Disney readies magic kingdom for kids on Web

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Disney Online's long-awaited online kids service, expected to launch this spring, will likely have two tiers: basic and premium.

Internally, the new service has been dubbed Funicello, named for former Disney child star Annette Funicello, according to an executive familiar with the discussions.

Initial plans call for the premium service to have at least seven different worlds: Toon Town, targeted to preschoolers and their parents, with simple puzzles, stories and games; Tale-O-Topia, for 6-to-12-year-olds, containing serialized stories and comics; The Know It Hall, a Web search engine; Game Nation, which could include games from other companies, such as Hasbro; The Loft, with art, music and morphing software; Information Station, for 8-year-olds and older, with Disney-branded news and sports content from the company's ABC and ESPN divisions; and The Castle/Disney Filmplex, which will be the showcase of the service.


The Castle/Disney Filmplex, targeted to the 8-to-12-year-old set, will offer chat areas, live events and movie databases. Within this area, land navigation will be avatar-based, similar to Time Warner's The Palace site.

The basic service will include five areas: preschool, games, stories, creativity and Disney fan information. The concept is for users to be enticed by the content in the basic service to upgrade to the premium level, which will cost more.

Reportedly, even the basic service might not be free; it could cost about $5 a month. The price for the premium service could reportedly reach as high as $15 to $20 per month. Also unclear is how, exactly, Funicello will integrate advertising.

As first reported by C/Net, the primary communication tool in Funicello is D-mail. This Disney version of e-mail will allow kids to send drawings, sounds and stamps to other D-mail users, as well as supporting regular e-mail so users can talk to non-Funicello subscribers.


Also planned for the service is a feature that will allow users--to a limited degree--to tailor which characters and content they want.

Walt Disney launched a corporate site on the Web earlier last year at http://www.disney.com.

Disney Online president Jake Winebaum did not return calls. A Disney spokeswoman said no formal announcement has been made of any new Disney Online service, and that the company would have no comment.

The executive familiar with the new service said Disney has been struggling with a few troubling issues as it prepares Funicello for launch later this year.

One is that in the initial design, kids can't generally chat and play at the same time. Only in The Castle can users talk and see each other. And since The Castle will likely be technically superior to the other lands, some executives inside Disney are concerned that the other worlds could suffer in comparison.

Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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