Disney Channel (originally called The Disney Channel from 1983 to 1997 and commonly shortened to Disney from 1997 to 2002) is an American pay television channel that serves as the flagship property of owner Disney Channels Worldwide unit of the Walt Disney Television subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.
Disney Channel's programming consists of original first-run television series, theatrically released and original made-for-TV movies and select other third-party programming. Disney Channel – which formerly operated as a premium service – originally marketed its programs towards families during the 1980s, and later at younger children by the 2000s. A majority of Disney Channel's original programming is aimed at children aged 6–16, while its Disney Junior programs are targeted at children aged 7 years and under.
As of January 2016, Disney Channel is available to approximately 93.9 million pay television households (80.6% of households with at least one television set) in the United States.
In 1977, Walt Disney Productions executive Jim Jimirro brought forth the idea of a cable television network that would feature television and film content sourced from the studio. Disney chairman Card Walker turned down the proposal, citing the company's focus on developing the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. The idea was revived in November 1981, when Disney entered into a partnership with Group W Satellite Communications. In September 1982, Group W rescinded its interest in the intended joint venture, due to disagreements over creative control of the channel and financial obligations that would have had Group W shoulder 50% of the service's start-up costs. Walt Disney Productions continued on with the channel's development with help from the channel's founding president Alan Wagner, and formally announced the launch of its family-oriented cable channel in early 1983.
The Disney Channel launched nationally as a premium channel at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time on April 18, 1983. The channel – which initially maintained a 16-hour-per-day programming schedule from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time – would become available on cable providers in all 50 U.S. states by September 1983, and accrue a base of more than 611,000 subscribers by December of that year.; In October 1983, the channel debuted its first made-for-cable movie, Tiger Town, which earned the channel a CableACE Award. The channel had reached profitability by January 1985, with its programming reaching 1.75 million subscribers by that point.
In September 1990, TCI's Montgomery, Alabama, system became the first cable provider to carry the channel as a basic cable service. Between 1991 and 1996, a steadily increasing number of cable providers began shifting The Disney Channel from a premium add-on offering to their basic tiers, either experimentally or on a full-time basis; however, Walt Disney Company executives denied any plans to convert the channel into an ad-supported basic service, stating that the premium-to-basic shifts on some providers was part of a five-year "hybrid" strategy that allowed providers to offer the channel in either manner.
On April 6, 1997, the channel – which was officially renamed as simply Disney Channel and, until September 2002, alternatively identified only as "Disney" in on-air promotions and network identifications – underwent a significant rebranding and introducing a new logo styled as a Mickey ear-shaped TV set designed by Lee Hunt Associates. Programming-wise, it maintained a programming format similar to that which it carried as a full-fledged premium service; however, Disney Channel's target audience began shifting more toward a focus on kids, while continuing to cater to family audiences at night. Disney Channel also began to air break interruptions within shows to promote its programming and Disney film and home video releases, decreased the number of older films that aired on its schedule, and began catering its music programming more towards acts popular with pre-teens and teenagers (incorporating music videos and refocusing its concert specials to feature younger and up-and-coming musicians popular with that demographic). On August 23, 1997, the channel relaunched its slate of made-for-television movies – Disney Channel Original Movies – with Northern Lights, supplanting the previous Disney Channel Premiere Films banner. Disney Channel also started to increase its original programming development, launching with the 1997 debut of the sitcom Flash Forward.
The channel would eventually split its programming into three distinct blocks: Playhouse Disney (which debuted in May 1997, focusing on series aimed at preschoolers), Vault Disney (which began as a Sunday-only nighttime block in September 1997 before expanding to seven nights a week by late 1998, featuring older Disney programs, older television specials and some of the older feature films shifted off its daytime and prime time lineup), and Zoog Disney (a weekend afternoon and evening lineup hosted by anthropomorphic robot/alien hybrid characters called "Zoogs" that was introduced in August 1998, compromising original and acquired series aimed at preteens and teens). The Zoog Disney brand would later expand to encompass most of the channel's weekend daytime and evening schedule under the "Zoog Weekendz" banner in June 2000.
In 1999, Disney Channel began mandating that TV providers which continued to offer it as a premium service shift the channel to their basic channel tiers or else it would decline to renew carriage agreements with providers (such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the last major TV providers to carry the channel as a pay service) that chose to continue offering it as an add-on to their service. In the fall of 2002, Disney Channel discontinued the Zoog Weekendz and Vault Disney blocks – phasing out the "Zoog" brand on-air, and replacing the latter block with a lineup of same-day repeats of the channel's original and acquired programming – and reduced its nightly prime time movie lineup from showcasing an average of two to three features to a single feature daily. Its original programming slate also became heavily reliant on live-action sitcoms and animated series, eschewing reality series and scripted dramas.
