|The Disney Dream Desk allows parents to control and monitor their children's online activities.
Called the "Disney Dream Desk," the system is a complete, Internet-accessing computer, created by the Germany-based manufacturer Medion USA, that runs on a modified version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Home Edition operating system.
Unveiled at an event at the American Museum of Natural History in New York yesterday, the new computer hardware line offers a solution to one of the most troubling and daunting problems faced by the parents of young children in the age of online information.
"One of the paramount concerns I have is protecting kids' privacy," said Disney's president and chief operating officer, Robert Iger.
The main marketing point of the product is its "Kid-Safe" features, which provide parents with simple but powerful "hot button" control over when and how the machine can be used when connected to the Internet.
Created own category
How will this new offering compete in a crowded, competitive PC market? "[Disney] will not have to compete with existing PCs because they will have created their own category," said Jon Peddie, president of multimarket research firm Jon Peddie Research. "This is a brand crossover that could work because they are picking a good demographic and it's a trusted brand."
At the core of the Dream Desk is a suite of access control software, including Content Watch Inc.'s ContentProtect, which filters Internet surfing; EmailProtect, which filters e-mail; and PopupProtect, which blocks pop-up windows. The system enables parents to define the time of day when the machine will be capable of accessing the global network.
Content Watch's director of marketing and product management, Scott Nelson, said the internal filtration software blocks hate, violence, pornography and adult-content Web sites, along with pop-ups and unsolicited e-mail, otherwise known as spam.
List of sites visited
Dream Desk also provides parents with a log that lists the sites a child has visited. Another feature can be set to send the parent an e-mail alert at work if the child does slip into a forbidden category of Web content.
Parents can use the controls to block their children from other categories of Web sites and services including gaming, travel, employment and religious sites, and chat rooms and instant messaging.
And, for grown-ups who are computer illiterate, the machine is preloaded with software and designed to take "out of the box and be ready to go," said Harry J. Dolman, executive vice president of global hardlines at Disney Consumer Products. The parent need only plug it in and hook it up to an Internet service provider.
Customer service could be a problem as it was for Mattel's Barbie and Hot Wheels children's computers, which are now off the market, said Rob Enderle, senior analyst at the Enderle Group, which specializes in emerging technologies. Dream Desk maker Medion is servicing the boxes and has set up a toll-free number to do so, Mr. Dolman said.
Disney is running 12 infomercials on QVC starting in August. Other marketing for the new product will be integrated with Disney's entertainment offerings, Mr. Dolman said. "We'll be featuring the PCs in kids' play areas at hotels in Disney World," he added. The company will also tuck inserts into Disney DVDs and videos. PC promotions will occur across the Disney.com Web site and on the Disney Channel. And the company will e-mail the 4 million or so Disney.com registrants.
The bright blue, Intel-enabled PC and its mouse are also smaller and ergonomically designed to suit a child's hand. Three other hot buttons -- Disney Flix, Pix and Mix -- provide tools for the user to create movies, drawings and music enhanced with Disney characters. A digital pen is also attached. Disney games and animation are included, along with a 14-day free membership to Disney's ToonTown Online. Disney will introduce a digital camera and a digital camcorder for the PC at holiday time.
The cost is $599 for the computer and $299 for the monitor.
Electronics retailer CompUSA is selling the PC exclusively through the fourth quarter, starting Sept. 12, at its 226 outlets and through its Web site, and will promote the PC in print ads. Part of the deal involves the retailer installing the computer and training customers.