SAN JOSE, Calif.--Can a legacy company known for polished storytelling stay relevant to a generation of kids growing used to telling their own stories?
That's the tough question for Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, which runs Disney.com and the newly acquired virtual world Club Penguin. Yanover spoke here Wednesday at the Virtual Worlds conference and admitted that growing Disney's Internet properties is a work in progress. After all, one of the world's most popular brands for children ended up buying newcomer virtual world Club Penguin for $350 million this summer.
"It's a new space for us to figure out," Yanover said.
On the Internet, the company is focused on three things: fun, safety and integrity, Yanover said. That means that Disney's sites must be engaging and safe for kids, but they also must hold to an established story line consistent with the company's brand and delivering on parents' expectations. For example, Yanover joked that he'd have a hard time putting up a digital billboard in Disney's upcoming Pirates of the Carribean virtual world.
That's why Disney Online veers toward structured environments built around a story or game, and the company will continue on that path, he said. But down the road it plans to explore offerings that give kids more control over their experience. It's already dabbled in that area. In January, Disney Online allowed kids to create their own fairy, and run a Web site around the animation. Three million kids participated.
Still, a parent in the audience asked that Disney offer tools to kid members of Club Penguin so that they could build things in the virtual world. Yanover said he liked the idea, but hinted later that it might take some time to bring in that functionality.
"We're a polished content company. But we're moving down the spectrum of participation and user-created additions," he said.