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Got It Need It: Disney flips the switch on XD, taps new program team to pump up long-term sked

After a preliminary six-month incubation period spent generating media buzz and building a schedule from scratch, boy-targeted newcomer Disney XD is going live on February 13, taking Toon Disney's place in 72 million US homes. Animated comedies and live-action adventure series are set to fuel the channel, while companion website DisneyXD.com will launch with mobile games, exclusive fan pages, community apps and personalized avatars.
February 17, 2009

After a preliminary six-month incubation period spent generating media buzz and building a schedule from scratch, boy-targeted newcomer Disney XD is going live on February 13, taking Toon Disney’s place in 72 million US homes. Animated comedies and live-action adventure series are set to fuel the channel, while companion website DisneyXD.com will launch with mobile games, exclusive fan pages, community apps and personalized avatars.

Moreover, the House of Mouse has just appointed a dedicated executive team to head up the fledgling channel’s programming. Fresh off a two-year stint Down Under working at Disney Channels Australia and New Zealand is Disney XD’s new executive director of programming, Anthony Danna. Overseeing program planning and scheduling for the network, Danna is reporting to, and working closely with, MTV-veteran and Disney newcomer Paul DeBenedittis, SVP of programming strategy for Disney Channels Worldwide. Since joining Disney six months ago, DeBenedittis has taken charge of US-based planning, scheduling, acquisitions and copro teams at Disney Channel, Playhouse Disney, Toon Disney/Jetix and ABC Kids, in addition to XD.

For his part, Danna is raring to get going. ‘My biggest takeaway from my time overseas is that I’m walking away with a broader perspective of what kids TV programming is and can be,’ he says. ‘I quickly discovered that kids respond to other genres as much as they respond to comedy.’ So while comedy is going to be a big part of Danna’ scheduling, action/adventure, sports and reality series will also be layered into the lineup as time goes on. The common thread for the networks’ series, however, is that they’ll hype accomplishment, discovery and empowerment to reflect boys’ multi-faceted lives and the ways they seek gratification from television. For example, as DeBenedittis explains, sports shows on the channel will go deeper than just airing games and grudge matches to include narrative-driven series, tips and tidbits of information.

It’s early days for Danna to discuss blocking strategy, as the net had yet to go live at press time. He would say the channel is presenting a comedy-heavy Saturday morning sked, featuring Disney original Phineas and Ferb and Jetix co-pros Jimmy Two Shoes (Breakthrough) and Kid vs. Kat (Studio B) and that Disney XD has started laying the foundation for a strong live-action slate. Aaron Stone from Shaftesbury Services II is set to kick things off on Monday nights. And Danna notes, looking ahead, ‘live action will definitely be a bigger part of who we are and where we’re going.’

Other new series set to bow on the net include Kid Knievel, a 2-D animated comedy series from Walt Disney Television Animation, and a new live-action skateboarding adventure/comedy called Zeke & Luther from Turtle Rock Productions.

In-house productions will figure heavily on XD’s sked, as Danna explains series developed in-house are able to deliver on-brand promises in a much more specific way than those that aren’t. However, he did say the channel will be open to taking on international third-party productions. Though he wouldn’t elaborate on the percentage split between XD original productions vs. acquisitions and co-pros, Danna points to CGI series RoboDz co-produced with Japan’s Toei Animation and Bruno the Great, a 2-D series from Italy’s Studio Bozzetto, as two examples of indie-led projects already on the roster.

As an ad-supported network, SVP of TV sales for Disney media sales and marketing Michelle Scarola says XD is looking to cater to ad categories that go beyond traditional kid advertisers and are more meaningful to the boy-focused brand. For example, she sees video games and sports-related products as categories that could benefit from XD’s target boys six to 14 audience.

As for plans for the 19 Jetix channels operating outside of the US, DeBenedittis says he’s in talks to convert and rebrand them as Disney XD outlets over the coming months. KC

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