Content delivered via wireless devices still has the potential to be a big winner, Disney executives believe, despite the company's decision to shutter its ESPN Mobile venture late last month.
A $27 billion market?
"Industry analysts predict that mobile television could be a global market worth as much as $27 billion by 2010," Ms. Sweeney said, adding that 500 million new wireless connections have been made globally in the past year.
Disney already has deals in place with Vodafone Italy and Orange Mobile in the U.K. and has just finalized a deal to stream Disney Channel via France Telecom's Orange service. Disney has a deal to distribute the ABC hit "Lost" to 3.2 million mobile-phone customers in the U.K., and plans to bring the network's "Desperate Housewives" to 24 million Vodafone Italy subscribers. The company is also creating a new mobile product around a series of video diaries by the characters of "Lost."
Last October -- the month Disney inked its revolutionary iTunes deal in the U.S. -- Disney also licensed studio content to wireless-content firm TU Media, based in South Korea. The South Korean market is one of the most advanced in the world for cellphone technology. TU Media now streams 250 hours of Disney programming to its wireless-phone customers.
'Piracy is a business model'
Fear of piracy had driven Disney to be aggressive in its pursuit of new media, Ms. Sweeney said. "We now understand that piracy is a business model. It exists to serve a need in the market -- specifically consumers who want TV content on demand. And piracy competes for consumers the same way we do -- through quality, price and availability."
In looking for new-media ventures, Ms. Sweeney said, "We want partners who believe in their own products and services enough to market them aggressively instead of relying on our content to drive their sales."
Ms. Sweeney also revealed that ABC.com's latest program-streaming initiative had garnered 2.5 million requests for shows in the past two weeks. That's compared to 5.7 million requests for episodes over a two-month test period in the spring, when ABC first began to stream its top shows online. The new initiative is supported by a range of advertisers including Toyota. "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost" and new shows such as "Six Degrees" and "The Nine" are available online after the shows have completed their traditional broadcasts.
Outside the U.S.
Disney also has a similar venture in Germany, where viewers can watch shows online via an IPTV entertainment portal called "Maxdome" operated by broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1.
Disney plans to launch its DisneyChannel.com broadband player outside the U.S., Ms. Sweeney told attendees. "The player has taught us a great deal about these young viewers and helps us serve them better. We're using that information to expand this platform beyond the U.S. We plan to launch the first international versions of the broadband player in European markets early next year."
"The digital consumer coup has empowered viewers to control their entertainment choices. It has also created real opportunity and incentive for innovation in our industry," she said.