Radio Disney Moving To Digital, Satellite Distribution

Radio Disney Awards - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

Radio Disney Awards - H 2014

Walt Disney Co, is selling 23 radio stations and laying off some employees, but is increasing investment in digital

The Walt Disney Company is putting 23 radio stations up for sale on Sept. 26 as part of a plan to shift Radio Disney off over the air and onto digital and satellite platforms.

The move comes after Disney determined that the younger audience is now listening more on streaming services than to terrestrial radio.

In the U.S. there are currently an estimated 160 million digital radio listeners, and that is expected to increase to about 183 million by 2018.

Disney is selling 22 AM and one FM station in markets covering more than 42 percent of the U.S. including stations in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Miami, Denver, Indianapolis and Minneapolis.

However, Disney is keeping KDIS-AM 1110 in Los Angeles where the Radio Disney service originates,  and it will continue to broadcast across Southern California.

Disney is expected to lay off a number of people at the stations and elsewhere as a result of the changes. The news of the sale was first reported by Broadcasting & Cable online.

The company said it will invest in Radio Disney as it makes this transition.

"Radio Disney,” said a spokesperson, “will increase its investment in both digital distribution platforms and music-centric programming to optimize the network for long-term growth and to better reflect the habits of its listeners, a national audience of kids and families."

The major radio rating services don’t track listening by those under age 5, but Disney’s own research indicates that only 18 percent of the audience now listens on AM or FM stations. A decade ago the bulk of the listening was over the air. 

The company has found 37 percent listen via satellite, 35 percent on the Internet and 31 percent on mobile devices (numbers overlap because kids listen in different ways).

Radio Disney has been available on Sirius/XM for the past 12 years and has recently signed distribution deals with Harman’s Radio, Slacker and Snowmobile, among others. Disney also offers an app that makes audio available to kids two to seven years of age.

Radio Disney is also available in Latin America on 12 radio stations, in Canada and in Russia on the Internet.

Radio Disney also puts on the Radio Disney Music Awards which are telecast on the Disney Channel. The 2014 telecast attracted 3.2 million viewers, and did better with kids under 12 than the MTV Awards or the Grammy Awards.

Disney has been getting out of over the air radio for quite a while. It previously sold six AM and one FM station in 2010 and seven more stations in and 2013. In 2006, it sold the ABC Radio Network including 22 stations. It still has ESPN Radio, which has about 500 affiliates in the U.S.