Nellie Andreeva

disneyjrGoodbye SOAPnet, hello Disney Junior. Disney/ABC Television Group just announced that it will launch Disney Junior, a new 24-hour basic cable/satellite channel dedicated to preschool-age children in 2012. The new channel will replace SOAPnet, now available in 75 million homes, which will end its 12-year run at that time.

Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, addressed soapthe decision to drop SOAPnet. “The decision to ultimately transition SOAPnet to accomplish this was not arrived at lightly,” she said. “SOAPnet was created in 2000 to give daytime viewers the ability to watch time-shifted soaps, before multiplatform viewing and DVRs were part of our vocabulary. But today, as technology and our businesses evolve, it makes more sense to align this distribution with a preschool channel that builds on the core strengths of our company.” Additionally, soaps, once a staple of daytime programming, have been steadily losing ground, with three, CBS’ Guiding Light and As The World Turns and NBC’s Passions canceled in the past couple of years.

The 24-hour Disney Junior schedule will feature 200 new episodes annually of  new series, including Jake and the Never Land Pirates; current shows, including Mickey MouseClubhouse, Handy Manny, Special Agent Oso, Imagination Movers and Jungle Junction, as well as Disney features, including 101 DalmatiansAladdin and Little Mermaid. The Disney Junior brand will first be introduced on Disney Channel’s daily programming block for preschoolers, where it will replace the current Playhouse Disney brand.

Sweeney called the launch of Disney Junior in the U.S. “the next step in our global preschool strategy, which began 10 years ago with the premiere of our first dedicated preschool channel in the UK.” Outside the U.S., the 22 Playhouse Disney channels and blocks will be rebranded Disney Junior beginning in 2011.

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