first attempted to launch a 24-hour subscription channel for preschoolers in the United States, when the company announced plans to launch the Playhouse Disney Channel, a television offshoot of Disney Channel's daytime programming block Playhouse Disney, which launched on the channel on May 8, 1997. Plans for the United States network were ultimately shelved, however dedicated Playhouse Disney Channels were launched in other countries internationally. The development of Disney Junior began on May 26, 2010, when Disney-ABC Television Group announced the launch of the channel as a pay television service, which would compete with other subscription channels targeted primarily at preschool-aged children such as Nick Jr., Qubo, and Sprout; in addition, the Playhouse Disney block on Disney Channel would also be renamed under the Disney Junior banner, prior to the launch of the channel of the same name. The announcement also called for the 22 existing programming blocks and pay channels outside of the United States bearing the Playhouse Disney name being rebranded as Disney Junior. The flagship channel in the United States intended to replace Soapnet, a Disney-owned channel featuring daytime soap operas seen on the major broadcast networks and reruns of former primetime drama series, due to the continued decline in popularity and quantity of soap operas on broadcast television, along the growth of video on demand services and digital video recorders that negated the need for a linear channel devoted to the genre.
Network and block launches
Disney Junior first launched as a programming block on Disney Channel on February 14, 2011 at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time with the Little Einsteins episode "Fire Truck Rocket" as the first program to air on the block. The Disney Junior channel was originally scheduled to launch in January 2012, but on July 28, 2011, the Disney-ABC Television Group pushed back the channel's launch date to an unspecified date in early 2012, then on January 9, 2012, the Disney-ABC Television Group announced that Soapnet's closing date for most cable providers was scheduled for March 22, 2012. Disney Junior's 24-hour subscription channel counterpart officially launched the following day on March 23, at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time with the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode "Mickey's Big Surprise" as the first program to air on the channel. Programming featured on the channel's initial lineup included Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and freshman original seriesDoc McStuffins; the channel also launched a new short-form series A Poem Is. as well as the weekend movie block, the Magical World of Disney Junior. Though it in effect took over the channel space held by Soapnet, an automated feed of that channel continued to exist for providers that had not yet reached agreements to carry Disney Junior, or held out so as to not lose subscribers due to the immediate loss of that network. These included some providers such as Cox Communications, Optimum, DirecTV, Verizon FiOS, and Time Warner Cable, which continued to carry Soapnet while having added the Disney Junior channel onto their channel lineups in turn. Soapnet's operations continued sixteen months later than had been originally planned, until the network finally ceased operations on December 31, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. In 2012, Disney Junior launched the movie night anthology as Magical World of Disney Junior. The channel also premiered its first Disney Junior Original Movie, Lucky Duck during Magical World on Friday, June 20, 2014.
Since its launch, Disney Junior became initially available to subscribers of Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and Verizon FiOS; Other providers would sign carriage agreements to run the network following its launch:
On March 26, 2012, Cox Communications announced that it would carry Disney Junior, as part of the provider's "Variety Pak" package.
On April 3, 2012, Disney–ABC Television Group announced that it had reached a distribution agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative to carry Disney Junior, which negotiates carriage deals on behalf of many of America's smaller cable providers.
Cable One added the network to the digital tier of its systems around May 26, 2012.
On June 21, 2012, RCN began carrying the network on its systems.
On July 13, 2012, DirecTV announced that the Disney Junior network would be added to its lineup the following day on the 14th, a Saturday. Industry observers questioned both the unexpected announcement and untraditional weekend launch of the network as being timed to a nine-day carriage dispute between DirecTV and Viacom and the loss of Nick Jr. four days previously as a result of the dispute.
On December 31, 2012, Charter Communications came to terms with Disney–ABC Television Group on a new wide-ranging multiple year carriage agreement for ABC, all of the U.S.-based Disney Channels Worldwide and ESPN networks and ABC Family, which included the addition of Disney Junior to Charter systems throughout the first quarter of 2013.
On January 15, 2013, AT&T U-verse also reached a deal with The Walt Disney Company on a new wide-ranging multi-year agreement to carry the Disney–ABC Television Group family of networks and ESPN, which included the addition of Disney Junior.
Dish Network, the last major television provider to have not signed a carriage deal for Disney Junior, added the channel on April 10, 2014; after a long period of acrimony and a six-month extension of their past carriage agreement with The Walt Disney Company for a few select networks, Dish and Disney came to full terms on carrying all of Disney-ABC's networks in both standard and high definition on March 3, 2014 with the resolution of legal issues involving Dish's HopperDVR system, which also included streaming rights for the networks as part of Dish's IPTV streaming serviceSling TV.
Programming on the Disney Junior channel includes original series, shows formerly seen on the now-defunct Playhouse Disney block, plus re-runs of former original shows - including some that also air on the companion Disney Channel morning block and short-form series, as well as reruns of some older animated series that had previously been seen on sister network ABC, CBS and programs from Disney Channel and Toon Disney, which are aired by the channel by popular demand. However, the channel also carries several non-Disney preschool shows.
Disney Junior Night Light is the former name of Disney Junior channel's overnight programming block, running daily from 9:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. The block, which debuted on September 4, 2012 and is sponsored by Babble, consists of short-form programs intended for co-viewing among parents and their children. Features seen as part of the block include Picture This, Sesh Tales and That's Fresh. Additional series under development at the block's launch included a photography series, a series that follows parents through the day their new baby comes home after being born, and a show about stay-at-home dads. Since 2017, Disney Junior's overnight programming has run unbranded and without the Night Light continuity.
Disney Junior, formerly known as Playhouse Disney, is available around the world.