Disney Channel raises licensing show profile

Focus on International Licensing Expo in Las Vegas

LOS ANGELES -- Disney Channel executives will make their first-ever full programming presentation to retailers on Monday at the International Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, in a nod of the cable network's growing earnings power within the Walt Disney Co.

Disney Channel shows produced a greater share of global merchandise sales for the company in 2008 than any single franchise produced by its movie studios, which also presents its slate at the annual licensing show.

Merchandise inspired by Disney Channel TV programs, led by 'tween phenoms "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical" and preschooler hits "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and "Handy Manny," reached $3.6 billion in merchandise retail sales in 2008.

"Cars," the best-selling line inspired by the Disney-Pixar film, peaked at annual sales of $2.5 billion last year and is expected to decline this year, Disney officials said.

Global sales of "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical" merchandise grew faster in 2008 than any other Disney franchise and outstripped growth for the super-popular Disney Princess line, Disney Consumer Products spokesman Gary Foster said.

The cable network also has promising new franchises in "Sonny With a Chance" and "Wizards of Waverly Place", which is why the company chose to showcase them "in a greater way", Foster said.

Growth at the 94 Disney channels worldwide last quarter helped Disney's cable business to 5% growth in operating income in the depths of the global recession.

At the same time, Studio Entertainment, whose upcoming slate of family movies usually dominates Disney's presentation to the show's 25,000 international retailers, will take a supporting role this year.

Disney's studios have performed poorly in recent quarters as hits like "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Cars" gave way to duds like "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," "Prince Caspian" and "Bedtime Stories." The studios' operating profit plunged 97% last quarter.

Disney Channel's presentation on Monday night focuses plans to support established hits, build up-and-comers and launch new properties, Disney Channel Worldwide President Rich Ross said.

"Our job is ...to show people what we are excited about and ... the commitment the company has ... to tell stories that are popular," Ross said. "TV has never done what TV is doing."

Disney Channel plans to announce a fourth season for "Hannah Montana" and to report on the progress of casting for a fourth film in the "High School Musical" franchise, company officials said.

"Sonny With A Chance", the top TV series among kids 6-11 and tweens, has been picked up for a second season, Disney said.