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Disney Tries Again with Mobile Service

disney mvnoFor all the achievements, kid centric, branded mobile phones haven’t been among Disney’s successes.  For that matter, all past Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO’s license airspace from other network operators rather than running their own cellular network) efforts, including an ESPN sports themed mobile service, have failed for Disney.  That isn’t stopping them from trying again.  Somebody in Mouse-land thinks there’s gold “in d’em de’re hills” and it’s just a matter of getting the formula (and geography right). 

Disney MVNO version 3, was officially revealed Monday.   The new service will narrowly target the Japanese market in partnership with Softbank. It will also focus on a new demographic.

Three handsets (rebranded Sharp 821SH) were revealed for the launch.  Available in color choices like “Shiny Silver,” “Sparkling Pink,” and “Glittering Gold” the phones and service are designed to appeal to a different demographic than Disney’s first forays into the market.  This time, instead of sports fans (ESPN) or children, its late teen to thirty year old women they’re apparently seeking to lure to the register.

All of the handsets are preset to allow direct access to Disney websites.  Their cases are imprinted with silhouette patterns of Mickey.

Tokyo Disneyland is a popular draw in Japan and personalized cell phones have broader appeal than in the U.S. markets but will the two combine and add up to a successful service and consumer product? 

Many are likely to have their doubts.   Japan may prove different but in the U.S. many companies hoping to slap their brand and content onto a licensed mobile platform have struggled.    Helio, which is jointly owned by Earthlink and SK Telecom, saw net losses surge from about $192m to $327m between 2006 and 2007.  (Though revenue and subscriber numbers were growing).  Other services like Disney’s ESPN Mobile (R.I.P Sep. 2006) and Amp’d Mobile (Bankruptcy) hit the deadpool.  Startups like Kajeet remain wildcards.

In betting on the narrow geographic market and a different demographic than before, Disney may have a better formula.  They are certainly betting that’s the case.   Outsiders, on the other hand, are more likely to skeptically wait and see.  It could be a case of “third time’s the charm” or, just as likely “three strikes and you’re out.”

(And if the service proves anything like ESPN Mobile which washed out in just nine months, audiences may not need to wait too long to see the jury of Japan’s public opinion return a verdict.)


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