|Launched||April 18, 1983|
|Owned by||Disney-ABC Television Group
(The Walt Disney Company)
|Picture format||720p (HDTV)
|DirecTV||290 (East, HD/SD)
291 (West, SD only)
|Dish Network||172 (East, SD only)
173 (West, SD only)
|Available on most cable systems||Check your local listings|
|Verizon FiOS||780 (HD)
|AT&T U-verse||1302 (HD)
302 (East, SD)
303 (West, SD only)
|Google Fiber||Check your local listings|
Disney Channel is an American basic cable and satellite television channel that is owned by the Disney-ABC Television Group division of The Walt Disney Company. Aimed mainly at pre-teens and teenagers 9–14 years of age and its preschooler-targeted shows aimed at children 2–6, its programming consists of original first-run television series, theatrically-released and original made-for-cable movies and select other third-party programming. The channel's programs were originally marketed towards families, and then to younger children by the late 1990s, although its viewing audience has diversified since the mid-2000s to include older teenagers and adults.
The U.S. channel is also the flagship property of Disney Channels Worldwide (currently run by President and Chief Creative Officer Gary Marsh), a group of more than 90 entertainment channels aimed at children and families that is available in over 160 countries and 30 languages (platform brands that are part of the unit, in addition to Disney Channel, include Disney XD, Disney Junior, Disney Cinemagic, Hungama TV and Radio Disney).
In early 1977, Walt Disney Productions executive Jim Jimirro brought forth the idea of a cable television network that would feature television and film material from the studio. Since the company was focusing on the development of the Epcot Center, Disney chairman Card Walker turned down the proposal. Disney tried again in 1982, entering into a partnership with the satellite unit of Group W (which had sold its 50% ownership stake in one of the Disney Channel's early rivals, Showtime, to Viacom around the same time); however, Group W would ultimately drop out of the intended joint venture in September of that year, due to disagreements over the channel's creative control and financial obligations that would have required Group W to pay a 50% share of the channel's start-up costs.
Despite losing Group W as a partner, The Disney Channel continued on with its development – now solely under the oversight of Walt Disney Productions, and under the leadership of the channel's first president Alan Wagner; Walt Disney Productions formally announced the launch of its family-oriented cable channel in early 1983. Disney later invested US$11 million to acquiring space on two transponders of the Hughes Communications satellite Galaxy 1, and spent US$20 million on purchasing and developing programming.
The Disney Channel launched nationally as a premium channel on April 18, 1983 at 7 a.m. ET; the first program ever aired on the channel was also its first original series Good Morning, Mickey!, which showcased classic Disney animated shorts. The channel's programming during its run as a premium service – carrying through to its transition to a basic cable channel – had targeted children and teenagers during the daytime, families during primetime and adults at night. The channel's primary logo (which was used until 1997) featured multiple lines resembling a TV set that featured an negative space silhouette of Mickey Mouse's head; IDs shown before programs between 1986 and 1996 generally involved Mickey Mouse – whose arms are only shown – involved in various situations (such as having a nightmare in which the "Mickey Mouse TV" logo chases one of Mickey's glove or Mickey making shadow figures on a flashlight-lit wall) that featured the logo being formed or displayed in various ways. The Disney Channel differed from other premium services in that not only did it acquire theatrically feature films for broadcast on the channel, but several television series airing on the channel during its life as a pay service were acquired through corporate sister Buena Vista Television and other programming distributors, in addition to producing its own original programs. Unlike other premium services, it also opted not to disclose a film's Motion Picture Association of America rating the prior to the start of the feature.
At the time of its launch, Disney Channel's programming aired for 16 hours each day, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET/PT. During its first full year, the channel was available to more than 532,000 subscribers in the U.S. In its first years, The Disney Channel's programming included original programs Welcome to Pooh Corner and You and Me Kid along with several foreign-imported animated series and movies including Asterix, The Raccoons, Paddington Bear, and the Australian western Five Mile Creek; the original late night schedule also featured reruns of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The short segment D-TV, featuring popular music interwoven with scenes from Disney's animated shorts and feature films, also aired as filler between shows. Outside of daytime programs for children, the channel also aired movies and original specials (mostly concerts), primarily during the nighttime hours.
