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Disney set to blast off

Disney creates a Web site for the Daily Blast, its online service aimed at children, and begins beta testing with consumers, CNET learns.

The Walt Disney Company has created a Web site for Disney's Daily Blast, its online service aimed at children, and has begun beta testing with consumers, CNET learned today.

The company quietly has set up a site called the Daily Blast, which says it is still "under construction." But another link on the home page, in a hidden space, shows a page reading: "Welcome to Disney's Daily Blast Beta Test Site." It also says users must have computers equipped with Windows 95, a Pentium processor, 16MB or more of memory, and a 14.4-kbps or faster modem.

Another page on the Daily Blast site features an animated menu bar with categories for user guide, instructions, troubleshooting, member services, and frequently asked questions.

To go further, however, you need a password for both "Daily Blast and family.com," a family entertainment site, which suggests that the launch may involve both services. Disney already offers Family.com on its corporate Web site. The Daily Blast is rich in animation featuring technology such as Flash by Macromedia.

Disney would not comment on the site. But two industry analysts said they expected an announcement detailing the company's online plans on Monday. They expect the site to be launched this spring.

Disney's foray into the children's market has been watched closely because of its size and market clout. It faces stiff competition, however, from the likes of Viacom, which offers Nickelodean in a pact with America Online and says it plans to offer a children's product called Nick.com on the Web soon.

In a recent study, Jupiter Communications predicted that the number of children using online services will increase to about 20 million by the year 2002. At the end of 1996, revenue stood at $306 million from the online kids market, but it could grow to $1.8 billion by the end of 2002, the study said.

Disney is expected to offer a fee-based service featuring its famous characters. Some analysts have speculated the company would charge less than $5 per month and distribute the product through ISPs similar to the way cable television companies offer premium services such as HBO and Showtime.

Later this year, Disney is expected to launch a more comprehensive service with features such as "D-mail," a branded form of email for children. The company also has signed a deal that could allow it to offer 3D chats with Disney characters.

As reported by CNET, Disney registered the domain name "dailyblast.com" in November. Last month marked the first anniversary of its Disney.com Web site, which underwent a major redesign. The free site features Disney's products and services in theater, cable TV, publishing, records, home video, and on the Internet, as well as theme parks.

The Disney.com site also has a search function that turns up games based on movies such as Toy Story that can be downloaded.