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Category: Disney Channel

Disney, Common Sense Media tackle issue of cyberbullying

Billy Unger
As the documentary film "Bully" brings heightened attention to harassment in schools, the Walt Disney Co. and a nonprofit advocacy group for children are turning to TV and the Internet to tackle the related issue of cyberbullying.

Common Sense Media and Disney have created a series of public service announcements in which young Disney Channel and Disney XD actors talk about the problem of cyberbullying. The segments, produced as part of Disney's Friends for Change initiative, began appearing this week on both networks, as well as online.

Nearly one in three children say they have been the target of some form of online harassment, including having their private texts or email messages forwarded without permission, receiving threatening messages or having someone post an embarrassing picture of them online, according to a 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project report on cyberbullying.

One in four teens say they received harassing voice or text messages on their cellphones, Pew found.

The problem is most prevalent for children in their mid-teens (ages 14 to 17). Technology gives schoolyard taunts a new, more troubling dimension because of the speed, breadth and permanence of the painful remarks, Pew reported.

That's why Common Sense Media sought out Disney Channel and Disney XD — with its young audience of viewers, ages 6 to 14 — as a platform to confront the issue, as well as its "tween" stars to offer tips for dealing with the problem.

"Today's kids connect, create and collaborate through media. But it's extremely important for them to understand the implications of their online actions," James Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense Media, said in a statement. "This campaign will help empower kids to think critically about how they interact with others in their online and mobile lives and help them be smart and respectful digital citizens."

Billy Unger, the 16-year-old actor who portrays the superhuman teen character "Chase" on the Disney XD series "Lab Rats," talked about being the victim of bullying when he was in fourth grade — and how he sought the help of a teacher to stop painful taunts about his height.

Unger said he endured two years of being ridiculed every day, tormented and called "small-fry" and other hurtful insults because he was a few inches shorter than his peers. "It was pretty heartbreaking," he said.

The teen actor said he welcomed the opportunity to tell kids that "they don't need to stand there and take this beatdown every day," that they can "stand up without lashing out or fighting back" by seeking help.

"If you're sitting there and you can't come up for air, the best thing to do is to tell someone," Unger said in an interview with The Times. "If you can't do anything about it yourself, find someone who can help you. If it's not your parents, tell your teacher."


'Bully' rating: Some, but not all, profanity cut to get PG-13 rating

'The Hunger Games,' 'Bully' prompt ratings fight

Movie review: 'Bully'

— Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo of Billy Unger, 16-year-old who stars as the super-human Chase, the youngest of three bionic teen siblings, who tries to navigate a "normal" world of school, friends and family, in the Disney XD live-action comedy series "Lab Rats." Credit: Todd Wawrychuk for Disney XD.


Disney gains on Nickelodeon, which points finger at Nielsen


It's the middle of the afternoon, do you know where your children are?

That's what Viacom Inc. wants Nielsen to find out. The parent company of No. 1 kids cable network Nickelodeon is grumbling about a recent decline in its ratings and thinks it is Nielsen's fault.

On an earnings call with analysts Thursday, Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman called a September ratings drop at Nickelodeon -- home to "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Dora the Explorer," "i Carly" and "Victorious" -- "inexplicable."

"We have had extensive discussions with Nielsen to determine the causes of this anomaly and we have been working side-by-side with them to understand and rectify the situation," Dauman said. Some analysts have expressed concern with the numbers.

For the month of September, Nickelodeon averaged about 1.8 million viewers a day and 951,000 children in the 2-11 category. Among the 6-11 crowd, the channel averaged 501,000 youngsters. In the 9-14 group, Nickelodeon averaged 373,000 eyeballs, a loss of 13%. Compared with September 2010, that's a drop of almost 15% in total viewers, 16% in the 2-11 arena and almost 17% with kids 6-11.

