Disney's announcement May 26 that it would shutter 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
"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
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