Walt Disney Co. is rebuilding its outdated Disney.com website to make movies, television shows and games directly available to consumers.
Disney President and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said the company’s portal would be redefined as an “uber-network” for all things Disney, where entertainment would be offered by way of subscription or pay-per-view or would be supported with advertising. The relaunch is expected within a year, he said.
“We have a unique opportunity as Disney because it really is the only true global entertainment brand,” Iger said Thursday at the All Things Digital conference in Rancho Palos Verdes. “People go to Disney because they know its brand attributes. We believe we have an opportunity to go with our content directly to consumers.”
The Disney.com website has undergone multiple iterations, beginning with a failed attempt in the late 1990s to become one of the central destinations on the Web — vying with the likes of Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Disney would later eliminate 800 jobs and write off $800 million of its investment in the family-friendly Go.com venture.
Since those days, the Disney.com site has sought to balance dual goals, as a promotional site for all of Disney’s film, television and music offerings, and as an entertainment destination that would attract advertising revenue.
Iger signaled a new direction for the Disney.com portal last fall, when he shook up the executive ranks of the company’s Digital Interactive Media Group and installed former Yahoo executive Jimmy Pitaro as co-president in charge of the company’s Web properties and mobile business.
“It’s important to note here that we’re not just redesigning,” Pitaro said in his first public remarks, at an investor conference in February in Anaheim. “We’re rethinking the entire experience — from content to product, to monetization, to business models.”
Pitaro told investors that the relaunched Disney site would be cleaner, easier to navigate and have greater levels of personalization. “The bottom line is, we’ll be delivering the right content for the right user at the right time regardless of device or platform,” he said at the time.
Disney’s attempt to deliver entertainment directly to consumers comes amid a changing landscape. Iger said new forms of digital distribution represented the biggest opportunity for the traditionally slow-growth media industry since the introduction of the VHS tape in the early 1980s or the advent of cable television.
“Netflix, Amazon, iTunes — whatever platforms emerge — we are looking at as having the same potential that home video had for the movie business,” Iger said. “Which means there are entirely new opportunities to monetize our capital investment in content and do so in ways that work for distributors, for consumers and for creators.”
Established businesses still bring in the big bucks. Iger noted that the fourth installment of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie franchise has raked in about $700 million in global box-office receipts over two weeks.
“It’s tough to monetize that fast on digital platforms today,” Iger said.
Nonetheless, portable devices represent yet another opportunity to reach consumers around the world. Iger estimated that some 450 million smartphones and tablets will be sold this year — representing opportunities to monetize Disney’s movies, TV shows and games that didn’t exist in Walt Disney’s time.
Iger acknowledged that the emergence of these new digital platforms still faced obstacles. One impediment to digital ownership is the lack of space on computer hard drives to store a consumer’s entire collection of music, movies and television shows, he said.
One solution is a digital locker that would hold these personal libraries so content could be accessed at any time on any Internet-connected device, he said.
“If we give people the ability to buy a lot more because they can store a lot more, for a company that creates TV shows and movies, that’s fantastic,” Iger said.
Apple Inc. is expected to announce such a cloud service Monday. Iger said he would not be part of next week’s launch in San Francisco, where Disney’s largest individual shareholder, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, is expected to deliver the keynote address.