The channel also provided a monthly program guide/magazine called The Disney Channel Magazine to its subscribers (the magazine also lent its name to a series of interstitials seen on the channel), until it ceased publication as the channel began primarily operating as a commercial-free basic channel. As a premium channel, The Disney Channel often ran week-long free previews four times annually, as well as two periodic weekend-only previews (with ads targeted to those who were not subscribers); this resulted in The Disney Channel offering more preview events each calendar year during its tenure as a pay service than HBO, Cinemax and Showtime ran during that timeframe. In April 1984, the channel extended its daily programming to 18 hours (from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. ET/PT), with the addition of two hours onto its late night schedule. On December 1, 1986, Disney Channel began broadcasting 24 hours a day.
Early in 1986, the musical sitcom Kids Incorporated, about a pre-teen (and later teen-to-young adult) gang of friends who formed a pop group, mixing their everyday situations with variety-show and music video style performances. It became a hit for the channel, spawning many future stars in both music and acting during its nine-year run, including Martika (who went by her real name of Marta Marrero in the show's first season), eventual Party of Five co-stars Scott Wolf and Jennifer Love Hewitt (billed as Love Hewitt), and Stacy Ferguson (later a member of The Black Eyed Peas under the stage name "Fergie").
In 1988, Good Morning, Miss Bliss, a starring vehicle for Hayley Mills of Polyanna and The Parent Trap fame, made its debut. After being cancelled following a 13-episode run due to low ratings, the series was picked up by NBC in 1989, and retooled as Saved by the Bell, with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dustin Diamond, Lark Voorhies and Dennis Haskins as the only Miss Bliss actors carried over to the new show; the retooled series became a hit as part of NBC's Saturday morning lineup (producing two spinoffs in the process) and through worldwide syndication.
In early 1989, the channel revived one of the company's early TV staples with The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (later known as simply MMC), becoming an immediate hit that proved Disney's basic variety show formula still worked in the modern era (unlike the short-lived 1970s revival). This version contained many elements seen in the original series from "theme days" to updated mouseketeer jackets, but the scripted and musical segments were more contemporary. MMC served as the launching pad for several future stars such as Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Keri Russell.
By 1989, The Disney Channel had about five million subscribers nationwide. In 1991, eight cable providers volunteered to move the channel to their expanded basic cable packages, with the first to do so (as a test run) being Jones Intercable's Fort Myers and Broward County, Florida systems. Other cable systems eventually began moving the channel to their basic tiers, either experimentally or on a full-time basis. Even as major providers such as Cox Communications and Marcus Cable began offering The Disney Channel on their basic tiers, executives for The Walt Disney Company denied plans to convert the channel to an ad-supported basic service, stating that the move from premium to basic cable on some systems was part of a five-year "hybrid" strategy that allowed providers to offer the channel in either form.
In 1991, The Disney Channel tested a two-channel multiplex service on two cable systems. By 1992, a third of the channel's subscriber base were estimated by Nielsen Media Research to be adults that did not have children; and by 1995, its subscriber base expanded to 15 million cable homes, eight million of which paid an additional monthly fee to receive the channel. In 1996, Anne Sweeney was appointed to oversee The Disney Channel, and the channel began offering a nightly primetime film.
On April 6, 1997, The Disney Channel underwent a significant rebranding, shortening its name to "Disney Channel" – though on-air promos that ran until September 2002 simply referred to the channel as "Disney" – and introducing a new logo (a black Mickey ear-shaped TV, though the patterning of the ear-shaped TV often varied, early versions of the logo featured people and animated characters appearing within the logo such as a 1930s-era Mickey Mouse). The channel continued to transition from a premium service into a basic cable channel around this time, though Disney Channel initially continued to offer free preview events for systems that continued to carry it as a pay service (Disney Channel would not complete its transition to a basic cable service until around 2004). The channel began shifting its target audience more toward kids, but continued to cater to family audiences at night. Disney Channel also began to air break interruptions within shows, featuring promotions for the channel's programming, as well as feature film and home video releases from Disney.
Original programming on Disney Channel began to ramp up during this period starting with the sitcom Flash Forward, and would increase in the following years with shows like The Famous Jett Jackson and So Weird, into the early part of the 2000s with Lizzie McGuire – whose star Hilary Duff became the first lead actor in one of the channel's series to cross over into music through a record deal with co-owned Hollywood Records – and Even Stevens. The network would eventually split itself into three programming blocks: amongst which were "Playhouse Disney" (comprising shows aimed at preschoolers) and "Vault Disney" (featuring classic Disney material, such as Zorro, The Mickey Mouse Club and the Walt Disney anthology television series), older television specials and feature films.
