New Disney site limits self-expression

Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger unveiled an overhauled company website Monday that will greet its 25 million monthly Internet visitors with a broader array of rich videos, music and games, but limited means of self expression.

Iger had identified the new as one of the company’s most important initiatives to come this year, and the changes are bringing added scrutiny because of Iger’s reputation as a supporter of Internet distribution and new media models.

As previewed by Iger at his keynote address to the annual Consumer Electronics Show here this week, the new website emphasizes Disney’s varied content rather than means for fans to create their own material or find and communicate with one another.


“People are going online looking to be entertained,” Iger said. “This gives you, in effect, a character experience online.”

Site visitors can enter pages devoted to many of Disney’s most popular animated figures. They can customize the Disney page so it greets them with their favorite movie clips, music videos and games.

They can alter the appearance, size and number of a handful of windows, which have such features as a media player or a list of friends who might be available for online chats. Visitors can also share what they have done with others.

But unlike the vast majority of social networking sites, won’t let users post photos or write about themselves or other things on their home pages.

Paul Yanover, the executive vice president of Disney Online, said in a briefing that the company was “looking at creating a journal system.” But he added, “We are not going to jump into a place where users can upload pictures of themselves.”

Yanover said Disney was imposing the restrictive atmosphere out of concern for children’s safety, which has been a hot-button issue at MySpace and other major networking sites.


Analysts said that the more than 50 games already available, plus other content, could be a draw for younger children, and forthcoming immersive and multi-player games including one based on “Pirates of the Caribbean” could bring in older children.

But they cautioned that the closed universe might turn away some of the teenagers Disney has been reaching on the Disney Channel with such hits as “High School Musical” and the “Pirates” movies.

“For the teenage segment, they are already so exposed to other sites, it could be limiting,” said UBS analyst Aryeh Bourkoff. “Teenagers are so desirable to both Disney and its advertisers because they spend their own money.”

Iger said the site’s emphasis on videos, which start playing as soon as a Web surfer arrives, should open the door to Web commercials. But he and other executives said little about how much they intended to push advertising.

Given the strength of Disney’s popular stable of entertainment products, Bourkoff said the website should attract more than its current level of visitors and hold them for longer periods.

“The vision is a strong one, even if the monetization model isn’t proven,” he said. “Disney is a content company and one that is very much bound by its own product offerings. That’s fine, as long as the products continue to be this strong.”


The new site will be available to Web users later this month.