Disney Channel (originally called The Disney Channel from 1983 to 1997 and commonly shortened to Disney from 1997 to 2002) is an American pay television channel that serves as the flagship property of owner Disney Channels Worldwide unit of the Walt Disney Television subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.
Disney Channel's programming consists of original first-run television series, theatrically released and original made-for-TV movies and select other third-party programming. Disney Channel – which formerly operated as a premium service – originally marketed its programs towards families during the 1980s, and later at younger children by the 2000s. A majority of Disney Channel's original programming is aimed at kids ages 9–16, while its Disney Junior programs are targeted at children 8 years and under.
As of January 2016, Disney Channel is available to approximately 93.9 million pay television households (80.6% of households with at least one television set) in the United States.
In 1977, Walt Disney Productions executive Jim Jimirro brought forth the idea of a cable television network that would feature television and film content sourced from the studio. Disney chairman Card Walker turned down the proposal, citing the company's focus on developing the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. The idea was revived in November 1981, when Disney entered into a partnership with Group W Satellite Communications. In September 1982, Group W rescinded its interest in the intended joint venture, due to disagreements over creative control of the channel and financial obligations that would have had Group W shoulder 50% of the service's start-up costs. Walt Disney Productions continued on with the channel's development with help from the channel's founding president Alan Wagner, and formally announced the launch of its family-oriented cable channel in early 1983.
The Disney Channel launched nationally as a premium channel at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time on April 18, 1983. The channel – which initially maintained a 16-hour-per-day programming schedule from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time – would become available on cable providers in all 50 U.S. states by September 1983, and accrue a base of more than 611,000 subscribers by December of that year.; In October 1983, the channel debuted its first made-for-cable movie, Tiger Town, which earned the channel a CableACE Award. The channel had reached profitability by January 1985, with its programming reaching 1.75 million subscribers by that point.
In September 1990, TCI's Montgomery, Alabama, system became the first cable provider to carry the channel as a basic cable service. Between 1991 and 1996, a steadily increasing number of cable providers began shifting The Disney Channel from a premium add-on offering to their basic tiers, either experimentally or on a full-time basis; however, Walt Disney Company executives denied any plans to convert the channel into an ad-supported basic service, stating that the premium-to-basic shifts on some providers was part of a five-year "hybrid" strategy that allowed providers to offer the channel in either manner.
On April 6, 1997, the channel – which was officially renamed as simply Disney Channel and, until September 2002, alternatively identified only as "Disney" in on-air promotions and network identifications – underwent a significant rebranding and introducing a new logo styled as a Mickey ear-shaped TV set designed by Lee Hunt Associates. Programming-wise, it maintained a programming format similar to that which it carried as a full-fledged premium service; however, Disney Channel's target audience began shifting more toward a focus on kids, while continuing to cater to family audiences at night. Disney Channel also began to air break interruptions within shows to promote its programming and Disney film and home video releases, decreased the number of older films that aired on its schedule, and began catering its music programming more towards acts popular with pre-teens and teenagers (incorporating music videos and refocusing its concert specials to feature younger and up-and-coming musicians popular with that demographic). On August 23, 1997, the channel relaunched its slate of made-for-television movies – Disney Channel Original Movies - with Northern Lights, supplanting the previous Disney Channel Premiere Films banner. Disney Channel also started to increase its original programming development, launching with the 1997 debut of the sitcom Flash Forward.
The channel would eventually split its programming into three distinct blocks: Playhouse Disney (which debuted in May 1997, focusing on series aimed at preschoolers), Vault Disney (which began as a Sunday-only nighttime block in September 1997 before expanding to seven nights a week by late 1998, featuring older Disney programs, older television specials and some of the older feature films shifted off its daytime and prime time lineup), and Zoog Disney (a weekend afternoon and evening lineup hosted by anthropomorphic robot/alien hybrid characters called "Zoogs" that was introduced in August 1998, compromising original and acquired series aimed at preteens and teens). The Zoog Disney brand would later expand to encompass most of the channel's weekend daytime and evening schedule under the "Zoog Weekendz" banner in June 2000.
