The move is related to the effort to have Disney Branded Television focus more on upping production of kids’ and family content for Disney+ and Disney Channels.
Radio Disney launched in 1996 as a terrestrial network and had expanded over the years to satellite radio and other platforms. By 2005, it reached 97% of the U.S. and played a key role in putting Disney stars like the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and many more on the broader pop-culture map.
Artists on major labels like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, N’Sync, One Direction and many more hugely benefited from Radio Disney exposure. As streaming fundamentally altered the music business in the 2010s, laying waste to radio assets and changing the mix of what people listen to, operations like Radio Disney made less sense to sustain. ESPN Radio remains a division of Disney’s ESPN division, but Disney spun off ABC Radio Network and 22 radio stations in a 2007 transaction with Citadel Broadcasting. In 2014, it shifted Radio Disney’s distribution to strictly digital and satellite.
The shutdown will directly affect 36 full- and part-time employees, the company said.
Disney is in the midst of a major restructuring effort, which is centralizing distribution and putting greater emphasis on streaming. At the same time the Radio Disney news was announced, the company also started layoffs across the Walt Disney Television Group.
More than any other media company, Disney has been battered by Covid-19. With movie theaters, sports, theme parks, production and travel all significantly impaired in 2020, the company has seen its balance sheet shredded. Disney+, however, has been a bright spot. The streaming service has already racked up almost 74 million global subscribers in its first year — the same range it was initially hoping to get by 2024.
Here is the full statement from Disney:
Radio Disney and Radio Disney Country will cease operations in the first quarter of 2021. The announcement was made today by Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer, Disney Branded Television, who today addressed the 36 full- and part-time employees who will be impacted by the closure early next year.
Radio Disney in Latin America is a separate operation and is not impacted by the announcement today.
The difficult decision to close these two radio networks coincided with Disney’s recently announced structural changes that call for Disney Branded Television to sharpen its focus on increasing production of kids’ and family content for Disney+ and Disney Channels. Division leaders also took into account the fast evolving media environment that provides more personalized music choices than ever to a generation of young consumers, and the ongoing public health crisis that continues to affect in-person music events.