"Zoog Disney" was introduced in August 1998 and became the channel's most distinct program block, the afternoon to late evening lineup was hosted by anthropomorphic robot-like characters called "Zoogs" (which were originally two-dimensional figures, but were given a cel shaded redesign and mature voices in 2001, before being phased out after less than a year) and was designed to encourage viewer interactivity between television and the internet. The Zoog Disney brand would later expand, with all weekend programming (outside of the Vault Disney and Playhouse Disney blocks) becoming part of the "Zoog Weekendz" umbrella block from September 2001 to August 2002.
In 1999, Disney Channel began mandating that cable operators that continued to carry it as a premium service must move the channel to a basic cable tier or stop carrying it altogether, stipulating that it would not renew carriage agreements with providers (such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the last major cable providers to carry the channel as a pay service) that chose to continue carrying the network as a premium channel. With the shift towards children as its target audience, some off-network programs acquired by the channel during the early 2000s (such as Boy Meets World and later Sister, Sister) began to be edited for content deemed inappropriate like profanity and sexual references.
By 2001, Disney Channel was available to approximately 70 million cable and satellite subscribers, largely consisting of those who already received the channel through basic cable, as well as what remained of its pay subscriber base. The music videos and concert specials that the channel ran since the 1997 rebrand were dropped by this time, citing the inability to obtain revenue from the artists' CD sales and lack of exclusivity for the videos; the channel soon after began featuring music videos from artists signed to Disney's in-house record labels Hollywood Records and Walt Disney Records, and songs featured in Disney-produced feature films. The channel debuted The Proud Family as its first original animated series in 2001, though it achieved its first major animated series hit the following year with the premiere of Kim Possible.
By 2002, Disney Channel was seen in 80 million cable homes nationwide. In early September of that year, Disney Channel began a gradual rebranding with the "Zoog" brand being discontinued from on-air use (though Zoog Disney would continue to exist as a separate website until 2003, when its content was merged with Disney Channel's primary website, disneychannel.com). Then on September 16, the Vault Disney block was replaced by same-day repeats of the channel's original and acquired programs, primarily to contribute to the network's then-upcoming "hip" image; the block's removal resulted in Disney Channel not featuring programs aimed at adults for the first time in its history – with the channel's primetime feature films becoming the only programs that intentionally targets a broader family audience; as of 2013, Disney Channel is the only major American cable channel aimed at children that does not directly maintain a dual audience of both kids and adults (Nickelodeon, The Hub and Cartoon Network each feature nighttime programming for families and/or adults).
Movies shown during primetime were also cut from an average of two to three features to only one each night of the week. Its original programming phased out reality and scripted dramas series, substantially increasing the channel's reliance on live-action sitcoms and animated series. One month later on October 7, 2002, Disney Channel introduced a new on-air logo designed by CA Square (using an outline of Mickey Mouse's head as its centerpiece) that would later be adopted by its international sister channels in May 2003, and unveiled a new graphics designed to fit the network's new look; moreover, Disney Channel began using a series of bumpers that are still in use, primarily featuring actors and animated characters from its original programs (and occasionally from Disney's theatrical releases), drawing the Disney Channel logo using a glowstick. Playhouse Disney became the only program block introduced in 1997 to remain by this point (it was later relaunched as Disney Junior in February 2011). Around this time, Disney Channel's original series began airing as part of corporate sister ABC's Saturday morning children's program block.
Veteran cable executive Anne Sweeney became president of Disney-ABC Television Group in 2004, ultimately helping to remake Disney Channel into "the major profit driver in the company" by the middle of the decade as the channel made major endroads in increasing its overall viewership, while in turn using a strategy – that proved successful – to discover, nurture and aggressively cross-promote teen music stars whose style and image were carefully targeted to the pre-teen and teenage demographic. Around that time as Disney Channel's intended target audience began ranging from preschoolers to young adolescents, the channel began to quickly gain in popularity, and added viewers outside this target demographic, creating increased competition with Viacom-owned Nickelodeon.
