Disney slowly courts idea of UGC and their properties

Disney walks line with digital kids, parents

Posted by
Stefanie Olsen

SAN JOSE, Calif.–Can a legacy company known for polished storytelling stay relevant to a generation of kids growing used to telling their own stories?

That’s the tough question for Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, which runs Disney.com and the newly acquired virtual world Club Penguin. Yanover spoke here Wednesday at the Virtual Worlds conference and admitted that growing Disney’s Internet properties is a work in progress. After all, one of the world’s most popular brands for children ended up buying newcomer virtual world Club Penguin for $350 million this summer.

“It’s a new space for us to figure out,” Yanover said.

On the Internet, the company is focused on three things: fun, safety and integrity, Yanover said. That means that Disney’s sites must be engaging and safe for kids, but they also must hold to an established story line consistent with the company’s brand and delivering on parents’ expectations. For example, Yanover joked that he’d have a hard time putting up a digital billboard in Disney’s upcoming Pirates of the Carribean virtual world.

That’s why Disney Online veers toward structured environments built around a story or game, and the company will continue on that path, he said. But down the road it plans to explore offerings that give kids more control over their experience. It’s already dabbled in that area. In January, Disney Online allowed kids to create their own fairy, and run a Web site around the animation. Three million kids participated.

Still, a parent in the audience asked that Disney offer tools to kid members of Club Penguin so that they could build things in the virtual world. Yanover said he liked the idea, but hinted later that it might take some time to bring in that functionality.

“We’re a polished content company. But we’re moving down the spectrum of participation and user-created additions,” he said.

Disney walks line with digital kids, parents | Tech news blog – CNET News.com

Unlike many who are happy to tackle the empowerment & possibility of UGC (User Generated Content) with the audience and their brands– the biggest pony in the stable has opted to slow things down a bit.

Disney – a lockbox in more ways than one – sits quite nicely on the pinacle point of its pyramid of safety & parental approval. Hey, I don’t have a problem with that. It shows that they KNOW what they are! In the past they were uber excited and pumped full of energy to join the race in the online media world– creating environments for user control. DXD, for example– was edgy & interesting, allowing a more personalized feel for the user’s home hub…. kinda like the interior of the locker at school. Wanna smear Zac Effron or Corbin Bleu all over your DXD page? Go for it. I’m not sure how successful it was (I get mixed reviews from the peeps I often chat with), and we have hopefully all been warned about the DXD searching issues (watch out for the porn people– unforch, googling DXD doesn’t bring up the Disney every time).

Disney has the opportunity to “sit pretty” and continue exploring their properties their own way– making the best digital atmospheres as possible, while the rest of us error and perfect the ways of UGC & it’s place within media.

They tried UGC with the whole “High School Musical” UGC voting thing: “What does Corbin Bleu’s shirt say?” It turned out less cool and more “one in a billion voted for this saying”, which is nice in “theory” but kinda misses the whole audience gets a piece of the fame element that a lot of people enjoy within generating content– affecting their entertainment. So, in my opinion, after reading this comment by Disney– I agree, I much rather them sit pretty, exploring ways for us to play with their properties their way (Fairies), safely & justly, instead of getting the whole thing wrong (or lame) from the start.

Agree? Disagree? Agree to disagree?

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  1. October 12, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    I had to leave early before his ‘Fireside Chat’ but I talked to some who DID attend and found it to be uneventful in the ‘new development’ side of the DXD arena…he talked about the fairies site, CP of course, and made a comment about Disneyland itself being “the ultimate virtual world.”—I’m actually trying to get the session on mp3 along with the tweens online version so will hope to share when avail.

    Overall, I felt the conf. was more about fluff-n-stuff (product pitches, who can do what in which world, how to make a mint on virtual goods, etc. vs. extrapolating on new, clever, meaningful content…

    Rita J. King actually eluded to this a bit on the ROI panel saying it’s NOT about quantifiable goods but more about community building, experiential authenticity, etc.–she did a lot of stuff w/IBM, in-world for SL, so had some fresh perspectives. Also got to meet the founder of Games for Change (now at MacArthur Found) but the one I really wanted to go to for nonprofits (a case study w/the Amer. Cancer Society in virtual worlds) was cancelled as was the ATT/MTV one…

    And btw, on the DXD porn URL digit off, some guy blasted me on the post I wrote saying it was the ‘dumbest thing he’d ever read’ and that Disney could never control the URL, etc. and I was a dolt for even suggesting they try to shore up the flanks. I’m no techie, so maybe I’m outta line, I dunno…just seems to me that could’ve been a tighter ‘lock box’ as you would say. C’est la vie, can’t please all the peeps all the time, eh? (and you know me, I don’t even try) 😉

  1. July 30, 2008 at 3:02 am

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