Disney Seeks Rebound

Disney Channel is looking for a ratings rebound with new series and original movies slated for the kids-targeted network over the next year.

While Disney was the most watched cable network over a 24-hour basis during the third quarter 2014, the network overall audience was down 20% from the same period last year. In primetime, Disney posted a 24% year-to-year audience decline during the quarter.

Disney Channel president and chief creative officer Gary Marsh acknowledged “softness” in the ratings, which he said also extended to competitors including Nickelodeon as well as many of the top 10 most-watched networks in primetime.

Marsh pinned some of the decline on the viewing of mainstay Disney shows such as Hannah Montana and Jessie on platforms such as WatchDisney and Netflix.

Besides cable rivals such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, OTT services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are also going after kids with original animated and live-action kids’ shows.

“Certainly there’s more competition than there ever was, and that’s going to continue,” Marsh said. “It really is just a call to action for us to up our game to create must-see television and programming that speaks to what our brand is. We can’t stop the competition, but all we can do is to create stronger and better programming.”

In January 2015 Disney Channel — which targets girls 6 to 11 as well as tweens — will bring back Zendaya Coleman (Shake It Up!) in a new series titled KC Undercover. She plays the daughter of spy parents and gets drafted into the family business.

“What I’m incredibly proud of is this the first time in a long time where we have a family sitcom featuring an entire African- American family,” Marsh said, alluding to past Disney shows including That’s So Raven and The Proud Family.

KC Undercover will join the current roster of shows, including Jessie, Dog With a Blog and Girl Meets World, which is coming back for a second season.

While the network’s original movies are perennially among the mostwatched each year by its core viewers, Marsh said he’d like to find the next breakout film or franchise, a la High School Musical.

Descendants, about the off spring of such classic Disney film villains as Cruella de Vil and the Evil Queen, and Teen Beach Movie 2, following up on a 2013 original that drew 8.4 million viewers to the premiere, are slated for 2015.

Disney wants to roll out four to five movies next year, 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.