NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's not just any media company that can launch a new cable network on Friday the 13th. But then again, most media companies aren't Disney.
"We believe Disney can rebrand anything," joked Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide, at a dinner Thursday night celebrating Disney XD, a cable network launching today in 73 million homes. The ad-supported network is designed to super-serve boys 6 to 14, with a programming lineup that incorporates everything from live action to animation to music and sports.
Disney XD will replace Toon Disney, an animated network that rated fourth among the top four ad-supported kids' networks and wasn't integrated very heavily across the Disney family of properties, which includes Disney Channel, ABC, ESPN and ABC Family.
Disney XD, however, launches with plenty of fuel from the mothership. Its first weekend alone will feature a cross-channel, two-part premiere with the Disney Channel for the new live-action series "Aaron Stone," a secret-agent action show for the preteen set. The first part makes its debut tonight at 7 p.m. on the Disney Channel, and the finale will air exclusively on Disney XD and at DisneyXD.com at 7:30 p.m.
Just the beginning
But that's just the beginning of the Disney-fied blowout planned for XD. "Phineas & Ferb," a hit animated series for Disney Channel, will move exclusively to Disney XD later this month. Sister network ESPN will program its own "SportsCenter High 5," an abbreviated version of its flagship news show geared toward 6- to 14-year-old boys, and will also share sports-ticker feeds on DisneyXD.com. Radio Disney will help the network incorporate boy-friendly music into its on-air brand, with bands such as Beastie Boys and Relient K favored over Disney Channel staples Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
Disney "built it as a cross-platform brand because today, kids are certainly not going only to TV or only to online," said Tricia Wilber, exec VP-Disney Media's advertising and marketing group. "So what we've said was this is a great opportunity to build this cross-platform from the very beginning. For us and our viewers and users online, being able to surround their viewers or people [advertisers] are trying to reach with relevant content and now relevant advertising was very important."
Indeed, the most significant thing about Disney XD's launch is its emergence as a competitive third player in the rivalry between Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon in the ad-supported kids marketplace. The Disney Channel, the second-highest-rated kids network on cable and top-rated for tweens 9 to 14 in prime time, does not accept spot advertising and accepts only the occasional on-air sponsorship for tentpole movie events such as "Camp Rock" and the "High School Musical" franchise.
Disney's first major ad-supported channel
Disney XD will be the company's first major entrant into the ad-supported kids' market. Kellogg, General Mills, Lego, Pokemon USA and Kraft are all onboard as launch sponsors, with integrated sponsorships currently in the works for DisneyXD.com's virtual retail store.
David Tepper, who buys kids' media for Hasbro at Group M's MediaCom, is hopeful Disney XD will bring growth and competitive rating points into the marketplace, particularly when up against the similarly boy-targeted Cartoon Network. "The Disney brand is still hot, and being able to get your real ads next to some of that programming is definitely a worthwhile investment."
Chris Boothe, chief activation officer for Publicis' Starcom USA, added that a diversified programming lineup can only benefit Disney XD, after Toon Disney repeatedly lost to rival Nickelodeon's Nicktoons in the animated ratings race. "Kids today are responding to real people, even though cartoons are still the essence of most programming. So I think we'll see more live-action programming. Another thing is kids are aging up sooner, they're very aspirational, so we see a lot of the programming targeting 6- to 11-year-olds reflecting the kids themselves."