a Star Wars fan.  The programming is just fairly generic and not terribly original.  For years the network had struggled but over the past couple of years the network has produced a small number of hits like Kickin’ It and Pair of Kings.  With the purchase of the Marvel and Star Wars licenses network executives hoped to lure new viewers with both properties.Disney XD

However there’s one slight problem.  As I mentioned before, many cable/satellite carriers refuse to pay Disney’s expensive prices to broadcast all of their cable channels.  Most providers seem fairly content to simply offer the Disney Channel and ABC Family and be done with it.  The lack of available viewers could really hurt the shows’ prospects long term.

The Time: Star Wars Rebels airs at 9PM on Monday evenings… incredibly brilliant.  Air a show aimed at younger fans late on a school night?  Good call.  I’d really like to know what genius at Disney thought this was a good idea.  While The Clone Wars briefly had a 9PM time slot as well that was on Friday evening… big difference.

Ties to the Past – Rebels has been trying to find this balance as a functioning bridge between the two Star Wars trilogies.  However, the show is steeped, too much in my opinion, in the lore of the Original Trilogy.  Again, to be fair, it is only natural as we are much closer to the events of A New Hope than Revenge of the Sith, and the nostalgia trip is great for older fans watching the show.  However, for younger fans the inside jokes and call backs to old Ralph McQuarrie designs and Kenner toys probably fall a little flat.  For the past 15 years fans 20 and younger grew up with the Prequels and The Clone Wars… to them, that is Star Wars.  The show’s creators probably would have been better served by having one of the crew members of the Ghost be a character from The Clone Wars, or have a recurring character from that show be a link for younger fans.

The Gender Gap – Finally, we come to the 800 pound Gundark in the room… Star Wars and gender.

As a child of the 70s, Star Wars was definitely geared toward boys back in the day.  Sure there were female fans who loved the feisty Princess Leia, and to a large degree boys liked her too (I had a really cool Princess Leia t-shirt myself), but most kids at the time saw Star Wars as “for boys.”  The toys were geared toward boys, the books, the comics, all of it was meant to appeal to young boys 6-14 years old.

FanBut that started to change with the growth of the Expanded Universe which featured far more female leads like Mara Jade, and Jaina Solo.  Some of the novels catered toward female readers like Dave Wolverton’s, Courtship of Princess Leia.  Female fans became a much more vocal and active part of the Star Wars fan community.

That trend continued with the Prequels and The Clone Wars with the additions of strong female characters like Padme Amidala, Ahsoka Tano, and Jedi Masters Luminara Undulli and Shakk Ti.  Many of the popular authors of the Expanded Universe now included women like Karen Traviss.  The Saga was changing along with fandom, and now it was no longer uncommon to see young girls at conventions dressed as their favorite Star Wars heroine.

The powers that be within Lucasfilm plan to continue this trend of expanding the franchise to draw in more female fans.  In fact two of the leadership positions within the company are women; Lucasfilm is run by producer Kathleen Kennedy and the Star Wars Story Group is supervised by writer/producer Kiri Hart.  Hart has made it very clear that she views the Saga as gender neutral:

I haven’t experienced “Star Wars” being for boys, because I loved it from seven years old.  I was so powerfully influenced by Princess Leia as a kid. I remember being transfixed by her — she was so empowered and smart and funny.

There are a lot of different types of characters. “Star Wars” should be diverse because it’s a big galaxy. – Kiri Hart, Wall Street JournalKiri Hart

Well, she might try telling the folks at Disney that..

If you are trying to expand the brand to include more female viewers, then why in the world stick it on DisneyXD?  From DisneyXD’s own mission statement:

DisneyXD is a basic cable channel and multi-platform brand showcasing a compelling mix of live-action and animated programming for kids age 6-11, hyper-targeting boys and transporting them into worlds full of humor, unexpected fun and inspiring action-filled adventures. DisneyXD-branded content spans television, online, mobile and VOD platforms. The programming includes series, movies and short-form, as well as sports-themed programming developed with ESPN. In the U.S., DisneyXD is seen on a 24-hour, advertiser-supported network that reaches over 80 million households via its basic cable and satellite affiliates. There are 30 DisneyXD channels available in 25 languages around the world.

Not necessarily the smartest decision there, and easily explains the drastic drop Rebels experienced among female viewers.  The network specifically caters to young boys, and that’s fine, but if your stated goal with Star Wars is to attract more female fans wouldn’t it have made more sense to place the show on a network like Disney Channel, ABC or ABC Family?

Silly Rabbit, Star Wars Can Be For Girls Too

Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. – Yogurt Master of the Schwartz

Jedi AcademyUnfortunately this all points to a total disconnect between what Lucasfilm is trying to accomplish with the Saga, and what Disney wants from the brand.  While Lucasfilm is attempting to attract more female and minority fans, Disney seems content to continue catering Star Wars to young boys in an effort to expand the Disney brand among that market.  You want proof, go to your local Disney Store.  Star Wars products are proudly on display in the boys section of the store with virtually no products featuring female Star Wars heroes.  The lack of representation of girls sparked a bit of an outrage among a number of fans when the Disney Store Star Wars merchandising section debuted.  Luke, Han, Chewie, the Droids, and Vader could all be found in the store… but Princess Leia was conspicuously absent.  Even Hasbro fell on its face when the first wave of Rebels action figures was announced; a wave which failed to feature even one of the two female leads on the show.

