Walt Disney Co. is no stranger to fantasy worlds, transporting audiences — whether to a cottage in the woods with a young princess in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or to the Great Barrier Reef aboard the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland.
Now, Disney is spinning its tales in the newest mass medium — online virtual worlds, where children adopt cartoonish avatars and play games.
Disney and other entertainment companies are rushing to capitalize on the latest Internet phenomenon: the rise of virtual worlds for kids. Online haunts for grown-ups, such as Second Life, grab the attention of corporate marketers. But digital playgrounds for the juice-box set — such as Disney’s Club Penguin and Ganz Inc.’s Webkinz — are drawing bigger crowds.
[…] Disney says it opted for subscriptions to defray the costs of monitoring and providing a safe environment for kids to play online. It chose not to permit advertising. Webkinz drew criticism from a parent group last month for displaying ads for the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” film and encouraging young users to buy chipmunk costumes and food for their virtual pets.
For Disney, a virtual world such as “Pirates” pays dividends beyond the potential subscription revenue. It keeps fans of the movie franchise interacting with the characters and primed for the next chapter in the “Pirates” epic, be it a film, a game or merchandise.
[…] “The media companies are starting to realize that virtual worlds represent a very easy, very controllable, very compelling and very sticky media channel,” said Stephen Prentice, analyst for technology research firm Gartner Inc.