The channel's original programming efforts of the 2000s also led to a marketing effort to cross over the stars of its series into music through record deals with sister music label Hollywood Records, beginning with Hilary Duff, who became the channel's first teen idol through the 2001–04 sitcom Lizzie McGuire. The success of the 2003 original television film The Cheetah Girls led to other music-themed original programs being developed, including the 2006 hit original movie High School Musical and sitcom Hannah Montana (which launched the career of its star Miley Cyrus). The August 17, 2007 premiere of High School Musical 2 became the highest-rated non-sports program in the history of basic-tier TV and the highest-rated made-for-cable movie premiere on record (as well as the highest-rated television program – either free-to-air or subscription-based– of Summer 2007) with 17.2 million viewers. In 2012, Disney Channel ended Nickelodeon's 17-year run as the highest-rated cable channel in the United States, placing its first ever win in total-day viewership among all cable networks as measured by ACNielsen.
High School Musical 2 is currently the most successful DCOM in terms of popularity and accolades, setting a basic cable record for the single most-watched television program, as its August 2007 debut was watched by 17.2 million viewers(counting sports, this record stood until a December 3, 2007 telecast of a New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game on corporate sibling ESPN's Monday Night Football, which was watched by 17.5 million viewers). The Cheetah Girls films were also notably successful in terms of merchandise and sales for its concert tour and soundtrack albums. The first film in 2003 was the first made-for-TV movie musical in Disney Channel's history, and had a worldwide audience of over 84 million viewers. The second movie was the most successful of the series, bringing in 8.1 million viewers in the U.S. An 86-date concert tour featuring the group was ranked as one of the top 10 concert tours of 2006; the tour broke a record at the Houston Rodeo that was set by Elvis Presley in 1973, selling out with 73,500 tickets sold in three minutes.
In addition to its made-for-cable films, Disney Channel has rights to theatrically released feature films, with some film rights shared with sister network Freeform. Along with films released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (mainly consisting of releases from Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar), the channel also maintains rights to films from other studios. Some films released by Bagdasarian Productions (such as The Chipmunk Adventure and Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein) have also aired on Disney Channel, although most of them are not presently owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
On May 26, 2010, Disney-ABC Television Group announced the launch of a new digital cable and satellite channel targeted at children aged 2-7 called Disney Junior, which debuted on March 23, 2012. The Disney Junior channel – which like Disney Channel (though unlike Disney XD or the channel Disney Junior replaced, Soapnet), is commercial-free – competes with other preschooler-skewing cable channels such as Nick Jr., Qubo and Sprout. The channel features programs from Disney Channel's existing preschool programming library and movies from the Walt Disney Pictures film library. Disney Junior took over the channel space held by Soapnet – a Disney-owned cable channel featuring soap operas – due to that genre's decline in popularity on broadcast television, and the growth of video on demand, online streaming and digital video recorders, negating the need for a linear channel devoted to the soap opera genre. An automated Soapnet feed continued to exist for providers that had not yet made carriage agreements for Disney Junior (such as Dish Network) and those that have kept Soapnet as part of their lineups while adding Disney Junior as an additional channel (such as DirecTV and Cox Communications); After a period during which cable providers unwilling to drop the network immediately retained it to prevent subscriber cancellations, Soapnet ceased full operations on December 31, 2013.
The former Playhouse Disney block on Disney Channel was rebranded as Disney Junior on February 14, 2011; the 22 existing Playhouse Disney-branded cable channels and program blocks outside the United States rebranded under the Disney Junior name over the next two years, concluding with the rebranding of the Russian and Chinese versions in September 2013. Disney-ABC Television Group previously planned to launch a domestic Playhouse Disney Channel in the U.S. (which would have served the same target audience as Disney Junior) in 2001, however, this planned network never launched, although dedicated Playhouse Disney Channels did launch outside of the United States.
Disney XD is a digital cable and satellite television channel in the United States, which is aimed at boys and girls (originally aimed at young male audiences) aged 6–15. The channel was launched on February 13, 2009, and is the successor to Toon Disney; it carries action and comedy programming from Disney Channel and the former Jetix block from Toon Disney, along with some first-run original programming and off-network syndicated shows. Like its predecessor Toon Disney, but unlike parent network Disney Channel and its sister channel Disney Junior, Disney XD operates as an advertiser-supported service. The channel carries the same name as an unrelated mini-site and media player on Disney.com, which stood for Disney Xtreme Digital, though it is said that the "XD" in the channel's name does not have an actual meaning.
Disney+ is a subscription video on-demand streaming service owned and operated by the Direct-to-Consumer & International (DTCI) division of The Walt Disney Company. The service primarily distributes films and television series produced by The Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Television, with the service advertising content from Disney's Marvel, National Geographic, Pixar, and Star Wars brands in particular.