Those sharp drops were not matched by similar drops at Disney Channel, Nickelodeon's chief rival. For September 2011, Disney had an average audience of 1.63 million, up 2.6% from the same month a year ago. With kids 2-11, Disney had 921,000 viewers for the month, an increase of 8.8%. In the 6-11 category, Disney averaged 605,000 viewers, a jump of 11.6%, and with the 9-14 group, the channel had 488,000 viewers, a 5% jump.

Disney is not publicly complaining about Nielsen and if it can sustain its pace, it may topple Nickelodeon among kids 6-11 for the season. It would be the first time in almost 20 years that Nickelodeon wasn't No. 1 with that demographic. Disney has had particular success with “Phineas and Ferb,” and the live action shows “Good Luck Charlie,” “Shake It Up,” “A.N.T. Farm” and “Jessie.”

While Nielsen is looking into Viacom's concerns, so far the ratings company says it has found nothing to suggest that its numbers are off. No other kids cable channels have expressed concern to Nielsen about the numbers.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Phineas and Ferb." Credit: Disney Channel.

Broadcast version of Disney Channel to launch in Russia

Phineas and Ferb

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.


"Toy Story 3" flops in Russia

Coming soon to a theater near Yuri

Russia next frontier for Disney Channel

Photo of Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb animated series, from the "Wizard of Odd" episode. Credit: Disney

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski


Lightcap out, Marsh in as head of Disney Channels Worldwide

In a surprise move, Carolina Lightcap is leaving her position as president of Disney Channels Worldwide after just under two years on the job.

Marsh The departure is the second high-profile exit from Walt Disney Co. Last week, Andy Mooney abruptly resigned as chairman for Disney Consumer Products.

Taking over for Lightcap is Disney Channel veteran Gary Marsh, who had been president of entertainment for Disney Channels Worldwide.

Tapped to succeed Rich Ross after he left Disney Channels Worldwide to run Walt Disney Studios in November 2009, Lightcap was seen as an unusual choice at the time. Although she had been at Disney since 2000, most of her time was spent overseeing Disney's cable programming efforts in Latin America.

At that time, Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks, said Lightcap's "wealth of experience, leadership acumen, and programming, marketing and franchise building skills make her the ideal executive to lead Disney Channels Worldwide into the future."

No reason for Lightcap's resignation was given in the news release issued by by Disney. People close to the channels said there were issues regarding Lightcap's management style.  

Lightcap said she thought the "timing was perfect to move on to my next challenge." Sweeney said the company was "sorry that Carolina decided to leave us."

Marsh was thought to have been an obvious successor to Ross by many in the industry at that time, but people inside the company wanted to keep him focused running the entertainment side of the Disney Channel. Marsh is credited with playing a key role in the development of such Disney Channels hits as "High School Musical," "Hannah Montana" and "Phineas and Ferb."

"Gary Marsh has been the driving creative force behind Disney Channels' remarkable growth for the past 15-plus years," Sweeney said in a statement. "He not only understands the zeitgeist of kids' culture, he helped create it."

Besides Disney Channel, Marsh will have oversight over Disney XD, the company's new channel aimed at young boys. He will also be in charge of both domestic and international operations for the unit.

-- Joe Flint


Carolina Lightcap named president of Disney Channels Worldwide

Disney Consumer Products chief exits

Photo: Gary Marsh: Credit: Disney.

Disney's ABC reaches $200 million streaming deal with Netflix [Updated]

The Walt Disney Co. has reached an agreement with Netflix Inc. that allows the rapidly growing subscription service to stream television shows from the ABC network, Disney Channel and ABC Family, signaling Netflix's growing clout as a distributor of programming over the Internet.

The deal is worth an estimated $200 million, according to one person with familiar with the matter.[Update, 3:25 p.m.: The deal is for one year and will be worth between $150 million and $200 million, the person added. It includes an option to extend the license.]

The Disney licensing arrangement would significantly broaden the entertainment options available to Netflix subscribers, allowing them for the first time to watch previous seasons of a number of ABC shows including "Grey's Anatomy," "Brothers & Sisters," and "Ugly Betty." In addition, Netflix will add the final season of "Lost," for which it previously streamed the first six seasons.

