By this summer, viewers of abc1 channel in the U.K. will wake up to Playhouse Disney programming on weekday mornings. The Freeview net, which debuted in September 2004 as a home for drama and comedy culled primarily from its American terrestrial cousin ABC, will clear an hour and a half of its early-day schedule to make room for preschool series Higglytown Heroes from Wild Brain, Cartoon Pizza’s PB & J Otter and Stanley, and Walt Disney Animation’s The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
The announcement comes on the heels of a February deal between Disney and the U.K. conglom Sky to move the Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney from pay-TV to the basic cable Kids Mix package. Robert Gilby, Disney’s VP and managing director in the U.K., anticipates this shift will increase viewership to the channels, and says he’ll use the Freeview block to broaden the preschool programming audience and attract viewers to the Sky package.
abc1′s performance exceeded expectations, especially with mothers, and drove the decision to use Playhouse Disney, instead of Disney Channel, on Freeview. ‘It seemed like a natural fit for us to introduce preschool programming, but we wouldn’t rule out programming from Disney Channel in the future,’ Gilby says.
To promote Playhouse Disney UK, the abc1 block will initially broadcast four of the cablenet’s most popular series. And in the coming months, the Disney team will monitor the ratings on its 24 hour channel and adjust the Freeview block’s schedule to best promote the network. For example, after Mickey Mouse Clubhouse makes its debut in May on Playhouse Disney, the program will likely shift over to the abc1. At the moment, there are no plans to use the terrestrial feed to offer sneak previews of shows set to debut on Playhouse Disney, but Gilby isn’t ruling out the possibility.
Playhouse Disney on abc1 will start its weekday programming 15 minutes before the 7:30 a.m. Noggin block carried on Freeview net, TMF. The platform also broadcasts Five’s Milkshake, GMTV Kids, S4C and two full-time kids channels, CBBC and CBeebies. Gilby recognizes it’s increasingly competitive and other Freeview nets may look to add preschool programming in the future, but he hopes to have the upper hand by stressing to parents Disney’s heritage with storytelling.