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Disney Buys Net Publisher Starwave

Add Walt Disney to your list of online advertising networks to be taken seriously. The company recently made good on chairman Michael Eisner's promise to compete aggressively on the Web when it announced that it had bought all that it didn't already own of Internet publishing company Starwave.

The move puts Disney among the top property holders on the Internet, said Evan Neufeld, online advertising analyst at Jupiter Communications, New York. “Disney takes media very seriously,” said Neufeld. “And size counts, especially on the Internet because it's so fragmented,” he said. “Everybody's trying to be like the number-one advertising network, and that's AOL.”

Starwave, Seattle, will now become part of Buena Vista Internet Group, which is responsible for Disney's Web efforts. The combined initiative will include the subscription-based e-mail service Disney's Daily Blast along with Web sites Disney.com, ABCNEWS.com, ABC.com, ESPN SportsZone, Family.com, Mr. Showbiz, CelebSite, Wall of Sound, NASCAR Online, Outside Magazine and official league sites for the NFL, NBA and WNBA.

According to Disney, the sites combined receive 2.6 million visits per day and serve 18 million advertising impressions per day. Disney said its site at www.disney.com attracted more than 3 million visitors in five days in late April and a record 679,100 visits on April 22 when it began coverage of the grand opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

“We can now deliver common navigation and services across all of our Web sites,” said Jake Winebaum, chairman of the Buena Vista Internet Group, in a prepared statement. “Our advertisers will be able to take advantage of multi-product and network advertising and e-commerce opportunities reaching our unique and rapidly expanding Web audience,” he added.

Neufeld called the Starwave acquisition “good news for advertisers because ultimately, this game is about getting control of large numbers of people and being able to offer DM-type selects to advertisers so we can start moving more toward targeted marketing rather than mass marketing.”

However, Neufeld added, “this still doesn't get us around the privacy issue. I think people handing over their data so we can do [consumer behavior and lifestyles information company] Metromail database overlays is a long way off.”

According to Disney, Starwave will serve as the core technology developer for Buena Vista Internet Group's database-management, Web-traffic-analysis, ad-management and Web-publishing efforts.

Financial terms of Disney's acquisition of Starwave from Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen were not disclosed.

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