Disney Is Bringing Tech Used for The Mandalorian to Its Advertising

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When it comes to kicking off 2023 upfront events, this is the way.

Disney is starting the 2023 upfront season on Wednesday with its third annual tech and data showcase—and will tout how the same tech used in its films and shows, such as the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, can power its clients’ advertising efforts.

The company is expecting thousands of attendees (customers, agencies and press) for its live and virtual show, which is set to come in at under an hour and include a Q&A. Disney told Adweek that it’s running the event in January to strategically anchor it to clients’ planning season and will immediately follow up the event by holding workshops with every major holding company.

(In other Disney upfront news, the company also said today that it will shift its upfront week event location this year. On Tuesday, May 16, it will hold a presentation at New York’s North Javits Center. Last year’s upfront event had relocated to Pier 36, a shift from Disney’s longtime pre-pandemic upfront week home, at Lincoln Center.)

“We’re kicking off the cycle with the technology and data showcase because Disney believes, fundamentally, that the future of the advertising business is rooted in technology and data,” Jeremy Helfand, evp and head of advertising platforms for Disney media and entertainment distribution, told Adweek. “Ultimately, we want our advertising partners to think about Disney as much for the amazing storytelling and creativity as the technology and data that allows them, enables them, to connect with their intended audiences in unique and innovative ways.”

To that point, Lisa Valentino, evp of client solutions and addressable enablement at Disney Advertising, told Adweek that the “visualization of the show is going to be on a whole other level” to create a viewer-first, immersive experience.

“You’re going to see AR/VR functionality. You’re going to hear Aaron LaBerge, our CTO, talk about how we’re using the same capability that creates features like Mando and Monday Night Football to bring not only this show to life but advertising to life,” Valentino said. “We’re trying to show not only the data of it all and the automation of it all but the technology that we’re using to enrich storytelling.”

Among the highlights, Disney will focus on measurement, data interoperability and its latest innovations and results with clean rooms.

“This whole idea of scalability is critical because we are doing so much in clean rooms. We’re doing so much with first-party data,” Valentino said, adding, “That’s something that we think is a real, unique advantage for us.”

Shifting the scales

Disney launched its clean-room solution at the end of 2021 and now has 71 clients activating in clean rooms, according to Valentino, with nearly every major holding company participating.

Additionally, last July, Disney Advertising teamed up with the global ad-tech company The Trade Desk to power greater audience activation at scale programmatically. The integration enabled interoperability between Disney’s Audience Graph and The Trade Desk through the open-source framework Unified ID 2.0, all while using Disney’s secure clean-room tech.

Because of the Trade Desk partnership, buyers can discover more addressable, biddable inventory across the Disney ecosystem, all validated by Disney’s proprietary Audience Graph. The Audience Graph, which Valentino previously told Adweek consists of 100 million household IDs, 160 million connected TV IDs and 190 million device IDs and updates in real time, is the foundation of the company’s data capabilities, providing more than 2,000 segments that clients can activate against.

And, according to the company, it’s producing results.

When leveraging the Audience Graph to enable an audience match based on first-party data, Disney has seen match rates of 80% in certain use cases when compared to third-party offerings. And following its deal with The Trade Desk, the company completed a beta test with Unilever—which it will talk about at the showcase—and the next move is to scale and take the capabilities to other DSPs.

“When we’re bringing these capabilities to market, one, owning our own tech stack allows us to develop them and integrate them into the viewer experience more succinctly, two, it gives us greater velocity for innovation and three, it allows us to deliver them across our entire ecosystem,” Helfand said.

Programmatic progress

At its last tech and data showcase, Disney leaned into automated ad-buying, aiming to automate 50% of its business in the next three years. According to Valentino, the company is well on its way towards that goal, with programmatic experiencing double the growth compared to last year and biddable up nearly 150%.

“One of the things we did when we launched the Disney ad server last year, is we moved programmatic to the very center of our ad decisioning and ad server capabilities,” Helfand said. “Now, when we’re making decisions about which advertiser has access to what ad opportunity, our programmatic advertisers are on equal footing with any of our other channels, and so it allows us to deliver a better result for all advertisers.”

Hulu is 100% on Disney’s ad server—also powering Disney+ with ads, which launched last month. According to Valentino, Hulu “parity” is on the way for Disney+’s latest streaming offering.

“On the advertising side, we feel great about it,” Valentino said of Disney+. “We’re delivering for advertisers. We just passed our one-month anniversary. We have a 14-year-old turning 15 in Hulu, and we have a newborn in Disney+ when we think about the ad tier. It’s just really interesting to think about the different types of products and where they are in their maturity.”

Measurement will also be a hot topic at the showcase, with Disney addressing currency expansion, several pilots on the way with partners, its progress with Nielsen One and the tools it’s developing around attribution. There are also new ad experiences on the way.

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