LOS ANGELES -- Walt Disney Co. says it plans to launch a broadcast version of Disney Channel in Russia next year, enabling the entertainment giant to deliver its family programming to about 40 million households in the increasingly important market.
Disney will acquire a 49 percent stake in Seven TV network, a national TV network in Russia, enabling it to air Disney Channel programming on broadcast stations in 54 urban markets, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in rural areas. Disney did not disclose financial terms, but Russia's Interfax news agency reported that it paid $300 million.
"International expansion is a key strategic priority for our company and Disney Channel has proven to be invaluable in building the Disney brand around the world," Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said Thursday in a statement.
Disney has been active in Russia since 2006, when the studio formed a joint venture with Sony Pictures Releasing International to distribute films in Russia. In 2008, the company announced a joint venture with Media-One Holdings to launch Disney Channel on 30 stations throughout the country, bringing "Hannah Montana" and "Wizards of Waverly Place," dubbed in Russian, to viewers.
Russia is an increasingly important market for entertainment companies. It crossed the $1-billion box-office mark for the first time in 2010, a more than 15-fold increase since 2001. As a sign of the country's significance, Walt Disney Studios held a premiere of its biggest summer release, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," in Moscow.
It's also a place where animated films, such as Pixar Animation Studios' "Cars 2," tend to perform well -- when audiences are exposed to the characters. Lack of familiarity with Pixar's animated pals Buzz and Woody was believed to be one factor in the surprisingly weak theatrical performance of "Toy Story 3" in Russia. The 2010 summer blockbuster otherwise reaped more than $1 billion in ticket sales globally.
Disney Channel will serve as the Burbank-based entertainment giant's ambassador in Russia, introducing young audiences to Disney's characters.
The partnership with UTH Russia, a media company that operates the Seven TV and MUZ channels, is a departure in how Disney Channel is usually distributed. The new, over-the-air channel will combine Disney shows with Russian TV programming, said Alisher Usmanov, a major Internet and media investor in Russia.
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