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Disney gets a new face

The company's site is quietly redesigned to include channels that provide free daily content for families.

The Walt Disney Company has quietly redesigned its flagship Web site, one of the most visited sites in cyberspace, to include channels that provide free daily content for families including games, ideas on parenting, and electronic postcards dubbed "D-cards." previously had been more like a corporate Web site, while its subscription-based service, Disney's Daily Blast, dished up the daily news, features, and entertainment. Now it seems to be making the two more similar content-wise, part of an industry-wide trend, although the Daily Blast will be decidedly more interactive and community-oriented, aimed specifically at children.

"You've found the Web site for families, the online destination for parents, kids, and everyone who loves Disney," the Web site reads today. "The home page changes daily to showcase all the best material in the site."

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. There is also a search engine, a link to the Daily Blast, and a plug for the "Wonderful World of Disney" TV show on ABC--another effort to use the Web to gain "synergy" from Disney's growing media empire. Netizens navigate the site with the trademark red "D-ball."

Company representatives declined comment on any changes today, hinting that a formal announcement was pending.

But it appears that the media giant is joining the ranks of America Online (see related story), Microsoft Network (see related story), and others in souping up its Web page with better content, hoping to build traffic and generate more money from banner advertising.

The trend is similar to what Internet directories such as Yahoo and Excite already have been doing, although Disney is sticking to the family market. (Its ABC and ESPN Web sites cover news and sports.)

In the kids market, Viacom this summer launched Nickelodeon, which includes games, jokes, and television listings.

But Disney's strategy seems aimed at supplementing, not displacing, its subscription-based service, which by all accounts continues to grow. And unlike the free Nickelodeon site, also is aimed at parents, not just children, which gives it a wider audience. Some features (such as bulletin boards) on one of the new, free has been included in the Daily Blast.

As previously reported, Disney is planning to beef up its proprietary service as well with "D-mail," "D-phone," and a 3D virtual-reality meeting place. Those are supposed to appear starting in December. Daily Blast is being advertised at $4.95 per month or a discounted $39.95 annually. There is also a free 30-day trial subscription.

According to Media Metrix, Disney Online was the top domain consolidation for the latest survey period in August. A consolidation is a combination of multiple domain names where there is common ownership.