Marc Buhaj, the senior VP of programming and general manager of Disney XD, talks to TV Kids about how the channel has been rolling out shows around its core brand tenets of fun, comedy and action adventure.
From shows inspired by the Star Wars and Marvel Comics universes to beloved anime to original concepts, both animated and live-action, Disney XD is thriving by hyper-targeting boys 6 to 11.
TV KIDS: What’s driving Disney XD’s viewership?
BUHAJ: We have a portfolio of content offerings including both animation and live-action series that work well together. Within each of those, we have comedy and action-adventure storytelling, which offer our consumers a range of programming to choose from. On the animation side, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Milo Murphy’s Law, Star Wars Rebels and our Marvel animated series are good examples of both original stories as well as those linked to heritage or known IP. On the live-action side, we have Walk the Prank, a sitcom that has real hidden-camera pranks, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have a serialized action-adventure series called MECH-X4 that delivers high stakes and much more drama. So we’re seeing a range of content working. What’s really important is, no matter what format, genre or visual style you’re going with, great characters cut through. A show with a really strong creative point of view, that is relevant, always wins the audience. The approach isn’t rocket science, but the trick is in the execution.
TV KIDS: What’s been your approach to international co-productions and acquisitions?
BUHAJ: We’re able to work with our talented colleagues around the world who are producing original series regionally. And then we have a centralized acquisitions arm that also works with local producers, studios and storytellers. We are open to hearing ideas from traditional studios and digital creators, and we work with our colleagues at places like Maker and ESPN as well. In addition to casting a formal net, we also just make sure to stay aware of talent locally or internationally who have unique creative voices, regardless of whether or not they are connected with a traditional studio.
TV KIDS: Technology and consumption habits have altered dramatically since you first entered kids’ television. What have been some of the biggest changes in how you approach your job?
BUHAJ: The thing that has changed is the number of options available. It’s been a challenge to track the audience across the increased number of viewing platforms. However, on those same digital platforms, we also view it as an opportunity to find new storytellers. Anyone who has a creative idea can tell their story through these platforms, and they don’t have to go about it in a formal way. I love the fact that the generation we’re working for now are some of the most creative storytellers.
TV KIDS: Tell us about the work you did with the YouTube channel Bad Lip Reading on High School Musical. And are you planning more viral videos like that?
BUHAJ: Bad Lip Reading Presents High School Musical was a great project and very well received by our audience. It gave us an opportunity to work with someone who is the best in their field, and through that project we also paid homage with a wink to an iconic Disney Channel movie franchise. We’re going to continue to work with new people in different ways. Bad Lip Reading is one of our great collaborators, and we plan to jam with them again at some point.
TV KIDS: Do you think that the kids’ programming industry has really figured out nonlinear storytelling and engagement yet?
BUHAJ: Everyone is probably in a different place with it. We approach each of our platforms looking at their unique needs because we know that the storytelling, format and content length may need to vary in order to deliver the most engagement possible. Sometimes we can do clips from a series or movie to program the platforms and other times it works well to have completely original content, whether short-form or micro-content.
The platform options are also ahead of where the revenue models are, so it’s not something that you’re generating revenue from. But as a group that wants to reach our audience, we’re delivering [content] on platforms despite the fact that the economic model isn’t yet as evolved as the storytelling is on the platforms.