Disney Branded Television’s Rick Clodfelter

As executive director of content acquisitions and partnerships at Disney Branded Television, Rick Clodfelter focuses on picking up series, movies and short-form content from third-party creators for platforms and channels across the Disney bouquet, from Disney+ and Disney Channel to Disney XD and Disney Junior. He and his team have brought Bluey to Disney platforms around the world, as well as other hit titles such as Moonbug Entertainment’s Morphle. Clodfelter tells TV Kids about what is guiding his acquisition strategy.

TV KIDS: Tell us about the general breakdown between commissions, co-productions and third-party acquisitions for Disney.
CLODFELTER: I’m very happy to share that for our acquisitions, our third-party content, we lean on a lot [for] preschool. Bluey is our premium acquisition. It’s a straight acquisition for us, but we also have Dino RanchPJ Masks and My Magic Pet Morphle from Moonbug. Those three titles are enhanced acquisitions, where we had an opportunity to shape and define the [shows themselves] to really hit our brand tenets for Disney Junior. For Disney Channel, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir is quite notable and a success for us. On our XD platform, which leans a little more boy in the 6-to-11 space, we have some anime—BakuganBeyblade and Yu-Gi-Oh! So, a nice diverse offering of third-party content.

TV KIDS: Looking at commissions and co-productions or even those early prebuys, what are the types of projects that you want to be involved in at the earliest possible stages? And what are some of the ways that Disney gets involved creatively and financially?
CLODFELTER: For Disney, it’s important for us to see projects at a very early stage so that we can see what the potential is, what the fit is against what our programming needs are currently as well as two years out, particularly on the animated side, because you have to plan pretty far out. We love getting a seed of an idea. I bring it into our Disney Branded Television meetings that we have every month, and I say, Oh, this was presented. This could be interesting with this or this. This could complement what you have in your development slate. And that’s another point [that] is really critical, for me at least: to understand what we have in development so that I am outsourcing content that could be complementary to and also additive to our slate in the coming years.

I mentioned the enhanced acquisition model. That is one we really rely on, particularly in the preschool space. We pay a little elevated license fee. We don’t own this content; it is a pure acquisition. But we pay an elevated license fee to have some creative control because it really helps us shape that content to our brands and even stretch our brands a little bit. So, I find that this model as an enhanced acquisition is quite successful for us.

TV KIDS: How does acquired product strategically complement the slate? And then in terms of genres, age, demographics or even formats, what are you currently on the lookout for?
CLODFELTER: For Disney, we have a storied tradition of having entertaining, inspiring and trusted storytelling. Storytelling is very critical for us—very positive storytelling and authentic storytelling with strong characters that are relatable and have optimism about them. Music is also very critical across the board, across the preschool brands, as well as the 6-to-11 brands and even going into the Disney+ brand, that 11-to-14 space, stretching our demo a little bit. It’s really critical going in to talk to our originals team and understanding what they are developing so that we can really come in and fill voids that we see in our offering for present to future.

One thing I think is really critical for us is to have inclusive content so that there’s representation across the board and all the content. The Disney brand [features] a lot of wish fulfillment. So, we’re always looking for content that can deliver something to kids that they feel is not only relatable and authentic, but also there’s that moment of, Oh, wow, I got something out of this. There’s a level of engagement that is critical for us. So, music, authenticity, [relatability]. And then true storytelling is really, really critical for us.

If I could speak to one title in particular, Bluey stretched our brand a little bit for our preschool platform because we didn’t have any 2D at the time, and it’s a sitcom, essentially, for preschoolers and a very different format for Disney. So, when it came around, it was a bit of a brand pusher for us. What we did is we made a decision to do it, and it has paid off handsomely, with a lot of great partners with ABC Australia, BBC and Ludo Studio. Very happy that that has landed on our platforms. But it’s really about music, friendship and optimism for us. That’s what we’re looking for.

TV KIDS: What would you like to see more of out there in the marketplace, be it concepts or ideas people are coming to you with, genres or themes that you’re just not seeing enough of out there?
CLODFELTER: Multi-cam sitcoms are one of the things that there are not a lot of in the market. It is really challenging. It is a need for us, but there’s just not a lot out there. That’s a priority, as well as holiday content leading into the fourth quarter. And then younger-skewing preschool, there’s not a lot of content for kids 2 to 4. We need to serve all our ages within the demo, and I think 2 to 4 is a little underrepresented right now; I’d like to see more of that.

TV KIDS: What’s your stance on exclusivity and rights?
CLODFELTER: For Disney, we value exclusivity quite a bit, but with limited holdbacks, because we do understand, particularly in the preschool space, that reach is critical to drive awareness and also any retail initiatives that are attached to that content. We look to drive awareness on other platforms, particularly in territories where we only have Disney+ as an SVOD platform. That is critical. We like to be first in line, but we’re really happy to share down the road with a limited holdback to build that awareness and have that content in as many places as possible in those territories.

TV KIDS: How are you using digital to complement what’s on broadcast, perhaps even drive interest in or cross-promote?
CLODFELTER: The digital space is incredibly important for us, and we do have a quite robust digital strategy, not only for YouTube but also for Disney+. Every title’s a little different. Will we launch on Disney+ versus linear first? Will we push this forward or hold this back? There are conversations around every bit of content that comes our way. It’s interesting when we get pitches now if there is a digital presence that exists. That’s always part of the pitch now. I think that’s really impressive, and it’s something that we take note of. It’s like, Oh, this has generated X number of views. This is really sticky, and there’s something here that we could really look at as being an opportunity for us to build out our platforms. So, I would say that we value digital. It is where kids are. We want to be there, and we want our content to live there so that they’re seeing it and engaged in not only digital but also linear and across the board. All that content that’s connected to Disney is everywhere kids are. That’s just critical.

TV KIDS: Kids have a lot of choices for how they spend their time nowadays. What have you learned about the best ways to engage them in “TV” content up against Roblox, Minecraft and all the other platforms and angle for that slice of their free time?
CLODFELTER: The benefit of bringing gaming and other opportunities in, it’s brand-building, it’s brand-defining, it’s extensions of the content. As long as you have authentic storytelling and relatable characters, that will cut through. If you can extend beyond that into other platforms or experiences, that just builds on that brand and makes those characters and those stories come to life in a different way. You [become] more deeply invested in the content. I think that’s what’s critical. That’s how kids respond to, Oh, I saw this here and now look at how they flip this and how different it is, but also very [similar], too. So, it’s an extension, but it’s also how you can think differently about the content, the brand, the characters, the stories that really drive a bigger experience. That’s critical for Disney. We’re really adopting those strategies as well.