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Sky, Disney Media Networks, The Walt Disney Studios team up for HDTV and legal broadband movie downloads

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MUMBAI: Disney Media Networks, The Walt Disney Studios and British Sky Broadcasting (Sky) announced plans to bring a wider choice of channels to Sky digital customers and to work together to exploit new opportunities in high definition (HD) television and broadband.

The wide-ranging series of agreements expands the portfolio of great content from The Walt Disney Company available to Sky digital customers and extends the relationship between the two organisations.

As a result of this agreement, two new channel brands – Disney Cinemagic and ESPN Classic – will be made available to Sky digital customers for the first time, while Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney will be available to millions more Sky digital viewers as part of the Kids Mix package of basic channels.

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.

From 16 March, Disney Cinemagic, a new channel brand for families, will be launched. The channel will air Disney's latest animated films such as Pixar's The Incredibles.

Subscribers to Disney Cinemagic will also enjoy regular access to other great Disney favourites such as 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.

From the same date, Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney will be available to Sky digital customers as part of the 'Kids Mix' of basic 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, including High School Musical. Playhouse Disney will premiere the new CG animated, learning-focussed series, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, in May.

ESPN Classic, launching on 13 March as part of Sky's 'News and Events Mix', will be the only sports channel in the UK devoted entirely to the greatest moments and legends of sport with a mix of all-time classic highlights, matches, movies, interviews, profiles and documentaries.

ESPN Classic, part of ESPN Inc, will be available 24x7 on channel 442. The launch night alone will include Borg vs. McEnroe - the Great Wimbledon Rivalry, England's 2003 Rugby World Cup Final victory over Australia and the 1984 European Cup Final between Liverpool and AS Roma.

Through a distribution agreement with Buena Vista International Television, Sky Movies will continue to offer a package of current and library Walt Disney Studio films, with customers enjoying access to forthcoming Sky Movies premieres such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Sin City and Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

In addition to the extension of existing pay-TV and pay-per-view rights, the new agreement gives Sky the ability to offer these titles in HD format and on a video-on-demand basis. 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.

Under an amended distribution agreement, Sky digital customers will continue to enjoy access to Jetix and Jetix+1 for up to a further five years from the expiry date of the current deal in 2007. Jetix offers a programming mix of action, adventure and cheeky humour, both animated and live action, for kids with a core focus on 7-11 year olds, with programming highlights including Power Rangers, Jackie Chan Adventures, Totally Spies and A.T.O.M Alpha Teens on Machines.

Disney Media Networks co-chair and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney said, "This agreement, which marks our largest distribution deal outside the US, 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. The strategic utilization of new technologies to meet consumer needs is of paramount importance to the growth of the Disney Media Networks Group, and we look forward to this deal enhancing an already rich association with Sky, and our viewers in the UK and Ireland."

Sky chief operating officer Richard Freudenstein said, "These agreements show the range and quality of Disney content. Working with outstanding brands like Disney and ESPN allows us to offer great entertainment for every family member and to break new ground in multi-platform 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."

Disney Media Networks CO-chair and ESPN, Inc and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said, "ESPN has built up a passionate bond with sports fans and we are very excited to extend this with the launch of ESPN Classic in the UK on the Sky platform. We are confident that ESPN Classic, a dedicated new sports channel designed specifically for the UK market, will capture the attention of the UK sports fan as it has in over 40 countries across Europe."

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