The Disney Channel is headed for Russian television.
A unit of Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. has formed a joint venture with Media-One Holdings Ltd. to start a Russian version of the family channel on 30 stations throughout the country.
Anchored by familiar Disney Channel shows for kids and families such as "Hannah Montana" and "Wizards of Waverly Place," dubbed in Russian, the venture also plans to create original Russian programming. The launch is slated for next year, pending approval from Russian authorities.
"This has been an effort to move deeper in the market and deliver Disney-branded programming, wrapped in a package that is very Disney, and appeals to local kids and families," said Rich Ross, president of Disney Channels Worldwide.
Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, says Disney Channel has made great strides in introducing its classic characters, and new franchises, to global markets. This deal, in which Disney took a 49% stake in the joint venture for an undisclosed sum, is a continuation of that strategy.
Because the cable and satellite television audience is limited in Russia, Disney Channel will be broadcast over the airwaves for free in most of the country, Bird said. In big cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, it will be delivered by cable. The channel could ultimately reach 75% of Russian television viewers, he said.
Disney has been active in Russia since 2006. The studio formed a joint venture with Sony Pictures Releasing International to distribute films in Russia, and Walt Disney Studios International just finished filming its first Disney-branded Russian movie, "The Book of Masters," a lighthearted comedy based on traditional children's stories.
Walt Disney Interactive Media Group provides children's content through the largest Russian and Ukrainian cellphone operators. And the musical "Beauty and the Beast" has been playing to sold-out audiences in Moscow.
"The Russians, as a people, have a great history and fondness for storytelling. They have great stories of their own, and they have a great appreciation and affinity for Disney, both our classic stories and our modern franchises," Bird said. "So we feel that the brand is very well placed in the Russian market already. We feel with the addition of Disney Channel, this can only enhance and build off the foundations we've laid today."