Disney, Sky expand agreement to unveil two UK channels

MUMBAI: A new deal announced between the Walt Disney Co. and Britain's BSkyB paves the way for the rollout of two new channel brands. This restructured programming deal adds one new channel, Disney Cinemagic, featuring its library of animated films and another, ESPN Classic, with historic sporting events.

The deal also includes the availability of Disney features on the Sky HD and broadband services, and the basic-tier carriage of Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney.

It is the largest distribution deal that Disney has arranged outside the US for HDTV and legal broadband movie downloads.

Available from 16 March, Disney Cinemagic is a new premium channel offering Disney's latest animated films such as Pixar's The Incredibles as well as classics like Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella. Disney Cinemagic will be available to Sky digital customers as a stand-alone premium channel or as a bonus channel for subscribers to Sky Movies 1 and 2.

ESPN Classic, launching on 13 March, as part of Sky's 'News and Events Mix', will be the only sports channel in the U.K. devoted entirely to the greatest moments and legends of sport.

Said Disney Media Networks co-chair and ESPN, Inc and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer, "ESPN has built up a passionate bond with sports fans. We are confident that ESPN Classic, designed specifically for the UK market, will capture the attention of the UK sports fan as it has in over 40 countries across Europe."

Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney join the Kids Mix package of basic channels on 16 March from their previous position as premium channels. Disney Channel will be even more kid-focussed, complementing Cinemagic, and offering live action favourites like That's So Raven, popular animation series and Disney Channel Original Movies. Playhouse Disney will premiere the new CG animated, learning-focussed series, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, in May.

There will also be more ways to enjoy great films from the Walt Disney Studios as movies distributed by Buena Vista International Television join Sky's legal broadband download service, Sky by broadband, and its forthcoming high definition television offering, Sky HD. These titles will also be available, for a set period, via the Sky by broadband service, which since last month has allowed dual Sky Movies subscribers to download films to their personal computers to enjoy when they want at no extra cost.

The co-chair of Disney Media Networks and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney noted, "This agreement is great news for viewers, who will now be able to access an even broader array of Disney content, either through their TVs or via broadband on personal computers. We look forward to this deal enhancing an already rich association with Sky, and our viewers in the UK and Ireland."

Also, under an amended distribution agreement, Sky digital customers will continue to have access to Jetix and Jetix+1 for up to a further five years from the expiry date of the current deal in 2007.

Sky's outgoing COO Richard Freudenstein said, "Working with outstanding brands like Disney and ESPN allows us to offer great entertainment for every family member and to break new ground in multiplatform content distribution. With today's announcement, we are creating another compelling reason for families to join Sky digital and demonstrating again the strengths in content and innovation that position Sky well for sustained growth."

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