Disney’s Paul DeBenedittis Talks Programming Remit


BURBANK: Paul DeBenedittis, the senior VP of programming strategy at Disney Channels Worldwide, tells TV Kids about the kinds of shows that are resonating for the portfolio across the globe.

At the top of the food chain at Disney Channels Worldwide are heavily supported 360-degree brands. On boys’ action-adventure channel Disney XD an example would be Star Wars Rebels, which reaches 400 million homes in 163 countries. On the Disney Channel, meanwhile, there is Descendants, a hugely popular TV movie that has now spawned a short-form animated series spin-off and a sequel planned for 2017.

DeBenedittis says a number of new shows are good indicators of the way the company is heading editorially. He cites the live-action comedy series Stuck in the Middle, about a girl who is an engineering whiz. “The show has a lot of great touchpoints for different kids,” says DeBenedittis. “It has a diverse cast and is very reflective of the audience that we program for.”

A new genre development, he adds, is Walk the Prank, a hidden-camera prank show for Disney XD. “We’ve done factual TV from time to time, but nothing quite like this. A key part of our approach is to keep surprising our audience with exciting new ideas.”

While the U.S. delivers a steady stream of content to the global channels, Disney has production hubs around the world and is constantly looking at whether shows created for local markets can be shared within the family—a good example being Violetta, a Latin American production that aired around the world. On the co-production front, meanwhile, DeBenedittis is excited by LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, scheduled to hit Disney XD this summer. He also singles out Counterfeit Cat, a Wildseed Studios and Tricon Kids & Family British-Canadian co-production destined for Disney XD EMEA.

On the acquisitions front, he cites the DHX Media show Backstage, which has been picked up for use in 15 territories, including the U.S. and U.K., and the FremantleMedia Kids & Family preschool show Kate & Mim-Mim, which is on Disney Junior.

Offering advice for content owners pitching to Disney, DeBenedittis states: “There are often local opportunities—with shows needed to meet quotas or for tactical scheduling reasons—but for multi-territory deals, producers must know the brand inside out. They need to be coming to us with shows that complement, not replicate, our existing brands. And they really have to stay focused on Disney’s emphasis on magical storytelling, and the fact that parents like to watch our shows alongside their kids. I also think it’s important to keep in mind that stories that would have worked years ago won’t necessarily work now—the media landscape has changed.”

Disney’s DeBenedittis says that having content on digital platforms is absolutely central to the company’s strategy. “We’re not using on-demand and social media as promotional platforms, we’re creating content for them too, as our animated spin-off of Descendants shows. In my view, it’s meaningless to claim your show is number one in a particular time period because you need to understand audiences across all platforms. Gravity Falls was a particular success for Disney XD on all platforms.”