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Drake and Josh and iCarly may not be quaking in their shoes quite yet, but the local kids programming neighborhood currently dominated by Nickelodeon is going to get quite crowded next week when the new kids from the Disney Channel move in.
In a festive press conference featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse in the flesh, executives from the Disney Channel announced the September 9th launch of the network in Israel on both YES and HOT. The channel, which debuted in 1983 and currently screens in almost 140 countries worldwide - with 231 million viewers - will feature blockbuster favorites like Hannah Montana with megastar Miley Cyrus, Jonas with the equally mega Jonas Brothers, cartoon favorites Phineas and Ferb, the Mickey Mouse Playhouse with the muchloved Disney cartoon favorites Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. It will also air such Disney movies as the High School Musical series, Camp Rock and The Princess Protection Program, with teen sensation Demi Lovato.
According to Guy Carny, the program director of the Disney Channel Israel, in addition to dubbing Disney favorites into Hebrew, the channel will also feature Israeli versions of Disney series. First up will be the popular high school comedy As the Bell Rings, complete with a cast of talented Israeli teens and support from veteran actors like Shmulik Levy and Hanna Lazlo.
"We want to enable children to be able to 'touch' the Disney Channel," said Carny. "They'll be able to get the Israeli experience through the actors and the stories, which will include references to native concepts like sufganiyot during Hanukka, local food like sabich, and when they go on vacation, it's to places like Eilat and Tiberias."
"Content is king," added Giorgio Stock, the managing director of the Disney Channel's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "In the last few years, the Disney Channel has become the station of choice for children and parents around the world - a reflection on our commitment to produce the highest quality and most relevant programming wherever the viewers are - whether it be Tel Aviv, London or Los Angeles. We have a relentless passion for quality content."
Disney Israel General Manager Tami Landsman called the channel's Israel launch - which is geared to ages two through 14 - an "historic" event.
"We respect our audience and enable kids and their parents to enjoy time together. And we make a promise to parents that they can leave their kids in front of the TV and be assured they're getting quality content," she said. HOWEVER, MOST of the 1.2 million households which will be able to access the Disney Channel may have to pay for it. Landsman confirmed that YES subscribers will be able to receive the channel with its basic package, but after an initial limited free offering, HOT subscribers will need to pay an additional fee to watch Hannah Montana's antics.
"It's not in our hands how the cable companies make the channel available to its viewers," said Landsman.
It remains to be seen whether Israeli viewers will lay out more shekels to view the programming, which includes shows that have already been screened on local channels like Hop!, including Montana's first two seasons. But programming head Carny didn't seem too concerned.
"On the very first day we go live next week, there will be six programs that have never been seen in Israel before - the third season of Hannah Montana, Jonas, a cartoon series based on the Disney film The Emperor's New Groove, another animation series called Jimmy Cool, the local Hebrew version of As the Bell Rings and The Princess Protection Program," he said, adding that as the current deals with other channels that screen Disney shows come to their end, the Disney Channel will become the exclusive home for all Disney content.
"And that's just the beginning," added Landsman. "During the year, we'll be introducing many other original Disney programs, and screening the Israeli debuts of Disney films like Ratatouille and Murder Inc."
According to Carny, the added value of the Disney programming will be to enable children to learn, enjoy and imagine.
"Every child can find himself with our programs, by helping them not only dream and imagine, but by providing tools to realize their dreams," he said.
The Disney honchos kept politics out of their presentation, preferring not to relate to Hamas using a Mickey Mouse look-alike character in an anti-Israel children's campaign. And in a far cry from the days when companies like Pepsi refused to sell their products in Israel out of fear of economic repercussions from Arab countries, Stock said there was no consideration when deciding to bring the Disney Channel to Israel what the reaction would be of Arab countries which also subscribe to the channel.
"It really never entered our minds. I don't think that there'll be any problem," said Stock "We're just excited to be bringing our high standard viewing to the people of Israel."
Somewhere, Donald Duck is quacking in agreement. And Drake and Josh are starting to quake.