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Disney strengthens its global preschool arsenal with a major Euro production push

Spinning off the Playhouse Disney preschool block into a 24-hour stand-alone channel is on Disney's kids TV agenda for 2003. And since successful State-side formulas are often adopted by Disney's roster of international kidnets, it's likely that some significant new opportunities for preschool fare are poised to open up soon.
April 1, 2002

Spinning off the Playhouse Disney preschool block into a 24-hour stand-alone channel is on Disney’s kids TV agenda for 2003. And since successful State-side formulas are often adopted by Disney’s roster of international kidnets, it’s likely that some significant new opportunities for preschool fare are poised to open up soon.

Getting a jumpstart on filling this potential programming need, Walt Disney Television International’s senior VP Paul Robinson says his outfit plans to boost its European production activities, with preschool programming earmarked as the starting point. Robinson and his team, which includes director of acquisitions and programming Mary Bredin, will be looking for concepts that can play in the U.S. and also be adapted cost-effectively for the international channels.

Anne Sweeney, president of ABC Cable Networks Group, offers the Playhouse Disney cooking segment Bite Size as a good example of the strategy at work. The show features local recipes that kids in each territory will be familiar with. ‘The result is certainly cost-efficient, but it also creates consistent Playhouse Disney positioning throughout Europe,’ she says.

Set up in a Television Without Frontiers directive to ensure that half of all European TV airtime is filled with programs originating across the pond, EU quotas are also behind Disney’s move to focus on Europe as a production center. Disney would like to match the success it has had in France, a particularly stringent territory when it comes to Euro content mandates. According to The Business of Children’s Television report, Disney France plugged US$787,000 into local market production in 2000, co-producing five series with other channels and one, Les Nouvelles Aventures de Alfred, exclusively.

Despite the unavoidable need to comply with European broadcast regulations, Robinson stresses that Disney’s local investment is driven by much more than that. ‘We can always achieve quotas by acquiring, but the point is that we are going to tap into our global network to source local talent–they’ve got contacts and new ideas.’

Because cultural issues and differences are much less prevalent among preschoolers than older kids, the demographic provides an easier starting point for a globalization push. Says Robinson: ‘More than environment and culture, the one thing that characterizes preschool children is their stage of development. They’re taking their first steps, learning about relationships and learning new skills–and these are common elements shared by members of this demographic around the world.’

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