Marketing control: Parental PC market is child's play for Disney

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Walt Disney Co. is pushing into the PC market with its computer for kids ages 6 to 11, betting parents will find an $900 computer with mouse ears and built-in parental controls better than anything else currently available.

With the Disney Dream Desk PC, Disney wants to use its trusted brand name and user-friendly technology to make purchasers out of parents who want to buy their kids a computer, but are wary about their wayward Internet surfing.

"One of the paramount concerns I have is protecting kids' privacy," said Bob Iger, Disney president-chief operating officer.

A "hot button" in the center of the keyboard leads the parents to the Internet-control software. The PC arrives loaded with software that blocks hate, violence, pornography and adult-content Web sites, along with pop-ups and spam, said Scott Nelson, director-marketing and product management at Content Watch, which makes the software.

tattle-tale e-mail

Parents can add other categories their kids are not to visit and can also indicate the times of day their children are not allowed to be online. A review feature lists the sites the child has visited. What if a youngster slips into a forbidden area anyway? The program will e-mail the parent at work.

Parental controls are not new to the market. Roughly 30 products are available, ranging from standalone software made by companies like Net Nanny and Cybersitter, to Internet service providers America Online, MSN and Yahoo's kid-protection services. The Dream Desk's security features are fairly standard-except for e-mailing the parents when a son or daughter is on a forbidden site, said Joe Laszlo, senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

The products, however, are not widely used. A study done in March by Jupiter Research showed just 19.5% of U.S. online households with kids use ISP-provided parental controls. About 8.4% of all online consumers said they used parental controls from their ISP, while only 2.7% said they had parental-control software.

In competing with other computers on the market, analysts believe the built-in parental controls give Disney an edge. "People prefer the path of least resistance," Mr. Laszlo said. "For Disney to make parental controls pre-installed and included in the price of the PC will definitely encourage parents to use it."

"They will not have to compete with existing PCs because they will have created their own category," said Jon Peddie, president, research firm Jon Peddie Research.

The machine is pre-loaded with software and designed to take "out of the box and be ready to go," said Harry J. Dolman, exec VP-global hardlines at Disney Consumer Products.

Bright-blue and crafted in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head, the Intel-enabled PC, made by Germany-based computer manufacturer Medion USA, and its mouse is designed to suit a child's hand. Hartmut Esslinger, co-CEO of Frog Design, which designed the Dream Machine, described it as "a Windows environment with a fun skin."

Three other buttons provide tools to create movies, drawings and music. A digital pen is also attached. Games and animation are included.

Shayem Nagrani, principal analyst-consumer electronics at iSuppli, thinks that perhaps Disney is trying to keep kids safe from everyone's marketing but its own. "It seems like a tool to push Disney products on impressionable kids and they do a very good job at that as it is."

"None of the content has any ads on it," said Disney's Mr. Dolman. "I couldn't tell you any feature of the hardware or the software that's locking anyone into Disney."

CompUSA is selling the PC exclusively through the fourth quarter, starting Sept. 12, at its 226 outlets and its Web site, and will promote the PC in its print ads.

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