As the world shifts from linear television to streaming platforms, one of the biggest changes in consumer behaviour has been seen in the younger generations, who have embraced streaming. With on-demand content, why wait until Saturday morning at 9 am to watch the latest episode of your favourite cartoon, when it’s available to stream right now?

Children have ultimately gotten a better experience with how they watch their favourite shows and films; they aren’t restricted to time slots or channels, which is why children’s networks have seen some of the largest drop-offs in viewership year on year.

Recently, Nielsen released its primetime ranking for broadcast, cable and premium cable networks in the United States in 2023, which has shown that children’s networks like the Disney Channel, Disney Jr, Nickelodeon and others, have once again drastically lost viewers.

The Disney Channel in 2023 was watched by 132,000 viewers, while Disney Jr was slightly more popular at 133,000 viewers.   Though Disney XD only managed 32,000 viewers!    Nickelodeon was the most-watched children’s channel, with 190,000 viewers and Cartoon Network by 146,000. All of which were down on the previous year, Nickelodeon (-34%), Disney Channel (-26%), Disney Junior (-27%), Nick Jr. (-34%), Cartoon Network (-19%).

By comparison, in 2015, the Disney Channel was the 9th most-watched network in the United States, with 1.7 million viewers, which was still 9% down on 2014’s viewing numbers.

Recently, Disney made a new deal with Charter, where some children’s channels, including Disney XD and Disney Jr, are no longer being offered to Spectrum cable subscribers. Instead, they will be getting access to the ad-supported version of Disney+.

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Traditional linear television viewership is declining across the board, across all channels and countries. But children’s television networks are feeling this dropoff much faster, as older viewers keep to traditional television due to long-established habits; younger audiences have grown up with everything available at the click of a button.

With more carriage deals with cable platforms due to take place later this year, it’s likely more lesser-watched channels are going to be cut. This doesn’t necessarily mean there will be less content created, since kids are still watching new shows, but now through other platforms like Disney+ and YouTube.

Ironically, the majority of viewers of the children’s channels now are adults, which is why many of the linear channels are shifting their focus to broadcasting cartoons that appeal to those over 18. 

The decline of viewership for the Disney Channel has been ongoing for over a decade, but running these linear channels will no longer be sustainable at some point. This isn’t just a problem for children’s channels, across the board, every network’s viewership is down, NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX, are all down from viewership numbers a decade ago.

Disney also has to make sure the new children’s shows connect with their audiences, who are constantly shifting what they want to watch with each new generation. There will always be hits and misses, but there is little doubt that the traditional linear channels are now just considered legacy media that will only continue while they are still making money with them.

The decline in linear television is one reason why Disney has been pivoting to streaming, and planning for the future. While the division has been making losses year on year, they’ve been getting less, and this year, Disney is planning on making its streaming business profitable for the first time. But that has come from drastic cuts, to both staff and programming, plus the introduction of commercials and increased prices, because the idea of having one or two streaming platforms for a low price point was never sustainable in the long run, but was possible while linear television was paying for everything.

No doubt, the shifts in viewership, especially among the younger audiences, will continue to happen and Disney will need to continue to change with them, but it does make you question, why is the Disney Channel still the core focus of the advertising of new originals? Maybe this will change in the year ahead.

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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Twitter: Facebook:

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