Optus moves in with Disney, the family friend

WALT Disney is on a global mission to dominate what the masses will see on broadband and mobile phone platforms and this week Optus became the latest player to help the entertainment company's cause.

Optus's deal on Tuesday with the Walt Disney Internet Group to offer a "family friendly" line-up of Disney content on its website portal is a departure for the telecom, which has had a limited line-up of offerings to date.

Optus is not convinced about the ambitious plans of its arch rival, Telstra BigPond, to create exclusive material for its broadband internet and mobile customers.

However, Optus's strategy seems to mirror that of its rival.

From July, Optus will carry Disney Connection on its portal, offering video clips, music videos, movie trailers and soundtracks, interactive games and cartoons all aimed at kids.

Optus argues the alliance – which for Disney is non-exclusive in Australia – will reinforce its kid-safe-zone credentials to parents. It already allows them to set controls on what their children can do on the internet.

"We're not trying to build up channels of our own," says Chris Lane, group director, products and delivery for Optus Consumer, in a reference to BigPond's approach of buying exclusive rights to material and producing in-house. "The difference here I guess is … as you move into family [broadband internet take-up], we saw a gap in that there are obviously concerns about some of the content available on the internet … Disney has helped us to develop a safe, secure family friendly area where people can trust their kids can play and they don't have to worry."

Lane says Optus will launch a marketing campaign based on the family theme in July when Disney Connect starts on the Optus portal. The telecom is in the final stages of merging and relaunching its mobile and broadband portals and there is growing but unconfirmed speculation that the Disney offerings will be carried across to Optus mobiles.

Lane admits there are more third-party options carried on its Optus Zoo mobile phone portal than its broadband internet site because of speed, navigation and payment limitations. He says the mobile line-up is about aligning with third-party providers – downloadable MTV-branded music is one new offering.

"It's a bit naive for a [telecommunications] operator to think they can build up enough content channels to make it really worthwhile," Lane says. "We have partnered with ninemsn … and when we launch our new portal there will be a lot more rich media content which is localised because of that vast library that PBL and Channel Nine have. But our philosophical belief is that content should not be an exclusive domain of anyone. There may be other brands that bring interesting content which we will add to our portal but it's not our fundamental driver. And when we do, we would rather partner with best in breed."

It's precisely what Mark Handler, executive vice-president, international, of Walt Disney Internet Group wants to hear. Handler has been overseeing a rapid expansion of Disney's content for digital media. The company has licensed the online rights to games such as Trivial Pursuit and Rubiks and has purchased a German games developer to bolster its portfolio of game producers for interactive TV, internet and mobile phone carriers.

Disney is extending its push into new demographics – in Japan it has launched a mobile channel targeting women aged 25 and over while in North America it's producing "motherhood" information and educational material.

"The point is consumers are now getting a bigger percentage of content being offered to them by the carrier coming out of the Disney company," he says. "People are getting much more selective about what they want to watch and if we, as a content company, can respond with great content then it's an opportunity.

"In mobile, we are very aggressive. Between 2005 and 2010 there will be an increase of 25 per cent in terms of mobile users, which will be 3 billion.

"But at the same time the content market will more than double. So content is clearly a growth business in mobile. What we're trying to do is take advantage of good relationships with operators.

"There's real skills in terms of porting to different devices and just getting digital content moved around the world. And we think we've got good expertise in brand development so we're actually going beyond the Disney brand in our mobile assets."


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