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Disney’s new YouTube digital network rebrand tries to escape negative attention

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It’s all about brand recognition

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Disney announced this week it was launching the Disney Digital Network, which would collect all of the company’s digital arms, including Maker Studios.

The decision to roll up all of its brands into one network gives Disney more control over the various influencers it had ties to before but wasn’t directly overseeing. Following the controversy that arose around PewDiePie and a series of videos that contained anti-Semitic jokes, the company is looking for more control over the talent and influencers it includes under its banner.

“Historically on the Disney Interactive Media side, our leaning into creators and influencers has been very light touch,” Andrew Sugerman, executive VP of publishing and digital media for Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, told Variety. “We really focused only on Disney-branded endeavors. Whereas on the Maker side, influencers were really everything non-Disney-branded.

“We’re going to infuse Maker into the Disney pieces, and Disney will be infused more into Maker.”

Sugerman added that as the company moves more into the digital programming space, it’s going to look for influencers and creators that align with Disney’s core values. It’s part of the reason Maker Studios dropped more than 55,000 creators a couple of months ago; Disney isn’t just looking to bring on more popular YouTubers, but specifically trying to curate content for a branded network.

Deb Gabor, a branding expert who has worked with companies like Disney and whose company, Sol Marketing, has been called “the envy of many young companies” by the Wall Street Journal, told Polygon that this is a move the company has been working toward for quite some time. Gabor said it extends beyond the negative publicity that arose around the time of PewDiePie’s videos, but that was certainly a catalyst in the company speeding up its curation process.

“The general consumer public probably didn’t even know the two were even related to one another,” Gabor said. “But what’s happening is that advertisers want to engage directly with consumers and they want to do that through channels that are directly related and adjacent to the Disney brand. If this is in response to how advertisers want to engage with consumers — through platforms, through content, and through Disney’s big content assets — Disney is hoping that through this process they can lock down some of these rules a little more.”

Gabor added that the conversation may have been taking place for months before the PewDiePie controversy blew up, but it allowed Disney to point out that certain creators don’t align with the company’s values as a brand. Launching a network where Disney can keep an eye on the content that’s coming out, ensure it directly relates to its bigger brands (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc) and provide some kind of guided curation for its audience is the smartest digital rebrand the company could do at this point, according to Gabor.

“When they originally acquired Maker Studios, they wanted to get into the influencer space because they didn’t really have a presence there,” Gabor said. “But when one of those influencers, like a PewDiePie, goes off of their own, which Disney doesn’t have any control of, and does something that goes against Disney, that’s where it creates problems.”

Under the new Disney Digital Network’s banner, the company could potentially do something with its YouTube creators that it couldn’t before — ask them to sign morality clauses and effectively ensure this situation doesn’t happen again. Gabor said it’s unclear if that’s the direction Disney wants to head in, but she wouldn’t be surprised to see the company try to effectively control its branch of YouTubers in a way it hasn’t before.

“As long as they maintain that clarity on the brand and continue to be a steward of the brand, regardless of the channels and platforms, it could dominate the YouTube space,” Gabor said. “There’s no confusion about what the Disney brand stands for and who the Disney brand is for.”

With a newfound curation tool and a tighter grasp on the people Disney is letting into its network, the company is trying to figure out how to navigate a new space. It’s bringing back the Mickey Mouse Club to try and resurrect Disney’s image, according to Gabor, and highlighting a number of new series that are both educational and based on the largest properties it owns.

One of the new shows, Science and Star Wars, will specifically examine the science found within Star Wars. It will be hosted by Anthony Carboni, a former games journalist and the current host of The Star Wars Show at Lucasfilm. Disney will also introduce a daily comedy and news show to look at everything being released by the company and a couple of interactive series targeted at young children and their parents.

These shows will launch over the course of the year.