FROM MIP TV
CANNES — Disney plans to dramatically up its TV channel presence in Europe by replacing its single feeds with three or four channels, beginning in the U.K., Germany and France.
The first of the new bouquets will likely launch on satcaster British Sky Broadcasting’s SkyDigital platform in the fall. The channels will be at least partially themed — offering, for example, blocks of Toon Disney or preschool programming — and include an interactive service.
The news emerged at a Mip lunch, where attending Disney execs were still somewhat in shock over the exit of Walt Disney Intl. Europe’s prexy and MD Etienne de Villiers (Daily Variety, April 6).
De Villiers was in Cannes but declined to attend the lunch.
David Hulbert, prexy for Walt Disney Television Intl. Europe, told Daily Variety that although De Villiers’ departure was a blow to the company, it had come at a “natural point.”
Hulbert added: “I took over a year ago, so it’s not so much a change as one might see from the outside.”
Hulbert described Disney in Europe as being “in an incredibly strong position.” Subscriptions to Disney’s existing six channels in the region, he said, grew 35% over 1999 to about six million homes.
But while bullish on the upcoming bouquets — for which few specifics were available, as negotiations with distributors are still under way — Hulbert predicted a major shakeout of channels in Europe.
That could particularly apply to Britain, where Disney, Nickelodeon, Fox Kids and others await with apprehension the BBC’s planned kids channel. Hulbert said he was “very happy to compete on a level playing field” but that he did not consider it fair that a competitor would be funded by public money.
Hulbert also revealed that Disney will not only own part of Yes TV (6.8%) upon the Brit video-on-demand company’s IPO, but that Disney, too, has a piece in Yes TV’s rival, VideoNetworks. Moreover, Disney may invest in similar companies in the future.
The idea, Hulbert said, was to keep a hand in as the fledging outfits built their value using Disney product.