Disney Junior Calls on Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse to Help Drive Preschool Viewership

Mickey Mouse Funhouse
(Image credit: Disney Junior)

Disney Junior has tapped an iconic Disney character and a Marvel superhero to help drive young viewers to the channel. 

The preschool-targeted service last week (Aug. 20) launched animated series Mickey Mouse Funhouse on the heels of its Aug. 6 debut of animated series Marvel’s Spidey and his Amazing Friends -- two new shows that Disney executives believe will appeal to young viewers and their parents.

“Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man are two of the most iconic characters in the world, and we have both of them as part of the Disney canon of IP (intellectual property),” Disney Branded Television president and CCO Gary Marsh told Multichannel News. “We’ve done a number of Mickey Mouse pre-school shows, but Spider-Man is really unique because we’ve spent a lot of time working with our partners at Marvel.” 

Disney Junior recently renewed Spidey and his Amazing Friends -- which follows the adventures of Marvel's Spider-Man, Hulk, Ms. Marvel and Black Panther as they learn about the value of teamwork -- for a second season after the show debuted as the most watched on the channel among kids 2 to 5 years old.

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Marsh said the two series along with the network’s other original shows will help the network stand out in a crowded pre-school TV marketplace that now includes streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max along with such linear channels as Nick Jr. 

“Disney Junior has been the number one preschool network since its launch, but what’s happened is that competitors have taken note of that,” he said. “Everybody has recognized that if you make that connection early, it’s very powerful. That’s why it’s great for us to be able to mine the Disney IP and reinvent it.” 

Marsh said the network will continue to look for opportunities to work with Marvel on future shows targeted to younger audiences. Disney Branded Television is currently working on a Marvel-themed series, Marvel’s Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur, which follows the adventures of a teenage super genius Lunella Lafayette and her 10-ton T-Rex, Devil Dinosaur. Actor Laurence Fishburne (black-ish) is set to executive produce the event, which is slated for the tween-targeted Disney Channel. 

“What I’m excited about is that Spidey and his Amazing Friends is the entry vehicle,” he said. “This is how we bring the youngest kids in our audience into the Marvel universe in a way that’s completely age appropriate. I think that kind of door will open wider for us to play with more of their content.”

Beyond Disney Junior, Marsh said that he was also bullish about the prospects for Disney Channel, which on Feb. 13 premiered its latest original movie Spin as well as new baking competition show Disney’s Magic Bake-Off. The network in October will develop a reboot of its 1997 first original movie, Under Wraps as well as animated series The Ghost and Molly McGee.

He also said the addition of the Disney Plus streaming service has helped draw new viewers to both current and classic Disney Channel content. The streaming service also provides a platform for Disney to promote new and existing shows that ultimately tie back to the linear channel. 

Marsh pointed to the January 2021 launch of Disney Channel’s serialized series Secrets of Sulphur Springs, which began streaming on Disney Plus after the first six episodes aired on the linear channel. Marsh said the series drew strong viewership on Disney Plus while maintaining its audience for the final four original episodes on Disney Channel. The series was renewed for a second season this past April. 

“There’s been a debate as to whether putting things on Disney Plus cannibalizes linear viewing, but I think it’s clear to us that it’s additive,” Marsh said. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.