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Disney to launch family channel in Russia

December 16, 2008 |  2:37 pm

Ny107selena2Walt Disney Co. plans to launch its Disney Channel in Russia.

Disney, through one of its subsidiaries, has formed a joint venture with Media-One Holdings Ltd., a broadcaster with assets in the region, to start a new family channel on 30 stations throughout the country.

Anchored by familiar Disney Channel shows for kids and families, such as "Hannah Montana" and "Wizards of Waverly Place," the venture also plans to create original Russian programming. The launch is slated for next year, pending approval from Russian government authorities.

"This has been an effort to move deeper in the market and deliver Disney-branded programming, wrapped in a package that is very Disney, and appeals to local kids and families," said Rich Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide.

Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, says Disney Channel has had great influence in helping to deliver the classic characters, as well as new franchises, to global markets. This deal, in which Disney took a 49% stake in the joint venture for an undisclosed sum, is a continuation of that strategy.

Because the cable and satellite television audience is limited, Disney Channel will be broadcast over the airwaves for free in most of Russia, Bird said. In big cities, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, it will be delivered by cable. The channel could ultimately reach 70% to 75% of Russian television viewers, he said.

Disney has been active in Russia since 2006. The studio formed a joint venture with Sony Pictures Releasing International to distribute films in Russia, and Walt Disney Studios International just finished filming its first Disney-branded Russian movie, "The Book of Masters," a lighthearted comedy based on traditional children's stories. Walt Disney Interactive Media Group provides children's content through the largest Russian and Ukrainian mobile phone operators. And the musical "Beauty and the Beast" has been playing to sold-out audiences in Moscow.

"The Russians, as a people, have a great history and fondness for storytelling. They have great stories of their own, and they have a great appreciation and affinity for Disney, both our classic stories and our modern franchises," Bird said. "So we feel that the brand is very well placed in the Russian market already. We feel with the addition of Disney Channel, this can only enhance and build off the foundations we've laid today."

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Actress-singer Selena Gomez poses aboard Cinderella's Golden Carousel at the Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Gomez is the star of the Disney Channel series "The Wizards of Waverly Place." Credit: Todd Anderson / Disney