As you may have already read, on Tuesday, The Walt Disney Company launched D23, billed as “the first official community for Disney fans in the company’s 85-year history.” According to the official press release, D23 will provide fans with the opportunity to “go backstage and behind closed doors to get the inside scoop from every part of Disney, while experiencing the nostalgia, adventure and fantasy of Disney as never before.”
To formally announce the program, Disney hosted a press conference via telephone, with Steven Clark, head of D23 and executive editor of its quarterly magazine “Disney twenty-three,” Marty Sklar, Executive Vice President and Walt Disney Imagineering Ambassador, and Dave Smith, Disney’s Chief Archivist.
According to Clark, this new program (named for 1923, the year Walt Disney began what eventually became Disney Studios) is unique in that it has “unprecedented support” from the entire Disney Company, from the very highest levels (that would be CEO Bob Iger), and across all business units.
“In the past we have had great traditions of reaching out to fans — Disney Vacation Club members, annual passholders, even pin-traders,” he noted. “But we have not had a singular fan offering, something for all Disney fans.”
Rather than catering to these “sub-communities,” as Clark put it, D23 will be open to all Disney fans — at least, those willing to pay $74.99 per year for membership.
And what do you get for that annual fee? “Unprecedented access to Disney, behind the scenes,” Clark said. “We really think D23 is the ultimate insider Disney experience. We’re going behind closed doors, pulling back the curtains… We realize especially in this economic climate that this is not ‘one size fits all.’ The D23 site will provide a rich web experience at no cost. The Expo will cost $37 for one day, which we think is affordable for a full day of an outstanding Disney experience. And for those who want the full-year experience, we think there is a great deal of value for $74.99.”
The key features of D23:
— a new high-quality quarterly publication, Disney twenty-three, that features exclusive articles and photography, and behind-the-scenes looks at all aspects of Disney. Better yet, the publication is free of advertising, making it “63 pages of uninterrupted Disney,” as Clark called it, and a true collectible in its own right.
–an all-new web site at Disney.com/D23, with frequently updated Disney news, features like “Ask Dave” (Smith, the Disney Archivist), blogs from the production teams, event info and more. The site will be open to the general public, but only D23 members will receive regular email updates on special event and merchandise opportunities exclusive to them.
— a “Surprise Collectible Gift” and the opportunity to purchase exclusive member merchandise. Each member who joins D23 will receive an exclusive collectible gift from the new Walt Disney Archives Collection. (“And it’s NOT a pin,” Clark laughed.)This merchandise line was created specifically with D23 members in mind, and each piece is authorized by the Walt Disney Archives. D23 members will have exclusive or early access to a wide assortment of Walt Disney Archives Collection pieces. “We’re hoping to offer products that are inspired by or are faithful reproductions of assets we have in the collection of the archives,” Clark explained. “For example, we’d really like to produce something like the snow globe from Mary Poppins, but we’re really just getting started.” But, as Sklar pointed out, the program is not just about finding ways to sell fans more merchandise. “This is about the community of fans — this is about YOUR Disney,” he added.
D23 also will host special events for its members throughout the year, such as advance screenings of Disney films, or smaller member events in the various theme parks — but the details for these have not been finalized and Clark was reluctant to say too much for fear of “spilling the beans.” The organization’s signature event, though, will be the D23 Expo, which will be held in Anaheim this September 10-13 (and probably for the next four years, as well). The Expo will be open to all, but D23 members will have the opportunity for early entry to the event, as well as specially discounted tickets both to the Expo and to Disneyland. More details about the Expo, which will feature lots of celebrities, keynote speakers, special activities like a fashion show and screenings, and perhaps even a wedding, will be announced soon when its dedicated site, d23expo.com, officially launches.
Among the other highlights of the conference call, it was interesting to hear Clark’s assertion that the creation of D23 does not mean Disney is trying to compete with other unofficial Disney sites or the “blogosphere.”
“There is a vast world of stories and perspectives out there, and there is a voracious appetite for consuming Disney trivia, and more,” he said, admitting that as a fan he reads many other Disney-related sites. “We believe there is room for everyone,” he noted, adding, “We are all celebrating the larger Disney experience.” He added that they would love to have other organizations have a presence at the D23 Expo, and did not rule out fan sites having their own tables at the event.
He also did not rule out the possibility of fans contributing content to the D23 site at some point, but admitted that it was not something that had been considered. “It’s an interesting idea,” he said. “I’ll have to run that idea by some others.”
Also on hand for the conference call was Chief Disney Archivist Dave Smith, who gave a brief chronology of Disney’s relationship with its fans over the years, from the Mickey Mouse Club up through the present day NFFC. Smith, along with others from the Disney Archives, has been involved in the development of the D23 program. He claimed that he, too, as a Disney fan, was eager to see the new organization launch. “In my four decades with the company,” Smith noted, “I’ve witnessed how much the fans stand by Disney. It will be exciting to see how D23 develops in the years to come.”
Author’s Note: The television program “The View” is visiting
Disney’s studios out in Calfornia this week. Clark noted that viewers might want to watch the program Wednesday, March 11, to see actress/host Whoopi Goldberg sing a stirring rendition of the Country Bears Jamboree’s “Blood on the Saddle” along with a Disney archivist as she tours the archive facilities.