The video service will also have shows from the ABC Family and Disney Channel networks, including some shows that initially aired as recently as 15 days prior.

“Television content is continuing to grow for us and is now equally popular with our customers in terms of hours watched as movies,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer.

The ABC/Disney deal comes after prior deals for television content struck by Netflix this year with NBC Universal and Warner Bros.

The agreement would appear to heighten the rivalry between Netflix and Hulu, the online streaming service in which Disney is a part owner.  Both services are vying for subscribers who want the flexibility to watch television shows and movies on a variety of devices, whenever the mood strikes them.

Netflix is increasingly looking like a mainstream cable network willing to pay syndication fees for rights to distribute content. It paid $50,000 to $150,000 per episode to distribute ABC and cable television shows, the person familiar with the situation said.

The deal is bound to increase anxiety among cable, satellite and telecommunications companies, which pay a premium for ABC and cable shows. These traditional TV distributors are privately worried about the threat of so-called "over-the-top" services, which allow viewers to pay nominal sums to watch mainstream programming. 

Netflix, once best known for distributing DVDs by mail in its trademark red envelopes, is attracting a growing number of paying customers to its online streaming service. These subscribers pay as little as $7.99 a month for unlimited access to movies and TV shows. It currently has 16 million customers.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz

[Updated at 11:16 a.m. to include information on what shows will be available and when via Netflix and to add Sarandos' quote. A previous version of this post incorrectly said that new "Grey's Anatomy" episodes would stream on Netflix within 15 days of airing.]

Radio Disney gets a new general manager

Walt Disney Co. has tapped a Disney Channels Worldwide executive to run the promotional platform that is Radio Disney.  Sean Cocchia

Sean Cocchia was named senior vice president and general manager of Radio Disney, a national network of 35 radio stations that reach 57% of the country with programming for children and tweens (and a playlist favoring such Disney talent as Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato). He also has oversight of RadioDisney.com, a Sirius/XM satellite channel and applications that bring the radio station to mobile devices. He succeeds Michael Riley, who recently was named president of ABC Family.

"Sean brings strategic acumen, extensive knowledge of our business and leadership skills to his new role," said Disney Channels Worldwide President Carolina Lightcap, who oversees Radio Disney.

Cocchia has been an executive with Disney since 1998, most recently as senior vice president of business planning and development for Disney Channels Worldwide.

Lightcap also promoted David Cobb to vice president of business planning and strategy for Disney Channels Worldwide. He has been with the company since 1996.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Sean Cocchia. Credit: Bob D'Amico / Walt Disney Co.

The Morning Fix: Oscar working on timing. Hasbro and Discovery not toying around. `Superman' has its director.

After the coffee. Before yet another flight to New York.

The Skinny: Discovery's and Hasbro's new kids channel doesn't premiere until Sunday, but the critics are already pouncing. Can't Google everyone with Google TV. "Superman" has its next director. The FCC wants more dirt from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review

Oscars on the move. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to move the annual Oscar Awards telecasts from its current home of the end of February or early March to January or early February. The motivation is to make the Oscars one of the first awards shows instead of the last so there is less chance of awards-show fatigue impacting the telecast's ratings. The challenge is finding a new home that won't get run over by football. Huh? That's right, football. See, the NFL wants to expand its regular season to 18 games (that's a debate for another day) and if (when) that happens, it will mean the Super Bowl and probably some of the playoffs will get pushed well into February. That means the Oscar folks (and host network ABC) have to find a home where they won't bump up against all that football hype on rival networks and still get ahead of other shows. The scoop from the Los Angeles Times.

Not toying around. On Sunday, Discovery and Hasbro will launch "The Hub," a new cable channel aimed primarily at kids age 6-11. Not only will it face tough competition from entrenched channels such as Viacom's Nickelodeon and Disney's Disney Channel and Disney XD, it will also be scrutinized by media watchdogs. That's because there are concerns that Hasbro will try to make the network into nothing but ads for its toys. The channel's boss, respected kids TV executive Margaret Loesch, says that won't be the case and that only about 20% of Hub shows are based on Hasbro products. But will that be enough to silence the critics? More on The Hub from the Los Angeles Times.

