London calling for Disney Channel

Will serve as 'hub' for major programming expansion

Disney Channel in Europe on Monday said it plans to ramp up its investment in original programming and local co-productions in a bid to bolster its competitive position.

The company said it will open a "London hub" to headquarter its expansion plans and intends to develop "long- and shortform programming that will resonate with kids all around the world."

John Hardie, Walt Disney Television managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the company's new commitment "represents our most significant drive yet to create kids' TV shows in Europe intended not only for local broadcast but for Disney Channels all over the world."

Added Hardie: "With Disney Channel growing so quickly, at a rate of several million more households each year across the region, the combination of reach and new content will help cement our position at the forefront of children's broadcasting in Europe today."

The Disney plans here will be kick-started by the launch of an animated 26-part show based on Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" in partnership with U.K. rights banner Chorion, current owners of the rights to Blyton's myriad works.

Disney Channel and Chorion will be working with American writers Douglas Tuber and Tim Maile on the show, which is due for international broadcast in 2008, the channel said in a statement.

Other upcoming projects sourced on this side of the pond to feed the channel's ambitions include preschool show "Bunny Town," a live-action puppet series developed with American Spiffy Pictures to be produced in the U.K. by Bakercoogan.

Also coming soon to Playhouse Disney in Europe are cute new characters Whiffle and Fuzz, developed in France, who will host the bedtime block across Europe, the company said.