New TV division will include mideast, Africa

MADRID Mouse House TV in Europe has teamed with an ideal partner — itself.

In April, Walt Disney Co. will launch a European uber-group covering TV program sales, channel distribution and new media deals, headed by group exec veep Tom Toumazis, one of Disney’s best-known overseas TV execs.

Simon Amselem, who ran Disney Channel France, will direct group channel distribution. The super division encompasses Middle East and Africa.

To date, Disney’s European ops have been handled by channel and content teams and regional managers. Disney’s Euro TV makeover is a sign of the times.

Europe is the heartland for Disney TV international, repping some 70%-80% of total overseas TV biz, which pulls in more than $2.5 billion. Mouse House TV abroad is booming, driven by hits — “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Ugly Betty,” “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana” — plus proliferating digital distribution outlets.

Disney licenses 30,000 hours of content to 1,300 broadcasters across 240 territories outside the U.S. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Disney has rolled out 24 Disney-branded channels and eight ESPN services.

Under Toumazis, Disney-ABC Intl. Television biz doubled in the past four years in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Canada — one reason for his promotion. But Disney biz, though booming,┬áis far more complex. One insistent roundtable question at last October’s Mipcom was how U.S. networks and foreign TV stations could exploit new digital platforms without irrevocably eroding existing — often bountiful — broadcast or pay TV revenues.

Disney’s answer under Ben Pyne, a quiet-spoken amiable exec who replaced Laurie Younger as Disney-ABC Intl. Television global distribution prexy in June, has cut multiple ways.

Pyne insists the Mouse House will explore digital TV opportunities hand-in-hand with its major biz partners in foreign territories, without disregarding other opportunities for business. But he favors getting Disney on digital devices, reconnecting with youth auds.

Pyne already has oversight of Disney Channel and ESPN. Per Toumazis, the new integrated operation responds in part to “simplicity,” allowing overseas TV clients to deal with all of Disney TV services at the same time. Integration means looking at how channel and content sales could work better together, as well as new media opportunities, he adds.

Disney Channels Worldwide also beefed up its European management team to help spearhead the expansion across the continent with six new appointments.

They include seasoned Disney Channel topper Michael Cairns, who returns to the U.K. as vice president and general manager, Disney Channels U.K. and Ireland,

Lars Wagner joined in the role of vice president and general manager, Disney Channel Germany, Switzerland and Austria; while Helene Etzi is upped to vice president and general manager, Disney Channel France.

They will report to John Hardie, executive vice president and managing director, Disney Channels Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The restructuring follows Disney Channel’s move from premium to basic distribution across Europe, which the company claims has increased the number of households from 14 million to 32 million.

Pulling content, channels and new media under one umbrella allows for a more top-down structure.

At his previous post, Toumazis hit digital TV home runs, making Disney the first studio to license content to U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 VOD service 4OD; coordinating HD transmissions on BSkyB; and arranging for the broadcast of “Lost” on France’s TF1 Vision VOD service less than 24 hours after its U.S. airing. More initiatives are now likely to follow.

Steve Clarke in London contributed to this report.

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