Toon Disney launched on April 18, 1998 (coinciding with the 15th anniversary of parent network Disney Channel's launch), and was aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. The network's main competitors were Turner Broadcasting/Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Boomerang, and Viacom/MTV Networks' Nicktoons. Toon Disney originally operated as a commercial-free service from April 1998 to September 1999, when it became advertiser-supported (unlike Disney Channel). The channel carried a mix of reruns of Walt Disney Television Animation and Disney Channel-produced animated programming, along with some third-party programs from other distributors, animated films and original programming. In 2004, the channel debuted a nighttime program block aimed at children ages 7–14 called Jetix, which featured action-oriented animated and live-action series. During Toon Disney's first year on the air, Disney Channel ran a sampler block of Toon Disney's programming on Sunday nights for interested subscribers. The network's successor, Disney XD, a channel also aimed at children, launched on February 13, 2009, and features broader array of programming, with a heavier emphasis on live-action programs.
|Disney Channel HD||Disney Channel HD is a high-definition simulcast feed of Disney Channel that broadcasts in the 720p resolution format; the feed first began broadcasting on March 19, 2008. Most of the channel's original programming since 2009 is produced and broadcast in HD, along with feature films, Disney Channel original movies made after 2005 and select episodes, films and series produced before 2009. Disney XD and Disney Junior also offer their own high-definition simulcast feeds.|
|Disney Channel On Demand||Disney Channel On Demand is the channel's video-on-demand service, offering select episodes of the channel's original series and Disney Junior programming, along with select original movies and behind-the-scenes features to digital cable and IPTV providers.|
|DisneyNow||DisneyNow is a TV Everywhere service that allows subscribers to Disney Channel on participating television providers to stream the channel's programming live and on-demand.
The service is a successor to Disney Channel's original TV Everywhere service, "Watch Disney Channel", which launched in June 2012; in September 2017, Disney replaced the separate apps for Disney Channel, Junior, and XD with a new app known as DisneyNow.
|Disney Family Movies||Disney Family Movies is a defunct subscription video-on-demand service that launched on December 10, 2008. The service offered a limited selection of movies and short films from the Walt Disney Pictures film catalog for a fee of about $5 to $10 per month, making it similar in structure to Disney Channel's original model as a premium service. Disney Family Movies was discontinued on October 31, 2019, prior to the launch of the video on-demand streaming service Disney+, which offers a wider film selection and is not confined to cable on-demand providers.|
Anne Sweeney, who was president of Disney Channel from 1996 to 2014, has been the target of criticism. Some critics have disapproved of the marketing strategy that was drafted during her tenure, which has resulted in the slanting of the target audience of Disney Channel's programs toward teenyboppers, as well as a decrease in animated programming and an increase in live-action shows and made-for-TV movies. In 2008, Sweeney had stated that Disney Channel, resulting from its multi-platform marketing strategy using television and music, would become "the major profit driver for the [Walt Disney] Company."
The channel has also pulled episodes (even once having to reshoot an episode) that have featured subject matter deemed inappropriate due to its humor, the timing of the episode's airing with real-life events, or subject matter considered inappropriate for Disney Channel's target audience. In December 2008, the Hannah Montana episode "No Sugar, Sugar" was pulled before its broadcast after complaints from parents who saw the episode through video on demand services due to misconceptions regarding diabetics and sugar intake (the Mitchel Musso character of Oliver Oken is revealed in the episode to have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes). Portions of that episode were subsequently rewritten and re-filmed to become the season three episode "Uptight (Oliver's Alright)," which aired in September 2009.
In December 2011, Disney Channel pulled episodes of two of its original series from the network's broadcast cycle – the season one Shake It Up episode "Party It Up," and the So Random! episode "Colbie Caillat" – after Demi Lovato (star of So Random! parent series Sonny with a Chance, who was treated for bulimia nervosa in 2010) objected on Twitter to jokes featured in both episodes (the Shake It Up episode, in particular) that made light of eating disorders. On May 17, 2013, the channel pulled "Quitting Cold Koala", a second-season episode of Jessie, prior to its scheduled premiere broadcast, due to parental concerns over a scene in which a character's gluten-free diet leads to his being ridiculed.
In 2010, Disney Channel All Star Party was released for the Nintendo Wii. The four-player mascot party game, in which the stages resemble board games, features characters from Disney Channel programs such as Sonny with a Chance, Wizards of Waverly Place, and JONAS L.A.. Several video games based on the Disney Channel animated series Phineas and Ferb were released by Disney Interactive Studios. The Disney Channel website also features various Flash games incorporating characters from the channel's various program franchises. There have also been games based on Kim Possible and Hannah Montana.
Disney Channel has established its channels in various countries worldwide including Canada, France, South Africa, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, India, Australia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, the Middle East, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, the Netherlands, Israel and Flanders. Disney Channel also licenses its programming to air on certain other broadcast and cable channels outside the United States (previously like Family Channel in Canada) regardless of whether or not an international version of Disney Channel exists in the country.