In 1999, Disney Channel began mandating that TV providers which continued to offer it as a premium service shift the channel to their basic channel tiers or else it would decline to renew carriage agreements with providers (such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the last major TV providers to carry the channel as a pay service) that chose to continue offering it as an add-on to their service. In the fall of 2002, Disney Channel discontinued the Zoog Weekendz and Vault Disney blocks – phasing out the "Zoog" brand on-air, and replacing the latter block with a lineup of same-day repeats of the channel's original and acquired programming – and reduced its nightly prime time movie lineup from showcasing an average of two to three features to a single feature daily. Its original programming slate also became heavily reliant on live-action sitcoms and animated series, eschewing reality series and scripted dramas.
The channel's original programming efforts of the 2000s also led to a marketing effort to cross over the stars of its series into music through record deals with sister music label Hollywood Records, beginning with Hilary Duff, who became the channel's first teen idol through the 2001–04 sitcom Lizzie McGuire. The success of the 2003 original television film The Cheetah Girls led to other music-themed original programs being developed, including the 2006 hit original movie High School Musical and sitcom Hannah Montana (which launched the career of its star Miley Cyrus). The August 17, 2007 premiere of High School Musical 2 became the highest-rated non-sports program in the history of basic-tier TV and the highest-rated made-for-cable movie premiere on record (as well as the highest-rated television program – either free-to-air or subscription-based– of Summer 2007) with 17.2 million viewers. In 2012, Disney Channel ended Nickelodeon's 17-year run as the highest-rated cable channel in the United States, placing its first ever win in total-day viewership among all cable networks as measured by ACNielsen.
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-watched television program, as its August 2007 debut was watched by 17.2 million viewers(counting sports, this record stood until a December 3, 2007 telecast of a New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game on corporate sibling ESPN's Monday Night Football, which 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 in 2003 was the first made-for-TV movie musical in Disney Channel's 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 Freeform. Along with films released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (mainly consisting of releases from Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar), the channel also maintains rights to films from other studios. 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.
- Disney Junior – "Disney Junior" is a block that features shows targeted at children aged 3–9. which debuted on February 14, 2011; it airs Monday through Fridays from 8:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. (6:00–10:00 a.m. during the summer months, other designated school break periods and on major holidays) and weekends from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific Time (the block primarily targets preschoolers as Disney Channel's usual target audience of pre-teens and young adolescents are in school during its designated time period on weekdays). Shows include Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Mickey and the Roadster Racers, Puppy Dog Pals, Vampirina, Elena of Avalor, Sofia the First, Miles from Tomorrowland, The Lion Guard and Doc McStuffins.
- Disney Night Time – As a premium channel from April 18, 1983 to April 6, 1997, The Disney Channel featured programming aimed at older parental audiences during the evening and overnight hours under the banner title "Disney Nighttime". The content seen in these blocks was devoid of sexual and violent content. Programming seen during Disney Nighttime included older feature films (similar to those seen at the time on American Movie Classics, and eventually Turner Classic Movies, with both Disney film titles and movies from other film studios mixed in), along with original concert specials (featuring artists ranging from Rick Springfield to Jon Secada to Elton John), variety specials and documentaries.
- The Magical World of Disney – used as a Sunday night umbrella for movies and specials on The Disney Channel from September 23, 1990 to November 24, 1996, originally airing exclusively on Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. From December 1, 1996 to 1999, The Magical World of Disney served as the overall branding for Disney Channel's nightly evening lineup of films starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
- The American Legacy – ran on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific from January 7, 1992 to August 27, 1996. Originally launched in honor the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the United States, the block featured movies, documentaries and specials about the contributions, history and scenic wonders of the nation.
- Toonin' Tuesday – Running from October 5, 1993 to August 27, 1996, "Toonin' Tuesday" was a weekly program block featuring various animated programs. Each Tuesday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, "Toonin' Tuesday" featured primarily animated films and specials (though reruns of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show sometimes aired as part of the block). The block ended on August 27, 1996 due to changes to the channel's programming schedule.
