Mr. TV: Child’s Play

I remember it like it was yesterday. My oldest daughter, now 19, and I would sit for what seemed like forever watching Barney and his goofy green buddy Baby Bop on PBS.  

She was riveted to the show and I to her, amazed by her fascination.

In my day, it was Lamb Chop from puppeteer Shari Lewis in addition to comedian Soupy Sales, who at one point had youngsters send him money after jokingly telling them to look in their parents’ pockets for all the green pieces of paper with the pictures of the guys in beards and send them to him. Perhaps he was ahead of his time. Anyway, all this speaks to the powerful impact and sway kids TV can have, which, of course, is the driving force behind today’s launch of Disney Junior on Disney Channel. Formerly Playhouse Disney, Disney Junior will be available as a programming block weekdays from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. and weekends from 4 to 9 a.m. in more than 99 million homes, with a 24-hour platform targeted for 2012. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Carolina Lightcap, president, Disney Channels Worldwide, about her vision and the state of kids programming.

What initiated the name change to Disney Junior? We wanted to expand the target demo past age 5 and felt that a new name was a new beginning. While we are still focused on the preschool demo, we are now also targeting 6- and 7-year-olds and their parents. We want to offer programming that is unique, fun and educational for the youngest viewer—an arena for magical storytelling and parental trust.

Why is this only launching as a block of programming instead of a 24-7 platform? Disney Junior will be replacing SOAPnet sometime in 2012.  But our strategy is to debut it as a branded block on Disney Channels across the world including in the U.S. We will also rebrand the existing 25 Playhouse Disney channels to Disney Junior in markets including the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Latin America and Canada. Around the world, each channel has its own individual target date when it will rebrand, based on its particular needs.

I can’t imagine it is all that easy for a kids-driven network to inherit the distribution for a platform devoted to serialized dramas. Airing initially as a block of programming on Disney Channel should make the transition easier.

Why is this new network and Disney Channel not ad-supported, while Disney XD is? These are three networks with different needs, and the target audience for Disney XD, boys 6-14, offered a separate opportunity for us that we thought would be the most beneficial. But Disney Junior, like Disney Channel, will be populated with select sponsorships, and it gives us another platform to promote the Disney brand.

Do you keep a close eye on the competition, Nickelodeon in particular? We know what is out there, of course. But we plan our strategy and build our programming through memories of the Disney experience held by generations, not by what anyone else is doing.

Does the new brand have signature series? We have a new animated series called Jake and the Never Land Pirates. I think the pirate theme will be an attraction. Other new shows include Mickey Mousekersize, Babar and the Adventures of Babou, A Poem Is… and Tinga Tinga Tales.

Thank goodness there’s no purple dinosaur. We don’t copy; we create.