Walt Disney recognized the important role that TV and radio could play in helping to promote Disney’s other operations, especially its theme parks. The first Disney television show was named Disneyland and the first Disney radio program was named The Magic Kingdom.
In time Disney’s efforts on the small screen gave broader promotion to Disney brands with shows such as The Mickey Mouse Club obtaining iconic status in America and, in its various iterations, introducing to America numerous children who would become major stars such as Annette Funicello, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
However, when Disney acquired CapitalCities/ABC Inc. in 1995, in what was then the second largest corporate acquisition ever, television became a much larger and more diverse part of its portfolio.
ESPN is incredibly important. It provides a significant percentage of Disney’s profits, is an important brand in its own right and helps diversify Disney’s audience beyond children and families of young children.
ABC and Freeform are also very important as they are one of the biggest TV organizations. By broadcasting shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Once Upon a Time they retain an interest in those brands since Disney cannot release a new movie every single day.
Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, and Radio Disney are an unusual part of Disney. Though some critics have ridiculed the content as not being nearly as good as the movies, it is worth recognizing that television programs typically must be produced on a fraction of the budget that a movie production uses. It also is an enormous challenge to come up week after week with excellent scripts.
In some cases these TV shows have, however, done wonders for The Walt Disney Company by creating hits and/or spin-offs for many popular Disney franchises, examples being the Lion Guard, Star Wars Rebels, Lilo and Stitch: the Series, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
The tension between using both the TV and radio properties as a promotional vehicle for Disney’s various franchises and attempts to make them successful in their own right, varies from property to property, the impact that a move away from Cable and broadcast to digital platforms will have on these properties, especially ESPN, is unclear.