Disney Betting on Pixar Movies, ABC Series in German Network Launch

ABC Family
"Switched at Birth"

ABC Family's “Switched at Birth," Hallmark's "Cedar Cove" and Pixar classics will help form the lineup of the new free-TV Disney Channel, which bows in Germany January 17.

COLOGNE, Germany – Disney has unveiled its plans for its new German free-TV network, which will launch in January. The German Disney Channel -- a free-TV version of the popular global brand -- will be heavy on animation and live-action sitcoms during the day, with a focus on family-friendly drama and Pixar films during primetime.

Daytime highlights include live action sitcoms such as Jessie and Austin & Ally and animated series including Phineas and Ferb and the Annie-award-winning Gravity Falls, the later making its German debut. In primetime, Disney will screen Pixar classics such as Wall-E and Ratatouille, together with a main diet of older-skewing series, among them ABC Family's Switched at Birth and Andie MacDowell-starrer Cedar Cove from the Hallmark Channel, which will have its free-TV premiere on Disney in Germany.

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“A well-dosed mix of popular series with a strong fan base, excellent new shows as well as film highlights and local in-house productions. That's our basic concept for the new Disney Channel” said Ralf Gerhardt, executive programming director and general manager of Disney Channels for Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

In daytime in the first six months alone, Disney Channel Germany will screen more than 450 new series episodes, putting to rest rumors that the new network would be heavily library dependent. Instead, it appears that Disney is throwing the full weight of its impressive line-up behind the network.

Unlike most Disney Channels in the U.S. and elsewhere which typically air on pay-TV or cable platforms, Disney Channel Germany will be a free-to-air network which will have to survive on advertising sales, meaning a broad audience base is essential to its survival. At the moment the network Disney acquired -- formerly called Das Vierte -- has a mere 0.2 percent share of the German audience. Disney will handle ad sales in house, an unusual move in the German market, which is dominated by a duopoly of the ad sales companies controlled by leading German commercial broadcaster RTL and ProSiebenSat1.

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Disney will also have to be careful not to cannibalize itself.  The Mouse House already has a strong position in the German TV market, with a 50 percent stake in leading kids channel Super RTL (Bertelsmann's RTL Group holds the remaining 50 percent) and, together with Herbert Kloiber's Tele-Munchen Group, a 31.5 percent stake in free-to-air channel RTL II.

For Disney, however, the German channel could pay off even if it is a loss leader in terms of ad sales, if the increased presence of Disney shows on German free-TV leads to a significant uptake in merchandising revenue from Disney products in the territory.

The new Disney Channel will at least be starting from a position of strength with around 93 percent coverage of German TV households. Disney will also offer up a version of the network as an Internet live-stream and as a online catch-up service.