In 2003, Disney Channel premiered its first ever made-for-cable movie musical, The Cheetah Girls, which received a worldwide audience of 84 million viewers. In 2005, That's So Raven (which debuted in 2003) became the channel's highest-rated series since its transition to basic cable as well as being the first original series to run longer than 65 episodes – breaking a highly controversial rule that was implemented in 1998, aimed at limiting increases in production costs for its original programming (the rule is no longer enforced) – the series eventually became the channel's longest-running original series at 100 episodes (until it was surpassed by Wizards of Waverly Place in October 2011) and became the first to spawn a spin-off series (Cory in the House). The Suite Life of Zack & Cody also debuted in 2005, becoming a hit for the channel. The earlier success of The Cheetah Girls led to the creation of other music-themed original programming as 2006 saw the debut of the hit original movie High School Musical and the series Hannah Montana, the latter of which launched the career of its star Miley Cyrus (who starred opposite her father, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, in the series). On July 28 of that year, the channel saw the debut of the its first multiple-series crossover, That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana (which involved That's So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Hannah Montana).
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In 2007, the network began dropping most of its syndicated programs, and also began to incorporate rotating hour-long blocks of its original series and other programs during the daytime hours. Two new series also premiered: the That's So Raven spin-off Cory in the House (which ended after two seasons) and the more successful Wizards of Waverly Place. High School Musical 2 premiered on August 17 of that year, becoming the highest-rated non-sports program in the history of basic cable and the highest-rated made-for-cable movie premiere on record (as well as the highest-rated television program – broadcast or cable – of Summer 2007) with 17.2 million viewers. 2008 saw the debut of Phineas and Ferb, the first original animated series to be broadcast in HD, and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody spin-off, The Suite Life on Deck, along with two more music-based original made-for-TV movies: Camp Rock and The Cheetah Girls: One World. The Suite Life on Deck became the number one series among children between ages of 6- and 12-years-old in 2008.
Capitalizing on the rising star status of the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato following Camp Rock, 2009 saw the premieres of two series starring both acts: Sonny with a Chance and JONAS (Lovato also starred in the original movie Princess Protection Program, which premiered that June). The August debut of the original film Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie became the highest-rated cable program of 2009 (excluding sporting events), premiering to 11.4 million viewers and becoming the second highest-rated original movie premiere in Disney Channel's history. The July 17 premiere of the Wizards-Suite Life on Deck-Hannah Montana crossover special Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana also beat out its cable and broadcast competition that night with 9.1 million viewers (effectively making the Wizards and On Deck episodes featured in the special the highest-rated episodes of all three series at that point).
In 2010, Good Luck Charlie debuted as Disney Channel's first original sitcom targeted at family audiences, while Fish Hooks and Shake It Up also made their premieres. That year also saw the premiere of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam among the four original movies premiering that year, along with two made-for-TV movies that were co-produced with Canadian specialty channels (Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, in conjunction with Movie Central and The Movie Network; and 16 Wishes, with Family Channel). On November 19, 2010, Disney Channel began offering an alternate Spanish-language audio feed (carried either as a separate second audio program track or sold by cable and satellite providers in the form of a separate channel that is part of a Spanish-language programming package). Hannah Montana and The Suite Life on Deck both ended in 2011; Sonny with a Chance, meanwhile, was retooled as So Random! – focusing on the show within the show – after Demi Lovato decided not to return to the series to focus on her music career, following her treatment for bulimia and bipolar disorder (the So Random! spin-off series was canceled after one season in May 2012). Four other series (A.N.T. Farm, PrankStars, Jessie and Austin & Ally) also debuted that year, along with six made for-TV movies (including The Suite Life Movie, Lemonade Mouth and Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension).
2012 saw Disney Channel end Nickelodeon's 17-year run as the highest-rated cable channel in the United States, with its first ever win in total day cable network viewership as measured by ACNielsen. In January of that year, Wizards of Waverly Place ended its run as Disney Channel's longest-running original series with 106 episodes (beating the 100 episode record previously held by That's So Raven). That June, The Walt Disney Company announced that it would stop advertising or promoting food or beverage products that do not meet strict nutritional guidelines on Disney Channel or its other media properties aimed at children by 2015, purportedly becoming the first media company to take such a stance on stopping the marketing of junk food products to kids.