Google this! Google, the search engine that wants to become the connector between the Internet and the television, unveiled its content partners, but the list was more notable for who wasn't on it. While several cable networks, including CNBC, HBO and Turner Broadcasting are on board, the big broadcast networks are steering clear of Google -- for now anyway. To get Google TV, at least in its early incarnation, you'll need either a Sony high-definition TV set, a Blu-ray player or a special set-top box. In other words, it may take a little while for this thing to take off. More on Google's small-screen dreams from the New York Times.

Peace accord. Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa is shelling out $130 million for a 5% stake in Univision and an additional $1.07 billion in convertible debt that translates into 30% of Univision's shares, according to the Wall Street Journal. Besides giving Univision a much needed infusion, it ends years of acrimony between the two media giants.

And the backlash begins. Although many critics are worshiping "The Social Network" and already talking about how many Oscar nominations it should get, gripes about the portrayal of women in the movie are starting to surface. Missing from the movie, says Rebecca Davis O'Brien in the Daily Beast, are women who aren't "doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys." 

He's baaack! Former NBC Enertainment chief Ben Silverman is back to doing what he does best -- making new versions of successful shows. He's near a deal to make a sitcom for ABC based on an old Latin American comedy called "I Hate This Place." Not sure what's more ironic, that ABC -- whose old entertainment chief Steve McPherson loathed Silverman -- will be home for the show or that Deadline Hollywood, which relished in Silverman's downfall at NBC, was where the story was leaked.

Super Director. Zack Snyder, whose credits include "300" and "Watchmen," has been tapped to direct the latest version of "Superman" for Warner Bros. and Legend Pictures. Chris Nolan will produce. Deadline Hollywood on the choice and what Snyder's thoughts are about taking on the franchise.

Where's mine? The Wrap makes the shocking discovery that even in a field as challenged as journalism, there are some people pulling down huge salaries. Next you'll tell me there are hockey players making big bucks too. The hook for the story is that Michael Ausiello, an Entertainment Weekly writer best known for his television casting scoops, is launching his own website, backed by the owners of Deadline Hollywood. Hey, if someone wants to pay top dollar for content, you'll get no complaints from me.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Thomas Tull, the chairman of Legendary Pictures, is buying out his original investors and has new partners in Fortress Investment Group and Fidelity. The Federal Communications Commission wants more inside information from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review of their pending merger. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter and I'll tweet you something special. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Disney channels stay on Time Warner Cable as talks go past deadline

Although Time Warner Cable's deal to carry cable and broadcast channels owned by Walt Disney Co. has expired, the programming remains on the air as both sides continue talks.

That means Time Warner Cable subscribers in Los Angeles and New York, the two biggest markets that the pay TV distributor has systems in, will continue to receive their local ABC stations or Disney-owned cable channels, including ESPN, ABC Family and Disney Channel -- at least for the time being. An update is expected by 6 a.m. Eastern time.

At issue are fees that Disney wants Time Warner Cable to pay to continue to have access to its various networks. The current contract between the two companies expired at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 2.

However, unlike previous spats between distributors and programmers, talks between Time Warner Cable and Disney have seemingly remained amicable. Although both sides had run advertisements alerting consumers of the situation and stating their positions, neither were running the particularly nasty attack advertisements that Fox and Time Warner Cable ran when they were locked in a similar dispute late last year.

With 14.4 million subscribers, Time Warner Cable is the nation's third-largest pay-TV distributor behind Comcast Corp. and DirecTV. It has systems in several major markets including New York and Los Angeles. It has over 2 million subscribers in Southern California alone.

-- Joe Flint


World Cup Soccer, 'Toy Story 3' help propel Disney's third-quarter earnings

ESPN's World Cup soccer coverage and the strong box-office performance of films including Disney/Pixar Animation Studios' "Toy Story 3" helped buoy the Walt Disney Co.'s bottom line in the third quarter.

