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…
From 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?
Late 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.
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.
But 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.
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
Unfortunately 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.
May the Force Be With You