Broadcast version of Disney Channel to launch in Russia
The Walt Disney Co. says it plans to launch a free, broadcast version of its popular Disney Channel in Russia next year, enabling the entertainment giant to deliver its family programming to about 40 million households in the increasingly important market.
Disney will acquire a 49% stake in the Seven TV network, enabling it to air Disney Channel programming on broadcast stations in 54 urban markets, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in rural areas.
"International expansion is a key strategic priority for our company and Disney Channel has proven to be invaluable in building the Disney brand around the world,” Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said Thursday in a statement.
Disney has been active in Russia since 2006, when the studio formed a joint venture with Sony Pictures Releasing International to distribute films in Russia. In 2008, the company announced a joint venture with Media-One Holdings to start a Russian version of the Disney Channel on 30 stations throughout the country, bringing "Hannah Montana" and "Wizards of Waverly Place" -- dubbed in Russian -- to the market.
Russia is an increasingly important market for entertainment companies, especially for film. It crossed the $1-billion box-office mark for the first time in 2010, a more than 15-fold increase since 2001. Indeed, as a sign of the country's significance, Walt Disney Studios last summer held a premiere of its biggest summer release, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," in Moscow.
It's also a market where animated films, such as Pixar Animation Studio's "Cars 2," tend to perform well -- when audiences are exposed to the characters. Lack of familiarity with Pixar's animated pals Buzz and Woody was believed to be one factor in the surprisingly weak theatrical performance of "Toy Story 3" in Russia, when the 2010 summer blockbuster otherwise reaped more than $1 billion in gloal ticket sales.
Disney Channel would serve as the Burbank-based entertainment giant's ambassador in Russia, introducing young audiences to Disney's characters.
The partnership with UTH Russia, a media company that operates the Seven TV and MUZ channels, is a departure in how Disney Channel is traditionally distributed. The new over-the-air channel will combine Disney shows with Russian TV programming, according to Alisher Usmanov, a major Internet and media investor in Russia.
Photo of Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb animated series, from the "Wizard of Odd" episode. Credit: Disney
-- Dawn C. Chmielewski