Disney localizes European web sites as full commercial ventures

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LONDON--The Walt Disney Co., one of the most prolific developers of content for the Internet, has relaunched the U.K. edition of its adsupported Disney.com online venture as a precursor to a spate of localized European Web sites.

Disney.co.uk, an entertainment Web site targeted at British families and children, will feature downloadable interactive games, storybooks, samples of musical sounds, educational information and e-commerce. In addition, the Web site will be used as a marketing tool to inform users of the latest developments at Disney's theme parks, such as Disneyland Paris, plus the latest movies from its Hollywood studio and video releases.

Once the U.K. site is established, Disney.com will also be extended to other European markets, especially some of the fastest-growing online countries, including Germany, France, Scandinavia and Italy.

Although some Disney.com Web sites for European consumers exist, they are mostly limited to promoting the Disney brand. The revamped Disney.co.uk is the first move to reposition these sites as full commercial ventures. The other European sites will be relaunched during the next year, with launches in new markets following in the next two years.

Disney.co.uk will also feature Cyber/Netiquette, a facility designed to educate children about the most effective way to use the Internet and prevent them from accessing unsuitable and harmful sections of the Internet. "It's all part of our commitment to help make the Internet a fun, safe environment," says Chafic Najia, the London-based VP and managing director of Buena Vista Internet Group International.

The latest move in Europe will also enable Disney to introduce Go, a U.S. portal site that acts as a consumer guide to other parts of the Internet. Go is a joint venture with Infoseek, the U.S.-originated search engine developer.

In the U.S., Disney's is one of the most successful ad-supported Internet operations, incorporating Disney.com. Family.com and ESPN.com, the Web site for the world's biggest cable and satellite sports TV network.

ESPN.com's ability to hook sports fans to the Internet has made it one of the U.S.' Top 10 Web sites in terms of ad revenue. ESPN became part of the Walt Disney empire in late 1995 with the acquisition of CapCities/ABC. CapCities/ABC was the parent company of the U.S.' TV network ABC, which owned ABC Online and ESPN.

All Disney's online activities were then brought together under a new subsidiary, Buena Vista Internet Group (BVIG). Previously, Walt Disney's main new-media activities in Europe were limited to Disney Interactive Europe, which focused on CD-Rom entertainment. BVIG opened its international headquarters in London last September, with other offices in Tokyo and Paris.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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