Disneys’ Social bid for Hubs and Worlds

Disney and Viacom are eager to win a growing share of the time—and money—spent by kids and their families who increasingly turn to the Web for entertainment. Their battle has been escalating since early 2007, when Disney unveiled a series of changes designed to make its site less product-promotional and more of a social networking hub (BusinessWeek.com, 1/8/07).

Disney’s video site alone proved to be a huge draw, with the company announcing it shipped 186.7 million online streams, boosted by a trailer of the megahit movie High School Musical. The company also showed music videos from its teen music stars Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.

With that much firepower, Disney can claim a hefty chunk of the 67.3 million kids who went online in August, according to comScore. But Nickelodeon—a family of sites that includes Nick.com, featuring games and video clips, and Neopets, a virtual pet community—can claim a hefty advantage over Disney in user engagement numbers.

In August, the average user stayed on one of Nick’s sites for more than 93 minutes, compared with more than 53 minutes for Disney. Even there, however, Disney seemed to be cutting into Nick’s lead in time spent, which declined by 2% from July. By comparison, Disney site users stuck around for 6.2% longer, most likely as a result of the added entertainment content.

Disney Pushes Virtual Worlds

Both sites have come a long way since August 2007, when users spent an average of more than 43 minutes on Disney and 84 minutes with Nickelodeon, according to comScore Media Metrix.

The next shot to be fired in the kiddie site war? Within the coming week, Disney intends to roll out a beta version of its online Fairies game that lets users play the role of one of six fairies who live in Disney’s mythical Pixie Hollow. By the end of the year, the company intends to introduce a subscription version of the game. Disney.com has already had heady success with its year-old virtual world Pirates of the Caribbean game, as well as its Club Penguin, which the company purchased in August 2007.

Disney and Nick Face Off on the Net

It’s been rather obvious (at least to me, because my life is filled with random ponderings of the most obscure-work-obsessed kind), that Disney’s next step would OF COURSE have to be the creation of a hub site that links all content, especially their virtual worlds.

They tried with Disney XD, but that became more of a “sell sell sell” venture (High School Musical-obsessed, etc), with video widgets and various product-endorsing pop ups.  The new “subtle” approach is much better.  You don’t have to sell so hard to the Disney audience.  They’re already obsessed.  In high school, I was a “drinking the disney koolaid” type of kid – Disney stores were Mecca.  But I’ll tell you what (and I still kinda feel this way) – the more you sell to me, the less I want to buy.  Why?  Because it suddenly feels cheap, easy.  I was (and still am) a bit of a Cinderella fanatic.  I would buy ANYTHING that was Cinderella-related… but as time moved on in the late ’90’s, they started OVER producing princess stuff, and it was EVERYWHERE, and I became less inclined to buy.  Same goes with Harry Potter paraphanalia.  I have a Snitch-clock, a dragon journal, etc etc that I bought at various stores… but they were all “nice, fan finds” and not the CRAP they started producing for Toys’R’Us. 

Disney has it MADE.  I’ve seen people hand-draw Disney characters on their kitchen walls, and force their children to dress like characters (for no reason at all, other than wanting a miniature Alice in Wonderland to take to the park).  I’m a subscriber to most of Disney’s Virtual Worlds, and I’ve enjoyed the on my own time… but I never, ever go to DXD- the present “hub” of the disney portal.  Why?  ugh – stop selling me.  I don’t know what to do with the site because i’m bombarded with CRAP.  Ugh.  Deer-in-headlights, run away!

Having said that – Disney has made some AMAZING and innovative moves in the web-development area (especially in the last year – I swear, a year ago I was totally ragging on Disney for being faulty in their online ventures, and see how times have changed!). 

If Disney treated their hub as a hang-out, fort for Disney-happy folks (not Disney obsessed, make the obsessed dig for treasure on the site), then GOLD.  It should be a pleasure to pop by the site and WANT to stay because you feel like you fit in whatever area you’ve opened up from the Dis destination.

The big question is more – how will Disney make it easier for you to be a single-solitary member of the site, while still having your own identity-independence in the various Virtual Worlds?  How can you move swiftly from one world to the other, without losing the opportunity for unique customizations?  And more than that – how will disney PRICE this venture?  Can you buy a world-hopper?  Phew… those might be expensive.  It’s $67 bucks to get into Disneyland… will it be $40 to get a months work of full-virtual worlds access across the Disney virtual worlds?  Hmm.  Something like that will have curious repercussions on the overall Virtual World market – and I couldn’t even BEGIN to guess which way the subtle knife might tip on that one… will people be more apt to pay for loads of worlds, or run away?  Curious-er and curious-er.

Now, Nickelodeon on the other hand?  Le sigh.  Good for them for scoring high traffic.  I definitely look forward to seeing their future plans for nick.com & Neopets… and, of course, Nicktropolis.  With Nick.com – there could be the saying, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”  But, improvement is always gold in my book.  Hopefully Nickelodeon will prove my less-than-stellar opinions by this time next year (just as Disney did).  Fingers crossed.

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  1. Tim
    November 15, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Excellent article, you have a very commanding grasp for the online situation with Disney and Nick. I have a 10 year old daughter and have seen and watched her play on the Disney site as it and it’s virtual worlds are one of the few sites we allow her to play in. Disney has become very aggressive over the last few years trying to capitalize on Pirates of the Caribbean with their MMOG, acquiring Club Penguin and now the Fairy site (I wasn’t aware of that one but sure my daughter is).

    You have a very clear and understandable writing style that flows very well. I would say on a scale of 1-10 (as a writer) you are pretty close to a 10! I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog and I will be back to read more in the future! Keep up the excellent work, I hope I haven’t over-inflated your head too much 😀


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