Disney is in the "experience business." More than a just a brand, the company excels at creating channels (parks, stores, web, programming) for families to connect, make memories, and even a little magic, even more so now with the launch of Disney Junior, the new, learning-focused multiplatform brand replacing Playhouse Disney.
Nancy Kanter, Sr. Vice President, Original Programing and General Manager, Disney Junior Worldwide, oversees the development and production of all the long and short-form live action and animated shows our children love to watch, and also heads up the creative vision and content on a global basis.
Since forums and fan pages first started buzzing about the new Disney Junior brand, questions have been plentiful and answers not as much.
Kanter was kind enough to join me for a in-depth look at Disney Junior, from its intense development stages to its new animated series - five in all - that will be joining the current programming line up, including another season of breakout hit, "Jake and the Never Land Pirates."
How long has Disney Junior been in the making?
We started thinking about how to bring our programming for preschoolers to the next level almost two years ago. We had been hearing pretty consistently from moms that they wanted more of our content available during parts of the day beyond the morning block - late afternoon, evenings. And, they were specifically asking for our Playhouse Disney content and other types of content that were very clearly tied to Disney. At that point we really dove in and tried to understand the full preschool landscape and what the opportunities were for us to be not "me too" but truly unique and different from what was already out there.
What was the thought process behind launching this new brand?
Through Disney Junior, we are responding to what parents have asked us for - more of the Disney brand essence they know and love - and ultimately - a dedicated 24-hour destination for young kids featuring stories and characters that make kids of all ages feel something in their heart.
Extensive research helped define the vision for Disney Junior. Talking to moms, dads and parents/kids together, the researchers identified what resonates with parents of children ages 2-7, what they and their parents expect from the Disney brand and what they feel is currently missing from the preschool television marketplace.
The launch of Disney Junior in the U.S. is the next step in our global preschool strategy, which began 10 years ago with the premiere of our first dedicated preschool channel in the U.K.
Will Playhouse Disney cease to exist? What about Disney XD?
Playhouse Disney has been rebranded Disney Junior, so no more Playhouse Disney. That said, viewers' current favorites: "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," "Handy Manny," "Special Agent Oso," "Jungle Junction," "Little Einsteins" and "Imagination Movers," will continue to be seen on Disney Junior.
Additionally, five new series anchored by the new animated adventure series "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" have joined the Disney Junior schedule: the short form titles "Mickey Mousekersize," "Special Agent Oso: Three Healthy Steps" (supporting Disney's Magic of Healthy Living initiative) and "A Poem Is..." (narrated by Jennifer Garner and Katie Holmes, among other familiar voices), and full length series "Babar and the Adventures of Badou" and "Tinga Tinga Tales."
In 2012 Disney Junior will debut as a 24-hour basic cable and satellite channel in the U.S. The new Disney Junior channel will take the place of the SOAPnet channel, currently available in 75 million homes.
Disney XD is a basic cable channel and multi-platform brand showcasing a compelling mix of live-action and animated programming for Kids age 6-14, hyper-targeting boys and their quest for discovery, accomplishment, sports, adventure and humor. It is a separate network and not all affected by anything related to Disney Junior.
In its premiere week, Disney Junior delivered the Disney Channel's best ratings ever. What makes every Disney touches so magical?
We are certainly finding that when we deliver the kind of storytelling and characters that define the Disney experience, it is joyously embraced and celebrated by our audience. Nobody knows how to tell stories with real emotion and heart better than Disney does, and when we are true to that we almost always see success. The new on air look and feel of Disney Junior and our series, "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" really hit the bull's-eye for our viewers.
Will viewers see a return of some older favorites like "Rolie Polie Olie," "Higglytown Heroes" or even newer shows like "My Friends Tigger + Pooh?"
We are definitely looking at our library of past shows - some of which we had to retire before their time because we didn't have the programming slots available in a programming block - to see which ones would be good additions to our lineup once we have the full 24 hr/7 day a week channel up and running.
Can viewers expect more new programming to join the Disney Junior line-up?
We're busy in various stages of development and production on more new series. We just announced the following for Disney Junior at our Kids Upfronts presentation in New York City in mid-March:
What does Disney Junior offer viewers that similar channels don't?
Disney Junior will be set apart by programming that reflects the Disney experience - magical stories that make you feel something in your heart, while still providing educational value for kids age 2-7. Through rich character and storytelling, we think we can make shows that will be of the sort parents will want to find the time to sit down and watch WITH their child. We know that parent engagement in the media their young children consume can have a very important benefit in terms of learning as well as become a gateway for conversations with children around the storylines and themes that are presented.
Will Disney Junior branding reach the Disney Parks?
"Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage!" was rebranded and opened early March as "Disney Junior - Live on Stage!" at both Disney California Adventure and Disney Hollywood Studios.
Can park guests expect to see a new cast of characters based on Disney Junior programming?
"Disney Junior - Live on Stage!" now features characters from our hugely successful new series, "Jake and the Never Land Pirates."
What does Disney Junior offer parents and caregivers?
Disney Junior invites parents and grandparents to join their children in the ultimate Disney experience filled with magical, musical and heartfelt stories and characters, both classic and new, while incorporating specific learning and developmental themes designed for children ages 2-7. It is a television destination enjoyable for children and parents alike, including older children and siblings already engaged in our content, who we want to feel included in Disney Junior.
Disney Junior's animated and live action programming blends Disney's unparalleled storytelling and beloved characters with learning components, including early math and language skills, as well as healthy eating and lifestyles, with an emphasis on social and emotional development. Disney Junior celebrates childhood by encouraging children to laugh, sing, dance and have fun, inclusive of the developmental messages so important to their young minds. Disney Junior will be the ultimate TV destination for children, and for many, their first connection with the Disney brand.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.