Disney Junior, which rebranded from Playhouse Disney earlier this year, is launching a 24-hour network in early 2012 for the company’s youngest viewers—the preschool demo. Nancy Kanter svp, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Junior Worldwide, discusses the brand’s new toddler-friendly programs in development, the latest educational research for the age group and the net’s mutually beneficial relationship with mommy bloggers.
How are you leveraging Disney’s brand while still making it fresh?
It’s a creative challenge but a really great opportunity, because we have an enormous amount of heritage to look back to. [It’s about] figuring out how you take what’s great, what people have connected to in the past, and make it for today. We’re doing that with “Sofia the First,” the show in development now—taking all those classic Disney princess elements and making it feel very specific for our audience and today’s audience. And then, how do we take some of the essence of Disney storytelling—and not necessarily just have a heritage character, but just those elements that really characterize how Disney’s told stories—and bring that to new characters. We’re doing that with a show called “Doc McStuffins,” where we have wish fulfillment and sense of wonder and whimsy and emotional connection. We’ve created that in a framework of a whole new set of characters.
Your competitors are already in the 24-hour space. So how will you compete with other nets? What sets you apart?
Most importantly, our focus is on storytelling. Disney has always told really wonderful, heartfelt and rich stories and that’s certainly our focus for the content going forward. A lot of the conversations we’ve had and the research we’re doing with educators is reinforcing over and over again that storytelling is that pathway for kids learning this age. It’s not that you can have storytelling or you can have learning. We’re certainly convinced and are being supported by all the educational research that you can have both.
What kind of educational research?
We know it’s important for parents to appreciate and understand that there is real thought being [put into] the educational value of the show. So we work with a whole range of advisors and consultants, whether it’s something really specific, like people who know everything there is to know about how to teach early Math to preschoolers, or advisors who are more versed in the emotional and social aspect of a child’s development. One of the key things that we’ve been talking to these experts about is the role of storytelling in communicating educationally-found elements to kids. We’re putting a lot of our focus and attention on how can we find a way to integrate the learning and whether that’s something as academic as math or vocabulary or something a little more emotionally complex, when it comes to social skills, and life skills.
How have mommy bloggers influenced your program choices?
We have a Facebook page, and the social media moms are a big part of how we communicate what we’re doing—both in the general sense, and also specific, whether it’s programming or an event. So we use that whole network of social media, with moms in particular, to communicate so they can hear from us but also so we can hear from them. We’ve done a number of activities on our Facebook page when we were launching Disney Junior [in Feb 2011], the block here in the U.S. We had a poll where moms could vote for which Disney Junior print ad they like the best. We’ve given them the opportunity to weigh in which of the old Disney Junior shows, which were formerly part of Playhouse Disney, they would like to see back on the network when we launch the 24-hour channel. It’s lots of that kind of feedback, because it is such a 2-way process. We can tell them [things], but they can tell us right back. It’s immediate. Within an hour, you know what they’re thinking. It’s clearly become a resource for us, [something] we didn’t have, even 3 or 5 years ago. It seems to be mutually beneficial.
More from Nancy Kanter in CableFAX Daily this week.


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