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Disney Channel boosts local production

U.K. becoming major gateway for programming, exec says

LONDON -- Disney Channel is upping its commitment to locally produced fare and looking at opportunities to shift to a free-to-air or basic cable model in Europe, Disney Channels Worldwide president Rich Ross said Thursday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Broadcasting Press Guild, Ross said that localized production has become crucial in order to connect with local audiences, and that the U.K. is becoming a major gateway for live-action and animation product for the European and international markets.

"London has really come into its own," Ross said. "The fever for local production has really climbed. What we have proved is that storytelling works on a local basis."

Disney Channel's London-based global programming hub has been established to drive investment and development in both live-action and animated programming, launching its first series this year, an animated version of Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" adventures, which co-produced with Chorion.

Ross said the company has commissioned actors Giles New ("Pirates of the Caribbean") and Keiron Self (BBC's "My Family") to develop a new longform comedy animation called "Gwyn," the story of a giant elf who bursts out of a schoolboy's wardrobe. Another pilot from the division is "Jungle Junction" an eco-friendly program for preschoolers.

Ross said Disney is continuing to weigh opportunities to shift to a free-to-air model as it has done in Spain, where bigger audiences can drive advertising revenue.

"We are looking at all markets," Ross said. "It allows us to reach more audiences and get advertising, but you have to have an economic model to be able to transition."