Disney Junior Chases Next Generation of TV Viewers

New net takes aim at rival Nickelodeon

As the kids networks face stiff competition for those young eyeballs, Disney Channel last week spun off its popular preschool programming block into a full-fledged network.

Disney Junior, with a target demo of 2- to 5-year-olds, hopes to build on a program slate that has been gaining on rival Nickelodeon’s preschool program block—which itself spawned its own channel in Nick Jr.

Disney Junior supplants SoapNet, whose repeats of daytime soaps floundered with the rise of the DVR and ABC’s mass cancellation of ratings-challenged daytime dramas.

“We certainly have Sprout, we have Nick Jr. for kids and a few other smaller players—Disney wants to be in that space as well,” says Darcy Bowe, associate media director at Starcom. “Soap operas are no longer being produced. There are already a variety of cable networks targeted to adults, but not as many directly focusing on the co-view target. It’s definitely an area for growth and diversification of audience.”

With ABC getting out of the soap business and preparing SoapNet’s last rites, Disney reportedly fielded various pitches, including recasting the channel as Disney Moms.

There have been a few speed bumps along the way: the network’s original launch date had been set for January but reportedly was pushed back due to MSO contract issues. Disney Junior launches with some 30 million subscribers.

The Disney Channel has heavily promoted its kid sister’s launch, going on a charm offensive with media buyers and touting ratings gains for programs like Jake and the Never Land Pirates and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, which will migrate to and become tent-pole programs of Disney Junior.

The new channel will initially employ a sponsorship model, such as that of the Disney Channel, comprising 15-second spots in which a brand can be featured but is not the focus of the ad. For example, a box of Cheerios can be shown on a kitchen table, but the spot must be about having breakfast, not the General Mills cereal brand.

Since toddlers don’t have median incomes, of course, much of the network’s sales pitch is centered on co-viewing. “There are a lot of advertisers looking to talk to mom in a place where she’s mom and not just woman 18-49,” says Rita Ferro, evp of Disney media sales and marketing.

It’s a tempting plan, but can also be a tough sell, says one buyer. “I work with enough parents to know that people say, ‘Is it the parent or is it the babysitter?’” she says. “There’s only so many categories that play in the kids market, and there’s only so much growth there, and that’s where the money is.”

Another buyer, Felicia Thomas, vp, media investment director at ID Media, also points to the “pester factor,” wherein advertisers that aren’t allowed to target kids create spots with “parents buy this” messaging but featuring kid-friendly creative.

“They’re going to ask the parents to take them here or there and buy them whatever they see on the television,” she says. “They have the buying power, but we’re the ones with the money.” 


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