Analysis: Disney Junior a Promising New Kid on the Block
With brand strength and deep well of content, Disney's forthcoming pre-school channel shows promise amid crowded field
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/27/2010 5:41:31 PMshutter the moribund SOAPnet and replace it with the pre-school-age targeted Disney Junior seems like a solidly intuitive move for the Mouse House, with its core assets of kid-friendly characters and content.
SOAPnet averaged 319,000 primetime viewers for first quarter 2010. The network had modest success with original series Being Erica, a Canadian production that was recently picked up for a third season by Canadian broadcaster CBC and SOAPnet. But its overall programming strategy has been to rely on re-runs of daytime soaps, a genre that is on life-support in first-run on broadcast television.
In the company's statement announcing the switch, Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney acknowledged the inherent flaw in relying on reruns on a DVR-wired world.
"SOAPnet was created in 2000 to give daytime viewers the ability to watch time-shifted soaps, before multiplatform viewing and DVRs were part of our vocabulary," she said. "But today, as technology and our businesses evolve, it makes more sense to align this distribution with a preschool channel that builds on the core strengths of our company.
Disney Junior is targeted to launch in 2012 in SOAPnet's 75 million homes. But the company will have to get multichannel operators to re-sign those license agreements. Derek Baine, senior analyst at SNL Kagan, speculates that Disney is flogging the new channel in conjunction with the upcoming ESPN 3D.
"I think that's why they're announcing this now," says Baine. "They're running around signing carriage agreements for ESPN 3D so they're probably trying to tie one with the other."
Disney Junior enters an increasingly crowded pre-school space dominated by Viacom's Nick Jr, which boasts popular characters including Dora the Explorer. In October, Discovery will launch The Hub, a joint venture with Hasbro that will include a pre-school block weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. And Sprout, the channel co-owned by Comcast, Sesame Workshop, HIT Entertainment and PBS, is set to go HD in September, when it hopes to pick up a carriage berth.
"There's no question [the pre-school space] is getting crowded," says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media. "But there's far more upside in putting on a pre-K channel. There's a lot of co-viewing at that time with mothers who grew up with the Disney brand and the Disney characters [watching with their children]. I think that makes perfect sense. I don't think they'll have any problems getting cable operators to sign up."
The 24-hour channel will launch with 200 episodes annually of new series and current programming such as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Imagination Movers and Jungle Junction. Disney Junior also will utilize Disney's vast movie library. New Disney Junior shows will be introduced on Disney Channel's Playhouse Disney before migrating to the new network.
"The kids market is difficult," says Kagan's Baine. "But if anybody's got a powerful brand name its Disney. So they'll be a tough competitor."
We would love to see some of the shows our oldest daughter got to enjoy. Bear In The Big Blue House, Rolie Polie Olie, JoJo Circus and everything Mickey and Pooh would be welcomed in our house 24 hours a day. Great idea!
Renae Hufford - 9/7/2010 9:29:11 PM EDT
Hopefully this means Disney will invest in developing more original preschool content in the long run. They certainly have the resources to conduct the amount and type of research necessary to beget such programming.
Aaron H. Bynum - 5/28/2010 9:15:22 AM EDT
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