HRTS Member Profile: Adam Sanderson
Adam Sanderson is Senior Vice President, Franchise Management, Disney/ABC Television Group. I recently had a chance to interview Adam to discuss High School Musical, franchise building and Batman.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? How did you first get involved with HRTS?
-I was always destined to work in entertainment. As a young kid, I loved performing, writing plays, putting on puppet shows and entertaining my friends and family. I was also a big TV fan and used to dress up in my Batman costume and watch the show on ABC. After majoring in Rhetoric & Communication at the University of Albany, including an internship at the National Public Radio station there, I decided to get into advertising. Early on, I worked at a couple of New York ad agencies, thinking that was a good blend of business and creative. My first job in television was at MTV Networks in the press and public affairs department, where MTV had just celebrated its 5th anniversary. It was an exciting time to work in television, since cable TV was in its infancy, and MTV was the epicenter of “cool”. My goal was to transition to marketing at some point, which I ultimately did several years later when I joined Anne Sweeney at FX Networks in Los Angeles where we launched FX. I served as the Promotions Director, where my first stunt was hiring a troupe of former air force guys to jump out of a plane dressed as Alexis Carrington from Dynasty, which culminated in a photo with the real Joan Collins that was transmitted around the globe. I joined The Walt Disney Company in 1997 to help re-imagine what it meant to be Disney on TV at Disney Channel, and that began my wonderful world at Disney.
I got involved with HRTS by attending several lunchtime roundtables where I got to hear from and learn from some of our industry’s best.
Q: How are branding and franchise strategies similar or different across diverse areas such as broadcast, cable, radio and publishing?
-it all starts with great characters and great storytelling, not by which platform it originates from. I think what’s so exciting about our business is great ideas can come from any source and then be leveraged across a variety of platforms, from music to publishing to gaming to consumer products.
I think all franchise management begins the same way. It starts with an understanding what the true essence or DNA of your property is, whether it’s for a TV show, movie, book or other creative content. Next, it’s important to identify who your core consumer is, determine how do these fans engage with the property, and then it’s figuring out which categories make sense to deepen the experience.
Q: How do you build a franchise around an established property versus a newer one?
-a new property is by its very nature, unproven. It first needs a terrific launch campaign—one that captures people’s attention and drives them to tune in, whether that’s on the linear network or through the ABC Player, or wherever the content gets distributed. In the case of High School Musical, we pretty much knew the Monday following the TV premiere on Disney Channel, that we had something different in the palm of our hands. The first thing that took off was the music from the movie. Kids wanted the music immediately so that they could learn the songs. Because there were a limited number of soundtracks available at retail, they went online and downloaded the music from iTunes. This was pretty revolutionary back in 2006, especially for the kid audience. As momentum around HSM continued to grow, we looked at product development in key categories, such as stationery, apparel and back to school items to meet the demand for consumer products. And of course, there were some bigger projects such as HSM: The Concert and HSM On Ice to develop and launch and were all part of the mega-hit franchise.
On the other hand, an established property needs fresh content to help fuel it, whether that’s on TV, digital, or gaming. These evergreen brands have the advantage of being known entities, which sometimes can be an advantage. I think it’s possible to re-kindle a franchise, but the timing has to be right. It’s about finding a new audience who may have missed it the first go around.
Q: How do you assess a property for its cross-platform franchise potential?
-it is extremely beneficial to have some consumer insights to validate your thinking about how to build and extend the franchise. On the kids’ front, we are constantly talking to kids to see how they want to interact with our content. This feedback makes us a whole lot smarter. We also look at TV ratings, Q scores, tracking studies, online traffic, and word-of-mouth buzz to measure the impact. Franchise assessment is really important as not everything can or should be deemed a “franchise”.
Q: How do you see the industry changing over the next few years?
-it is such an exciting time to work in the media industry, as change is happening every single day, on the distribution side as well as the content creation side. New platform distribution will continue to give way to more unique voices, and share more stories. It isn’t enough to just be a hit TV show these days. Success is often measured in how much brand value shows can add to their networks. And of course, how much revenue they can generate.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-who would have guessed that as young boy watching “Batman” -- dressed in my Batman costume -- in Brooklyn, NY that I would be creating similar experiences like that for kids today.