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Disney to launch email for kids

The company says "D-mail," its branded version of email for children, will be available on a personal computer near you by Thanksgiving.

The Walt Disney Company said it is on course to bring "D-mail," its branded version of email for children, to a personal computer near you in time for Thanksgiving.

The D-mail, to be followed by the multiuser instant-messaging feature "D-phone" and a 3D virtual reality meeting place, is the media giant's strategy for upgrading its subscription-based Daily Blast. The improvements aim to make the service more interactive and community oriented, while the newly designed Web site focuses on families. The Blast, Disney's first offering for children on the Net, delivers a daily dose of games, stories, sports, and news for children ages three to 12 for $4.95 per month or $39.95 per year.

It comes amid swelling competition in the fast-growing children's Internet market from the likes of Time Warner and Viacom. An estimated 14 percent of U.S. children and teenagers log on to the Internet, according to a recent survey by Find/SVP.

Launched in April, Daily Blast aims to become the largest fee-based online service by year's end. The service is growing at a better rate than expected, signing up about 500 new customers per day, according to Disney Online executive vice president Richard Wolpert. But the company declined to provide its total subscribership or "churn" rate; that is, the rate at which subscribers are canceling their membership vs. new ones signing on. Signup comes with a free, 30-day trial subscription.

The Blast's new features are likely to boost the service, analysts say. "D-mail," for example, is designed with features that let parents control who their children converse with on the Internet. Executives offered a sneak preview of D-mail and D-phone at the E3 consumer electronics trade show in Atlanta in June. (See related story)

The company has not yet released a Macintosh-compatible version of the Daily Blast, however. That was originally expected this summer, but it will occur by year's end, Wolpert said.

Executives also confirmed that Disney has redesigned its flagship Web site, one of the most visited sites on the Net, to include four channels of free daily content for families including games, ideas on parenting, and electronic postcards dubbed "D-cards." (Some of that content, from, previously was offered in the Daily Blast.)

As previously reported, the channels include: @Disney, where visitors can find out "what's new at Disney, from movies, video, and software to other great products and services"; family, a resource for parents; the kids channel, featuring games and stories with Disney characters; and shop, where visitors can purchase Disney goods and theme park passes through the company's store. Users navigate the site with the trademark red "D-ball."

The site previously had been limited to corporate information, now contained in the @Disney channel.

Disney Online president Jake Winebaum said, "We expect strong growth in traffic as parents and kids visit more often and stay at the site longer due to the increased depth of content."

This June, Viacom launched a free site called Nickelodeon, which includes games, jokes, and television listings.