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Disney Tries to Recapture ‘Magic’

12/20/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Disney Channels Worldwide
is preparing for the February launch of
toddler-targeted Disney Junior through the
development of new animated
programming that will emphasize
education through
storytelling.

Disney Junior — which will
replace the “Playhouse Disney”
morning block on Disney
Channel and launch as a
full-fledged 24-hour channel
in 2012, replacing SoapNet —
will launch several new animated
projects next year that
embrace the Disney legacy of
magical storytelling and iconic
characters, Disney Channels
Worldwide president Carolina
Lightcap said.

“For the first time, we’re embracing
the Disney brand essence
in a new way by going
back to what makes us unique:
Magical storytelling and characters
that kids love deeply,
emotional connection,” she
said. “We feel that’s something
we didn’t fully explore with
Playhouse Disney and we’re
happy to do that with Disney
Junior.”

HOOK ON BOARD

Among the new shows on tap for Disney Junior
are Jake and the Neverland Pirates, featuring
Captain Hook (of Peter Pan) alongside
new hero Jake and his crew of kid pirates, as
well as a new series featuring Minnie Mouse.

Lightcap said Disney Junior, targeting
“preschool-plus” kids ages 2 to 7, will rely on
storytelling to entertain and educate.

“We’re not forgetting the learning value —
we understand that that’s a prerequisite. But
we’re doing that from the point of view of the
storytelling,” she said. “If you want to communicate
anything to kids, first you have to
engage them. We know that Disney has done
that better than anyone, so we’re bringing
that to Disney Junior and working the developmental
values through the storytelling.”

Disney is talking to operators about converting
SoapNet’s 75 million subscribers to
Disney Junior. Lightcap, promoted to her
current role last November, after Rich Ross
became chairman of The Walt Disney Studios,
would not reveal which operators are on
board, nor would she say if Disney is seeking
a rate increase for the new network.
“It’s a negotiating process, but we’re in
very active conversations,” she said.

Disney Channels Worldwide will also step
up its efforts to reach older kids through Disney
Channel and Disney XD with a major increase
in original animated and live-action
shows over the next two years.

Lightcap said Disney Channel Worldwide
will increase the number of original show
episodes across all three channels by 30% in
2011 and nearly 50% in 2012.

Boys-targeted Disney XD, which in November
drew a record number of viewers
within its target demographic of boys 6 to 14,
will debut Motorcity, an animated series set
in a futuristic Detroit from which cars have
been banned.

The network also greenlit Wasabi Warriors
(working title), a live-action comedy set at a
martial-arts studio, and is working
on an animated series based on the
upcoming theatrical film Tron: Legacy,
Lightcap said.

Disney Channel next year will
launch animated series Gravity
Falls
, in which twins are sent to
live with their uncle in a mysterious
Northwest town, according to
Lightcap.

Also planned for tween-targeted
Disney Channel is a music/comedy
series tentatively titled Ant Farm,
starring 12-year-old China McClain
as a musical prodigy enrolled in a
program for gifted high schoolers.

REPLACING ‘HANNAH’

Lightcap said Ant Farm, along
with the recently launched liveaction
comedy Shake It Up
which has averaged 4.6 million
viewers since its November debut
— will help fill the void from
Hannah Montana, set to retire in
2011.

The franchise, now dubbed
Hannah Montana Forever, is currently
averaging 5 million total
viewers and 1.9 million watchers
within the network’s key tween
category for its final season.

The network also will increase the number
of original movies in 2010 to six or seven.

“When you see the strength of [Disney
Channel’s] development slate, we have
full confidence in what’s coming for 2011,”
Lightcap said.

October
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