- Bonus! Thursday – From October 7, 1993 to August 29, 1996, The Disney Channel ran a weekly program block called "Bonus! Thursday" (or "Bonus!" for short), which ran each Thursday from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. The block featured programs aimed at teens, including series such as Kids Incorporated, The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, various Mickey Mouse Club serials (including Teen Angel and Match Point), and Eerie Indiana, followed by movies and specials. The block ended on August 29, 1996 due to changes to the channel's programming schedule.
- Totally Kids Only ("TKO") – a weekday morning lineup of live-action and animated series, which became the brand for the channel's morning and midday block (from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific) aimed at children ages 2 to 8 that ran from 1993 to April 1997
- Triple Feature Friday – ran each Friday starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific from October 8, 1993 to May 30, 1997, featured three different films – sometimes regardless of each film's genre – that were tied to a specific subject
- Disney Drive-In – ran each Saturday starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific from October 8, 1994 to August 31, 1996, featured Disney series such as Zorro, Texas John Slaughter and Spin and Marty, followed by Disney films and specials The block ended on August 31, 1996 due to changes in the channel's schedule.
- Block Party – From October 2, 1995 to August 28, 1996, four animated series that previously aired in syndication on The Disney Afternoon (Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers) were rerun together on The Disney Channel as a two-hour programming block called "Block Party", which aired weekdays from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. The "Block Party" branding was dropped on September 3, 1996, when Darkwing Duck was removed as the block's lead-in and Goof Troop was added to end the lineup. This unnamed block continued to air into 1997.
- Playhouse Disney – a daily morning program block aimed at preschoolers that debuted on May 8, 1997, replacing the mixture of shows targeted at preschoolers and shows aimed at older children that aired as part of Disney Channel's morning lineup. The block was discontinued on February 13, 2011, and replaced the following day by Disney Junior.
- Magical World of Animals – an hour-long block of wildlife series aimed at children that ran from August 1997 to 1999. Promoted as an offshoot of the Magical World of Disney and airing Sunday evenings from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the block consisted of two series: Going Wild with Jeff Corwin and Omba Mokomba.
- Vault Disney – debuted in September 1997, five months after Disney Channel's first major rebrand, replacing the Disney Nighttime lineup. Originally airing only on Sunday nights from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific Time, Vault Disney expanded to seven nights a week in September 1998 (the Monday through Saturday editions of the block at this time aired from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Eastern/Pacific; the start time of the block as a whole was moved uniformally to midnight daily in September 1999). The vintage programming featured during the late night schedule changed to feature only Disney-produced television series and specials (such as Zorro, Spin and Marty, The Mickey Mouse Club and the Walt Disney anthology television series), along with older Disney television specials. Older Disney feature films also were part of the lineup from 1997 to 2000, but aired in a reduced capacity. The block also featured The Ink and Paint Club, an anthology series featuring Disney animated shorts, which became the only remaining program on the channel to feature these shorts by 1999, upon the removal of Quack Pack from the schedule. The channel discontinued the block in September 2002, in favor of running reruns of its original and acquired series during the late evening and overnight hours (which comparative to the adult-focused Vault Disney, are aimed at children and teenagers, an audience that is typically asleep during that time period).
- Zoog Disney – launched in August 1998, a program block that originally aired only on weekend afternoons from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. The hosts for the block were "Zoogs", animated anthropomorphic robot/alien creature-hybrid characters with human voices (some of whom acted like teenagers). The block unified television and the internet, allowing viewer comments and scores from players of ZoogDisney.com's online games to be aired on the channel during regular programming in a ticker format (which the channel continued to use after the block was discontinued, however the ticker has been all but completely dropped from on-air usage as of May 2010). From September 2001 to August 2002, the afternoon and primetime lineups on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were branded under the umbrella title "Zoog Weekendz". The Zoogs were redesigned with cel shading and given mature voices in 2001, though the remade Zoog characters were discontinued after less than a year; the entire Zoog Disney block was phased out by September 2002.
- Disney Replay – "Disney Replay" was a block that debuted on April 17, 2013, featuring episodes of defunct Disney Channel Original Series that premiered between 2000 and 2007 (such as Lizzie McGuire, That's So Raven and Hannah Montana). Airing Wednesday nights/early Thursday mornings (as a nod to the popular social media trend "Throwback Thursday"), originally from 12:00 to 1:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific Time, the block expanded to six hours (running until 6:00 a.m. Eastern/Pacific) on August 14, 2014. Programs featured on Disney Replay were added to the WATCH Disney Channel service on August 16, 2014. The block was discontinued on April 28, 2016 and moved to Freeform with a new name: That's So Throwback.
