Anne Sweeney, president of Disney Channel and Toon Disney, and executive vice president of Disney/ABC Networks, spoke to KidScreen about the secret of her company’s success. Here are some excerpts:
KS: What is the state of Disney Channel as it turns 15?
AS: For a business that is 15 years old, it is still experiencing tremendous growth, and that’s an unusual state to be in. Today, we are in 35 million homes; 31 million are basic, four million are pay. In addition to our subscriber base continuing to grow, our ratings have been on an upward trajectory. We had the highest prime-time average for 1997 compared to all other basic cable channels and that’s because we are programming to families.
KS: Aside from subscriber growth, what’s been behind your ratings success?
AS: Providing a family prime time that kids and families want to watch many times together was a breakthrough idea, and the reason that we did have the highest prime-time average for 1997.
KS: What has switching from a premium service to a basic service meant to Disney Channel?
AS: Coming out of the premium world has been a great strength for us. People who did not have Disney Channel when it was a pay service, generally because they couldn’t afford it, now feel that when they get it as a basic service, it’s a great gift. It’s also been a great benefit for cable operators who have seen us help not only retain those buying basic cable, but, in many instances, boost it by several percentage points.
KS: Now that Disney Channel has crossed the 35-million subscriber mark, are there any plans to convert the channel into an ad-supported service?
AS: We have no plans at present to go ad supported. In the world of basic cable, Disney Channel is a higher-priced service, but we’ve heard from parents that they place an enormous value on the fact that we don’t carry commercials, and they find that to be a big plus.
KS: What do you consider your main competition?
AS: I’d be silly to narrow it down to . . . [services like] Cartoon and Nick. We are not solely a kids service. We are designed on the Disney model, and that’s producing for kids and families, hence the channel is too. As far as competition, I’m keeping my eye more on kids with computers. . . . Kids just have so many options today.
KS: What is the greatest challenge Disney Channel faces as it moves into its next 15 years?
AS: The challenge always is to stay relevant to the audience. To make sure we’re really plugged in to what’s going on in kids’ and families’ lives out there. We’ve had tremendous creative growth. I think we’re getting to the heart and soul of kids and families. EK
In this report:
- Programming: Back to basics
- Disney Channel time line
- Marketing: Not your parents’ Disney
- Q&A with Anne Sweeney
- Drawing up Toon Disney
- International: Vive le Mickey