Disney to Target Boys with
Rebranded Cable Channel
Dawn C. Chmielewski
Los Angeles Times
Someday, Disney hopes its princes will come.
The entertainment giant, which has made billions
catering to the princess fantasies of young girls, plans
to relaunch Toon Disney as Disney XD, a cable channel
that will target boys. The move, under wraps for more
than a year, is an attempt by the company to capture a
market that has long eluded it.
Starting in February, Disney XD will seek to become to
young dudes what Disney Channel, with its lineup of
tweeny bopper programs such as “High School Musical,”
“Hannah Montana” and “Camp Rock” is to girls. Disney XD,
aiming at boys ages 6 to 14, will offer original
action-adventure and comedy series, movies, animation
and sports-themed shows developed with Walt Disney
“What was clear to me, and clear to us, is we had a huge
opportunity to create content that were boys’
favorites,” said Rich Ross, president of Disney Channels
Tween boys, ages 9 to 14, account for about $50 billion
in spending worldwide, said Greg Kahn, senior vice
president of strategic insights for media buying firm
Optimedia International USA Inc. Advertisers are eager
to reach these young consumers, not just snag a portion
of their disposable income, but to build a loyalty they
hope will extend into even more free-spending teen
years, he said.
But the Disney Channel has struggled for years to find
the right programming formula to lure boys, who tend to
gravitate to Viacom’s Nickelodeon and Time Warner’s
Cartoon Network—that is, when they’re not spending time
playing video games. Disney Channel’s popular
live-action shows, from its early tween phenomenon,
“Lizzie McGuire,” through its current pop-culture
sensation, “Hannah Montana,” mainly attract girls.
Efforts to bring in more boys, through male-led series
such as “Even Stevens” or “The Suite Life of Zack and
Cody,” still haven’t succeeded enough to close the
gender gap between female and male viewers.
Animation, traditionally a draw for boys, has been a
struggle for Disney Channel, although its newest series,
“Phineas and Ferb,” appears to be building a strong male
But so far, the network has failed to produce a
blockbuster to compete with Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob
SquarePants;” or match the guy-centric focus of Cartoon
Network, which one ad buyer described as the ESPN of
“You’re fighting the brand perception, the very, very
strong brand equity that’s been in the marketplace for
many, many years,” Kahn said of Disney Channel. “It
would almost require a completely separate effort to
reach tween boys, with a completely different name
somehow associated with the Disney property, to reach
these tween males.”
None of this is news to Ross, who, with his executive
team, spent more than a year with focus groups pondering
the eternal verities: “What do boys want?”
The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is that boys want
it all. “What we heard, loud and clear, is they expect
from Disney this broad array,” Ross said, with programs
running the gamut from animation to action-adventure to
comedy. “They expect from Disney the whole thing,
including movies.” In short, tween boys are looking for
more than a show or two wedged in the midst of the
musical theater-inspired programs that have come to
define Disney Channel. They want, Disney says, a channel
they can call their own.
“They want a place, essentially a headquarters for them
where their favorite content exists, that has this broad
array of shapes and sizes and tenors and complexities,
and treats them with the respect that Disney Channel
treats all kids, and the girls are fanatical about,”
Instead of tinkering with what works—Disney Channel,
which has spawned two billion-dollar creative franchises
in High School Musical and Hannah—Ross relaunched a
struggling cable asset, Toon Disney, into this
destination for boys.
Toon Disney pulls only 10% to 15% of the viewers of
Disney Channel, despite the cable network’s reach into
nearly 70 million U.S. households. The Nielsen ratings
reflect its hodgepodge lineup of geriatric kids shows,
such as as “Power Rangers Jungle Fury” and recycled
animated offerings such as “Batman: The Animated
Series,” and “Jackie Chan Adventures,” and movies.
As the rebranded Disney XD, the ad-supported cable
network will boast original series, such as “Aaron
Stone,” a live-action show about a video game virtuoso
who leads a secret double life as a crime fighter. The
show boils down to a male fantasy version of “Hannah
Montana,” in which an ordinary teen leads a double life
as a rock star.
Former “The Wonder Years” child star Fred Savage
directed the pilot for “Mongoose & Luther,” a mock
documentary series about two best friends who set out to
become the world’s greatest skateboarders.
The project was created by Matt Dearborn and Tom
Burkhard, who worked on Disney Channel’s “Even Stevens.”
Established animated series, from “Phineas and Ferb,” to
“Batman: The Animated Series,” will air on Disney XD
alongside new offerings, such as RoboDz, a short-form
series developed in partnership with Toei Animation Co.
of Japan, in which robotic life forms defend Earth from
space invaders. Plans for an online presence and mobile
offerings are also in the works.
“We know we have a huge opportunity to take that asset
and make it every bit as powerful as Disney Channel or
Playhouse Disney,” Ross said.