- Disney XD on Disney Channel – "Disney XD on Disney Channel" is the defunct branding of two blocks airing on Friday and Saturday nights; an animated block airing Fridays from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., showing series mainly exclusive to Disney XD such as Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Milo Murphy's Law, and DuckTales, and a live-action block airing Saturdays from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., airing series such as MECH-X4 and Walk the Prank. It was discontinued as Disney XD's carriage became equivalent to that of Disney Channel.
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 Sprout. The channel features programs from Disney Channel's existing preschool programming library and movies 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 that genre's decline in popularity on broadcast television, and the growth of video on demand, online streaming and digital video recorders, negating the need for a linear channel devoted to the soap opera genre. An automated Soapnet feed continued to exist for providers that had 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); After a period during which cable providers unwilling to drop the network immediately retained it to prevent subscriber cancellations, Soapnet ceased full operations on December 31, 2013.
The former Playhouse Disney block on Disney Channel was rebranded as Disney Junior on February 14, 2011; the 22 existing Playhouse Disney-branded cable channels and program blocks outside the United States rebranded under the Disney Junior name over the next two years, concluding with the rebranding of the Russian and Chinese versions in September 2013. 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.
Disney XD is a digital cable and satellite television channel in the United States, which is aimed at boys and girls (originally aimed at young male audiences) aged 6–15. The channel was launched on February 13, 2009, and is the successor to Toon Disney; it carries 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, but unlike parent network Disney Channel and its sister channel Disney Junior, Disney XD operates as 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.
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 18 years old. The network's main competitors were Turner Broadcasting/Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Boomerang, and Viacom/MTV Networks' Nicktoons. Toon Disney originally operated as a commercial-free service from April 1998 to September 1999, when it became advertiser-supported (unlike Disney Channel). The channel carried a mix 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's successor, Disney XD, a channel also aimed at children, launched on February 13, 2009, and features broader array of programming, with a heavier emphasis on live-action programs.
Criticism and controversies
Anne Sweeney, who was president of Disney Channel from 1996 to 2014, has been the target of criticism. Some critics have disapproved of the marketing strategy that was drafted during her tenure, which has resulted in the slanting of the target audience of Disney Channel's programs toward teenyboppers, as well as a decrease in animated programming and an increase in live-action shows and made-for-TV movies. In 2008, Sweeney had stated that Disney Channel, resulting from its multi-platform marketing strategy using television and music, would become "the major profit driver for the [Walt Disney] Company."
The channel has also pulled episodes (even once having to reshoot an episode) that have featured subject matter 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 1 diabetes). Portions of that episode were subsequently rewritten and re-filmed to become the season three episode "Uptight (Oliver's Alright)," which aired 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 nervosa in 2010) objected on Twitter to jokes featured in both episodes (the Shake It Up episode, in particular) that made light of eating disorders. On May 17, 2013, the channel pulled "Quitting Cold Koala", a second-season episode of Jessie, prior to its scheduled premiere broadcast, due to parental concerns over a scene in which a character's gluten-free diet leads to his being ridiculed.
In 2010, Disney Channel All Star Party was released for the Nintendo Wii. The four-player mascot party game, in which the stages resemble board games, features characters from Disney Channel programs such as Sonny with a Chance, Wizards of Waverly Place, and JONAS L.A.. Several video games based on the Disney Channel animated series Phineas and Ferb were released by Disney Interactive Studios. The Disney Channel website also features various Flash games incorporating characters from the channel's various program franchises. There have also been games based on Kim Possible and Hannah Montana.
Disney Channel has established its channels in various countries worldwide including Canada, France, South Africa, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, India, Australia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, the Middle East, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, the Netherlands, Israel and Flanders. Disney Channel also licenses its programming to air on certain other broadcast and cable channels outside the United States (previously like Family Channel in Canada) regardless of whether or not an international version of Disney Channel exists in the country.