Canadian parents may find themselves channel surfing frantically to find their children's favourite TV shows this fall, as a lineup of Disney programs move to a different home under a new distribution agreement announced Thursday.
Starting in September, Corus Entertainment Inc. will become the first Canadian company to offer Disney Channel, adding a new layer of confusion to the already muddled rights ownership of U.S. content in Canada.
For decades, kids have turned to the Family Channel to catch episodes of Disney's most famous shows, including cartoons such as Phineas and Ferb and live-action favourites such as Wizards of Waverly Place and Hannah Montana.
Soon they're going to have to flip elsewhere, as all of the newest Disney shows migrate to the new Canadian Disney Channel, leaving the Family Channel with a schedule of almost entirely different shows next year.
"While Disney programming has aired before in Canada, this is the first time Canadian audiences will be treated to the full Disney Channel experience," Corus said Thursday in an e-mail.
The arrival of Disney Channel comes after a number of Canada's most-prized kids' channels swapped hands last year.
Family Channel was passed to DHX after the creator and distributor of kids programs got CRTC permission to buy three specialty TV channels that Bell Media was required to sell when it bought Astral Media.
As part of that transaction, DHX also acquired the Canadian versions of two Disney Junior channels in English and French and Disney XD – each providing specific kids' demographics with a variety of Canadian shows sandwiched between Disney programs.
Essentially, the transfer of those Disney channels, in name, doesn't matter now. Both will be completely revamped and renamed by DHX, replaced with a fresh schedule and new extensions of the DHX-owned Family brand.
DHX plans to launch Family Junior and Famille Junior, aimed at kids aged 2 to 6, and Family XTRM, for viewers six to 12 in November.
Corus said Thursday that current and new series will be featured on Disney Channel when the service launches on Sept. 1, but the company declined requests for interviews about the new agreement with Disney.
Among the unanswered questions is whether Corus will relaunch more of its kid-oriented channels.
The Toronto-based media company already has a broad portfolio of specialty TV channels geared to young audiences, including YTV, Treehouse, Nickelodeon and ABC Spark.
Under the Disney agreement, it also gains the streaming and ad-supported video on-demand rights to certain shows.
Between September and January, DHX will continue broadcasting Disney content on the Family Channel, but gradually the lineup will be replaced with more of its own programs, which include Canadian-produced shows such as Justin Time0 and The Next Step.
DHX also plans to add new episodes of Monster High, Hot Wheels and Thomas & Friends under an agreement with Mattel, it said.