Disney sees opportunity in Africa as the continent's middle class and its leisure and retail infrastructure grow, the giant entertainment company said Thursday.
Disney executives were in downtown Johannesburg Thursday for the launch in Africa of a new Disney channel in a deal with South African pay-TV company MultiChoice, which has audiences across the continent.
Christine Service, who manages Disney operations in South Africa, said more theaters are being built in Africa, and Internet access is growing and improving in quality. She also is seeing improvements in the services free and pay television companies are offering, and sophisticated South African retailers expanding farther north.
"We do have to follow the infrastructure," Service said in an interview.
Service says Disney will bring more channels, live shows and digital products to Africa. But she said an African Disney theme park _ long rumored _ is not yet on the agenda. Disney has three theme parks outside the U.S., in Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, and last month broke ground for a new Shanghai park.
Disney also own television networks ESPN and ABC, Pixar Animation Studios, and Marvel comics. Service said Disney movies and TV programming _ Africans have been watching the company's flagship Disney Channel on MultiChoice's DStv since 2006 _ have been popular in Africa.
"We look forward to the future and remain absolutely committed to continuing to invest in this market," Service said.
Disney is not alone in seeing opportunity in Africa. A survey by accounting firm Ernst & Young of more than 500 executives of international companies found 68 percent believed Africa had become a more attractive place to do business in recent years.
Estimates and definitions differ, but experts say the number of Africans with income to spare is growing. An African Development Bank study attributed the growth of the middle class to strong economic performance on the continent in the past two decades, but cautioned that overcoming poverty remains a challenge.
The channel launched in Africa Thursday, Disney XD, has been available in the U.S. and Europe since 2009. Boys are the main audience for its mix of animated shows and live action sitcoms, among them "Kick Buttowski," a cartoon about a suburban kid with daredevil aspirations.
Maciej Bral, Disney Channel's vice president for emerging markets, said Disney XD could one day be a platform for African shows.
"We'll be aiming to increase the number of local productions over time," Bral said in Johannesburg Thursday.