The media giant reported a 40% jump in earnings to $1.3 billion, up from $954 million a year earlier. Revenues reached $10 billion for the three-month period ending July 3, an increase of 16% from a year ago.

In a call with analysts, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert A. Iger highlighted the film studio's summer performance, noting that it released three of the top five films worldwide in "Toy Story 3," Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" and Marvel Entertainment's "Iron Man 2." The three pictures were not only a financial success but have fueled other businesses such as merchandise sales, he said.

" 'Toy Story' merchandise sales reached new heights as consumers responded to a fresh line of well-designed products available globally," Iger said. And this bodes well for Pixar's next feature film, "Cars 2," due out in June.

The film studio reported operating income of $123 million compared with a loss of $12 million a year earlier. Revenues rose 30% to $1.6 billion. Disney said it had to write off the costs of "a couple of film titles," but it did not identify which movies fell short of financial projections — or by how much. Also in the quarter, Disney released the big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," which grossed a disappointing $90 million domestically but sold $238 million worth of tickets overseas.

Iger said that the declining DVD business has become more dependent on the popularity of specific titles. With the changing marketplace, Iger said the company would become "aggressive" in experimenting with how soon it release its movies to the home through video-on-demand services. Other Hollywood studios are mulling making movies available to the home before their DVD release. Iger declined to talk about the timing or provide other specifics.

"It's too early to make predictions on that," Iger said. "I think it presents an interesting opportunity. There are people who we believe would like to see movies sooner rather than later and would pay a premium price on that."

Iger said ESPN's soccer coverage as well as its broadcasts of the NBA Finals in which the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics contributed to a "fantastic quarter both creatively and commercially" for Disney's Media Networks group. That division includes the company's network, cable television channels and locally owned stations.

Disney's cable networks revenue rose 28% to $3.2 billion for the quarter from $2.6 billion a year ago. Operating income soared 50% to $1.7 million. The broadcast group's operating income was up a modest 2% to $209 million, with advertising effectively flat.

Iger addressed the recent executive upheaval at Disney's ABC network, in which Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson abruptly resigned, by speaking only about his successor, Paul Lee, the former president of ABC Family. He touted Lee's successful track record in running the cable channel for six years and creating hits such as "Secret Life of the American Teenager" and "Pretty Little Liars."

"Paul Lee is a proven leader and skilled at developing hit shows that put ABC Family on the map as an identifiable brand," Iger said.

One analyst asked Iger whether the investors should brace for a broader management shakeup at the network, akin to the house-cleaning at the film studio last fall that swept out studio Chairman Dick Cook and brought in former Disney Channels Worldwide President Rich Ross.

Iger deflected the question and talked bout how the network is seeking to build on aging prime-time hits "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" and last-season successes "Modern Family" and "Castle."

"We were pleased in general with some of the recent developments, and we feel that the schedule they put together for the fall is a good, solid schedule," Iger said.

Iger also declined to address questions about whether he was weighing "potentially selling ABC."

"I don't have anything new to add to the discussion about the makeup of our asset base," Iger said.

Digital media is becoming more of a strategic focus for Disney. However, for now, the company's Interactive Media group, is a drag on the bottom line. The group reported a loss of $65 million, slightly less than the $75-million operating loss it showed a year earlier. It brought in revenues of $197 million, up 74% from the comparable period a year ago.

Iger devoted much of the call to discuss Disney's $563 million acquisition Playdom, which develops games for social networks like Facebook. He said interactive entertainment has diversified beyond console gaming to a broader audience that enjoys playing games on social networks and on devices.

"The customer base is pretty diverse, from 18 to post 50," Iger said. "It's dual-gender. It doesn't skew just in the men's direction, which we know a lot of other games do. It seems tailor-made not only for Disney branded games, but for Marvel and ESPN. We really liked the opportunity."

— Dawn C. Chmielewski


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