Disney really needs to get its act together here.  Hera and Sabine have become two fan favorites on Rebels, and Hera voice actress, Vanessa Marshall, is an amazing ambassador for the Star Wars brand.  There’s a real potential to attract new, younger female fans here, if Disney will get its messaging straight.  It’s simply staggering how tone deaf Disney is being here when Hera and Sabine can easily be used to shepherd more female viewers to the show. Lucasfilm has been in the merchandising and fan outreach business for so long this might a good time for Disney to loosen their grip and let Lucasfilm handle that part of the business.

What to Do?

Well, if your a fan, get your friends to watch.  Keep pushing the show on your Twitter feeds, Facebook and other social media outlets.  Hopefully the special broadcast of Spark of Rebellion on ABC (with new Vader scene) will generate some more interest for the show.  As for Disney’s part, if this downward trend continues they should seriously consider moving the show to another day and time or even move it to another Disney/ABC network.  The show deserves better… Star Wars deserves better.

rebels-logo-big.png_poster

May the Force Be With You

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17 thoughts on “Disney and Rebels – You’re Killin’ Me Smalls

  1. Agreed Rebels needs to move to either Disney Channel or ABC Network also they need to put the episodes on StarWars’s official website like it was before with TCW. Also their is some confusion about air dates and sometimes the wrong episode shows up in the Directv HD and DVR programming guides and sometimes the wrong episode is listed on the guide. Also why is Directv not supported as a provider on The Watch Disney XD App? That does not make any sense to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think the ratings will kill a 2nd season, but it could end up being a truncated order for another 13 episodes. Disney still needs something on the air to lead up to Episode VII, but I could see Disney killing the show after season 2.

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  2. There’s little doubt that, if Rebels fails, Disney will shutter Lucasfilm Animation for good and handle all Star Wars animation in-house at a vastly lower cost.

    I was initially skeptical about the show (yeah, bitter old TCW/PT fan that I am) but I’ve been converted. It’s great, and it would be another great tragedy if it was cancelled before its time.

    *cue ROTS soundtrack*

    Disney should stop considering what Star Wars can do for Disney, and start considering what Disney can do for Star Wars. That’s just basic good management. Lucasfilm has been a superlative success over the past four decades, and there’s no point interfering with that. Seriously, the legions of passionate fans of all inclinations, ages, backgrounds and intensities are a sign that Lucasfilm was doing something right and doesn’t need Disney’s focus group/demographic/marketing whizz-bang, thank you very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about the ridiculous (imho) method of releasing new episodes on the Watch DisneyXD app a whole week before they air on television… I get that they want to reward cable subscribers (but it’s flat out stupid they have *less* options than Nickelodeon does, believe it or not), but the lucky bunch who have access to that have no reason to tune in the following week. Plus, someone on Twitter said it best: by the time the new-to-television episode airs, pretty much everyone’s moved on to the next episode. And I won’t lie: as someone who doesn’t have access via the app, it’s killing my interest in the series. (Yes, I know I could DVR, but I’d still be a whole week behind most folks I know anyhow)

    They clearly didn’t think this through all the way, did they?

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    • The only reason I really didn’t mention it is because it is having little to no effect on the final numbers. The premiere of Rebels, Spark of Rebellion, was only watched by some 75,000 people through both the DisneyXD app and iTunes.

      Based on those numbers, plus the percentage drop in viewers week to week, it’s very likely the app/online views have dropped fairly significantly as well. Ultimately I doubt the show being available on the app a week in advance is having that dramatic an effect… It might account for some 20 thousand viewers max.

      People have also suggested piracy could be hurting the numbers, and that’s true too, but Disney’s investors are not going to be taking that into account when they make decisions about the show. They simply look at hard numbers like Nielsen, and look at merchandising.

      But in answer to your question, no Disney did not think this through at all. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of a release strategy. Frankly what they should do is take a page out of The Clone Wars. Air the show, maybe even broadcast it the next day on Disney Channel, and simply make the episode available for free Tuesday evening on the Official Site.

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    • I agree with you guys about the badly thought out release strategy.

      Back in past years, I was deeply involved in discussions about TCW on forums. Each episode was a major event. The release of episode guide tidbits and preview clips was something to look forward to each week. Everything built up to a weekly episodic climax of hype, before things moved swiftly onto the next one. There was no 180 degree phase offset between one distribution stream and another. It was simple and ultimately successful.

      Rebels, unfortunately, seems to be less of a string of grand events. I really like the show, but I cannot help but feel less enthusiastic about each episode’s release than I did about each TCW episode. Discussions are nowhere near as vibrant now because so many potential participants haven’t seen the most recent episode. Everyone else has moved on by the time they have.

      That Disney seemingly thought that the Star Wars brand could print money for it no matter what and serve as a panacea to all divisional ailments doesn’t bode well for how it will handle Episode VII and other future releases.

      Those are good ideas to get things back on track. Even without rearranging anything, just putting a week-long pause on the DXD app episode releases to get them back in phase with the TV releases could return Rebels episodes to the “grand event” status that their TCW forebears had.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. It’s a interesting article. That being said they’re not going to cancel Rebels. Not going to happen. As long as Lucasfilm animation is making it and it continues to do well it will not get canceled. Let’s hope so anyway it won’t be like it was when Disney cancelled Tron Uprising after just 2 seasons.

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    • Obviously the show is not going anywhere until Episode VII hits theaters, but if these numbers don’t improve there’s no reason to expect the show to continue beyond Season 2.

      Remember, at the end of the day, the folks at Lucasfilm, at XD, and even Disney execs are answerable to Disney’s investors. If they conclude they can get 580,000 viewers a week with a much cheaper production they will jump at the chance. Even cartoons are about selling advertisement and merchandising is critical as well. If Rebels can’t make money they show will be gone.

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