On July 1, 2012, Disney Channel began providing Descriptive Video Service audio as part of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 that required stations in the 25 largest media markets aligned with the major broadcast networks as well as the five highest-rated cable and satellite channels (including Disney Channel) to offer audio descriptions for the blind. On July 14, 2012, Disney Channel announced its first television collaboration with Marvel Entertainment (which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2009), in the form of a crossover special set to air in 2013 called Phineas & Ferb: Mission Marvel featuring characters from Phineas & Ferb and the Marvel Universe. In January 2013, Disney launched the Disney Shows channel on YouTube, featuring free episodes of Disney Channel and Disney XD series past and present, as well as original shorts seen on both channels.
Disney Channel's schedule currently consists largely of original series aimed at pre-teens and young teenagers (including animated series such as Phineas and Ferb, Fish Hooks, and Gravity Falls, to live-action series such as Good Luck Charlie, Shake It Up, Dog With a Blog, Jessie and Austin & Ally) and Disney Junior series. The channel also airs repeats of former Disney Channel original series (such as The Suite Life on Deck and Wizards of Waverly Place), occasional reruns of Disney XD original series (such as Kickin' It, Lab Rats and Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil), original made-for-TV movies, feature films, short-form programs known as "short shows" (which air more commonly on the Disney Junior block) and music videos from artists signed to sister companies Hollywood Records and Walt Disney Records as well as songs featured in recent and upcoming Disney feature film releases (full versions of these music videos typically air only during the video's premiere and as filler between programs, while shorter versions usually air during promo breaks during the current program).
Disney Channel operates as an essentially commercial-free channel, opting not to feature traditional commercial advertising during its in-show breaks due to concerns that younger viewers may be unable to separate the difference between programs and advertisements, and in order to pay a lower license fee rate to broadcast feature films distributed by major movie studios than ad-supported channels would pay – in lieu of running commercials, Disney Channel maintains underwriter sponsorships with major companies such as Best Western and Mattel.
Atypical of most U.S. cable channels, since 2006, Disney Channel's scripted programs (including shows featured on the Disney Junior block) feature additional scenes played over the closing credits. It also has an unwritten requirement that its original live-action series no more than six regular cast members (So Weird was the last series prior to 2003 to have more than six series regulars within its cast, only Shake It Up has featured more than that with its second season having seven cast members on contract with the show). The channel's series tend to have smaller writing staffs compared to scripted series seen on other broadcast and cable networks (usually featuring around 4 and 8 credited staff writers, instead of the 8 to 11 writers commonly found on most scripted shows). Its live-action multi-camera series also commonly utilize a simulated film look (the FilmLook processing for such shows debuting between 2003 and 2008; the HD-compatible 'filmizing' technique for all newer and returning original series produced after 2009, which reduce the video frame rate to 24 frames per second). During the 1980s and 1990s, Disney Channel ran classic Disney animated shorts released between the 1930s and 1960s, which were removed from the lineup in 2000; since 2009, repackaged versions of these shorts are seen as part of the short series ReMicks and have a laugh!.
Disney Channel regularly broadcasts a movie most nights during the week and occasionally airs films during the daytime hours, but these may not necessarily be a theatrically released film. The channel produces original made-for-cable movies called Disney Channel Original Movies (or DCOMs), which are frequently broadcast during prime time hours; the DCOM slate began with the 1997 premiere of Northern Lights. After that point, the number of DCOMs that debuted each year began to increase – from two in 1997 to a high of twelve in 2000, when the network premiered a new original movie each month during that year, before decreasing the current rate of roughly four to six premieres each year. Disney Channel previously ran double airings of its original movies on the night of its premiere (until the January 2006 premiere of High School Musical), though encore presentations of said films occasionally still air on the Saturday or Sunday of the initial debut weekend with few exceptions (Camp Rock was the first film not to be encored in this manner). "Special edition" airings of its higher-profile original movie premieres also air, including sing-along versions of music-based films (featuring lyrics displayed on-screen for viewers to sing along with the film's songs) and "What's What" editions (styled similarly to Pop-Up Video, featuring on-screen pop up facts about the movie and its stars).
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-viewed television program, as its August 2007 debut was watched by 17.2 million (counting sports, this record stood until a December 3, 2007 New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game telecast on corporate sibling ESPN's Monday Night Football 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 was the first TV movie musical in Disney Channel 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 ABC Family. The channel also has rights to films released by film studios owned by companies other than The Walt Disney Company: including Warner Bros. Entertainment, Universal Pictures, The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Lions Gate Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. 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.
