Dancing with the Stars is leaving broadcast television to become the first live streaming reality competition show, as it will air season 31 on Disney+ this fall. Monday Night Football will replace DWTS.
This is quite the brilliant strategy: take a show few people want to watch on free TV, and see if people will pay to watch it live on a streaming service that’s attracted people in part because they can watch shows on their own time.
I kid, but only a little: This is a major move, and all of television is shifting content toward streaming services instead of broadcast and cable channels. I’m just skeptical about the rhetoric being used to discuss Dancing with the Stars’s move.
Walt Disney Television executive Dana Walden said “As we’re significantly expanding our unscripted slate at ABC, this is a great opportunity to introduce this show to a whole new generation of fans on Disney+.” Translation: Mostly old fogies watch this show and we really need some youngins to watch.
Walden noted that Walt Disney Television executive Rob Mills would continue to oversee the show, just as he has on ABC. (That’s good news, as he’s one of the best in the business.)
Meanwhile, Valerie Bruce, an executive at BBC Studios, the show’s production company, said this:
“The fact that our iconic global format ‘Dancing with the Stars’ will now set the record as the first live series on Disney+ represents a major growth opportunity and a bold next step forward in the evolution of the franchise. This unprecedented move, combined with our two-season pick-up, is a testament to the proven power of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and a resounding vote of confidence from our great, supportive partners at Disney, showing how much they value and believe in the brand.”
To me, that sounds like a huge, smelly pile of wishful thinking, because this move seems like the exact opposite: Eh, might as well try Disney+ instead of cancelling Dancing with the Stars outright!
DWTS’ isn’t exactly a thriving franchise, and its ratings haven’t exactly been rising in recent years. Of course, all of broadcast TV is losing viewers—just look at the pathetic numbers all around this past Wednesday—but compared to older and newer franchises, it’s losing more viewers.
Last fall’s DWTS season premiere had 5.47 million viewers, compared to 8.12 in 2020. By comparison, The Masked Singer dropped from 5.66 in 2020 to 4.74 million viewers in 2021, while Survivor dropped from 6.29 million in 2019 (it did not have a fall 2020 season) to 6.25 million in 2021.
That’s a franchise that’s not in its best years. In its defense, it is doing relatively well, compared to other Monday night shows, and perhaps that’s all that matters.
The big question I have is: Will people pay for Disney+ just to see Dancing with the Stars?
Of course, if you already have Disney+ and love DWTS, you’re in luck.
AdWeek points out that “the series will arrive on Disney+ just as the platform will be debuting its lower-priced, ad-supported subscription tier.”
But that would still require people to pay for Disney+ to get an ad-supported show they currently get for free via ABC. And that reminds me of a strategy that didn’t work out so well on Discovery+, which alienated people by moving shows to the streaming service that used to be on cable, only to air them on cable a few months later.
More Disney synergy for DWTS
A lot of Disney+’s unscripted shows have very tight synergy with Disney, as in they’re effectively ads masquerading as shows: Be Our Chef, Marvel’s Hero Project, The Imagineering Story, Behind the Attraction.
In a press release, Disney executive Kareem Daniel cited that synergy: “The show’s broad appeal, as well as the overwhelming popularity of its Disney-themed competition nights, make Disney+ the perfect home for ‘Dancing with the Stars’ while continuing to expand our demographic reach.”
Maybe turning Dancing with the Stars into Dancing to Disney Music with Disney Stars would be a good idea!