The New Disney.com: “iPod cool with Disney magic”

Tech News Web 2.0

Looks like Disney is getting serious about its Internet offerings. Despite being an extremely popular portal as it is (including ESPN.com and ABC.com), users have complained enough to get the Magic Kingdom creators to revamp the site entirely. Slow load time, clunky interface, poor navigation, and archaic design are among the top complaints. But Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, seems well aware and is expected to introduce a new site at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 8. The redesign of the site has been in the works for over a year.

Disney.com will soon offer all sorts of chat rooms, games and personalized pages for both kids and their parents. Iger has explained that the new Disney.com is “the single most important companywide strategy Disney is currently implementing.” Disney’s Internet chief Steve Wadsworth calls it the new “front door” to the Disney universe of television shows, movies, toys, videogames, and theme parks.

Iger is quickly becoming known as the Disney CEO with an aggressive vision for the digital world, and this strategic move is set to be further proof. Some are even speculating that the new Disney.com will eventually replace existing forms of distribution such as cable television and DVDs. For now, Iger is content with the idea of “great opportunities for advertising, direct sales and commerce.”

The biggest hurdle for Disney while moving into the new area of social networking: the conflict of keeping the wholesome image without limiting the self-expressive nature of online communities. For now, Disney has decided to work with the wholesome image as a starting point. Facing tough competition, the new Disney.com has to be cool enough to lure an increasingly savvy audience. This will be no small feat, especially with the limitations of the Disney traditional wholeness image.

Disney executive Paul Yanover was in charge of coming with a solution. He spent much of his time researching how kids interact with the Internet while conducting numerous focus groups to see reactions to new features. The old site seemed to be used by kids for playing games, but they desperately wanted the ability to multitask.

Yanover calls what his team has been working on “iPod cool with Disney magic.” Sites like MySpace and Xbox Live Arcade games were used as inspiration. Iger wants to create the same “wow factor” for online visitors that already exists when visitors first enter a Disney theme park.

Parental control, however, will be an integral part of the new site. Focus groups have shown that parents are increasingly concerned with what kids are being exposed to online. So parents will have a way to control access to the site, which includes chat rooms. With the most strict setting enabled, kids will only be able to chat with preset phrases such as “cool” and “Cheetahlicious” and will only be able to interact with preselected friends.

Yikes! If any parent gets that control happy, Disney magic may be thrown out the window in exchange for freedom.

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