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Ian Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of Astral Media, and Carolina Lightcap, president of Disney Channels Worldwide. (Della Rollins/Freelance photographer Della Rol)
Ian Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of Astral Media, and Carolina Lightcap, president of Disney Channels Worldwide. (Della Rollins/Freelance photographer Della Rol)

Astral puts boys in its sights with new channel Add to ...

With the success of its Disney brands, Astral Media Inc. has been wondering where the boys are.

Astral's long-running partnership with Disney Channels Worldwide has been humming along, attracting roughly six million subscribers and growing steadily. But the Family Channel, the Canadian version of the Disney Channel, was a victim of its own success.

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Hannah Montana. Lizzie McGuire. That's So Raven - they were hits with young female viewers. But with all those perky tweens dominating the airwaves with their high jinks, what was a boy to do?

"There was a void [for]note> //to attract// the young male audience," said Astral chief executive officer Ian Greenberg. On Wednesday, Astral hopes to fill that void with the launch of a new channel, Disney XD, aimed squarely at boys aged six to 14.

Disney launched the channel in the U.S. in 2009 and it is now available in 122 countries. It is a top-five kids' network in nine countries or regions, including the U.S., France, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Latin America, India and Japan.

"It's a strong performer pretty much everywhere, because we found there was a need in the market for this kind of programming that was hyper-targeting boys," said Carolina Lightcap, the president of Disney Channels Worldwide. "It's about thinking of them as much more multidimensional than how they were thought of before. … No one was really speaking to them in all of their aspects, in every part of their lives, in everything they do."

The moment XD launched elsewhere, Astral began working on plans to bring it to Canada. Indeed, the children's channel format has become more important than ever for broadcasters, thanks to a new ratings system that came to Canada in 2009. The personal people meter (PPM) tracks individual viewers' habits as opposed to an entire family's, and has shown for the first time just how much Canadian women - the golden egg for advertisers - watch what their kids watch.

"Our co-viewing numbers are really robust," Ms. Lightcap said, citing programs such as Phineas and Ferb, which aim to use humour that could appeal to both parents and kids in an attempt to make children's shows "the opposite of painful" for parents to watch.

The channel not only targets a new demographic among children, but it also gives Astral the first opportunity to offer up its Disney programming to advertisers shooting for those co-viewing mothers. Its other English-language Disney channels, Family and Disney Junior, are commercial-free.

"I can't think of a better brand to be associated with. We've had a tremendous response from the advertising community," Mr. Greenberg said.

Advertisers that have bought space on the new channel out of the gate include Hasbro Inc., Parmalat Canada Ltd., Kellogg Canada Inc., General Mills Canada Corp., and adidas, among others.

Astral's long relationship with Disney - it helped launch Family Channel in Canada in 1988 - has paid off with steady growth in the flagship channel. In 2009, Family drew $19.6-million in profit before interest and taxes (PBIT), according to the most recent regulatory documents available. Disney XD will start out with about half the number of subscribers - roughly three million on Bell TV, Rogers, and Eastlink to start, with Telus coming shortly after - but will add advertising revenues on top of that. A Marvel-branded block of programming will also move on to the channel beginning next year, once those shows' current broadcast rights agreements are up (including some with Teletoon, the kids' channel Astral owns with partner and competitor Corus Entertainment Inc.)





"For us, this is perfect to complete the portfolio of Disney brands," Mr. Greenberg said. "It's like a beautiful marriage."

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