Films made up roughly half of Disney Channel's daily schedule between 1986 and 1998, the number of movies broadcast on the channel has steadily eroded since then, to the point that films now only air during the primetime hours on Monday through Thursdays (though not always during those nights) and the overnight hours on weekends. Except for some holiday-themed movies, many Disney Channel Original Movies made from 1997 to 2005 have seldom aired on the channel in recent years; these older original movies began airing again in January 2009, as part of a late night block on Fridays and Saturdays at 3 a.m. ET/PT (a Sunday block was later added in June 2010, with these movies moving to 2:30 a.m. ET/PT and sometimes airing uninterrupted one month later). Cadet Kelly, Camp Rock and Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior are currently the only Disney Channel Original Movies to have aired on a network outside of the Disney Channel brand domestically (the latter two have aired on sister channel ABC Family, while Cadet Kelly and Camp Rock have also been broadcast on ABC as part of The Wonderful World of Disney).
On September 13, 2010, Disney Channel began airing theatrical film releases in a 4:3 letterbox format on the channel's primary standard definition feed, broadcasting them in the widescreen-style format as they are aired on the HD feed; although theatrical movies shot with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 are panned and scanned to fit high-definition sets to eliminate screen burn-in on plasma displays. Partly due to the network advertising mainly its own programs in lieu of traditional advertising, films featured on Disney Channel often run short of their allotted time slot with interstitial programming airing to pad out the remainer of the time period (usually an episode of an original series if a film runs approximately 90 to 100 minutes, an 11-minute-long episode of an original animated series for films running 105 minutes or a mix of music videos, network promotions and short segments for films running longer than 105 minutes).
Disney XD is a digital cable and satellite television channel in the United States, which is aimed at males aged 7–14. The channel launched on February 13, 2009 (replacing predecessor Toon Disney), carrying 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 and unlike parent network Disney Channel and its sister channel Disney Junior, Disney XD is 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.
On May 26, 2010, Disney-ABC Television Group announced the launch of a new digital cable and satellite channel targeted at preschool-aged children 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 PBS Kids Sprout. The channel features programs from Disney Channel's existing preschool programming library and films 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 the soap opera genre's decline in popularity on broadcast television, and the growth of video on demand (including the online streaming availability for soap operas) and digital video recorders negating the need for a linear channel devoted to the genre. An automated Soapnet feed continues to exist, though, for providers that have 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); it is unclear when or if Soapnet will completely cease operations.
The former Playhouse Disney block on Disney Channel was rebranded as Disney Junior on February 14, 2011, with the 22 existing Playhouse Disney-branded cable channels and program blocks outside the United States having since rebranded under the Disney Junior name. 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.
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 12-years-old. The network's main competitors were Turner Broadcasting/Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Boomerang, and Viacom/MTV Networks' Nicktoons. Unlike Disney Channel, Toon Disney was advertiser-supported. The channel carried a format 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 ceased operations on February 13, 2009 and was replaced with the preteen male-oriented Disney XD, featuring a broader array of programming, with a heavier emphasis on live-action programs.
Disney Channel has received some criticism for their current programming direction. Critics disapprove of the marketing strategy made by Anne Sweeney, the President of ABC-Disney Television Group, which makes the programs on Disney Channel geared mainly toward pre-teen girls and teenage girls. Sweeney had also said that Disney Channel would be "the major profit driver for the (Walt Disney) Company."
The channel has also pulled episodes (even once having to reshoot an episode) that featured subject matter either 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 I diabetes). Portions of that episode were subsequently rewritten and re-filmed to become the season three episode "Uptight (Oliver's Alright)", which aired 10 months later 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 in 2010) objected on Twitter to jokes featured in both episodes (the Shake It Up episode, in particular) that made light of eating disorders. Also on May 17, 2013 it pulled an episode of Jessie called "Quitting Cold Koala" from airing it because of the Gluten subject matter.
Disney Channel has established channels in various countries worldwide including South Africa, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, India, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, United Kingdom, Ireland, Caribbean, the Netherlands and Flanders. Disney Channel also licenses its programming to air on certain other broadcast and cable channels outside the United States (such as Family Channel in Canada), regardless as to whether an international version of Disney Channel exists in the country.
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