Disney Continues Wireless Push With AvantGo Partnership

Two Walt Disney sites will expand their reach to customers with wireless phones and personal digital assistants in the latest of several Disney wireless initiatives.

Walt Disney Internet Group recently partnered with San Mateo, CA-based AvantGo's mobile Internet service to provide ABCNews.com and ESPN.com channels on AvantGo's network. AvantGo allows businesses to deliver their content and applications to approximately 2.5 million mobile consumers.

“We see the AvantGo service as an ideal way to extend our existing customer acquisition programs and generate additional brand awareness,” said Larry Shapiro, executive vice president for corporate development at Walt Disney Internet Group.

The AvantGo partnership is the latest in a series of wireless deals intended to ensure that Disney-owned content is “seen by our existing users wherever they want to see it,” Shapiro said. Walt Disney Internet Group also is looking toward profit-producing — not just brand-messaging — wireless initiatives.

Although Disney is still negotiating with some wireless carriers, news and information from ABCNews.com, ESPN.com and MrShowbiz.com are available through AT&T, Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless, Nextel, Quest, GoAmerica and other services.

“We're using those deals for news and sports headlines as a vehicle to establish our brand and content in the wireless space, toward … new services that are more focused on more interesting experiences for users,” Shapiro said.

Among those “interesting experiences” was a successful ESPN.com Final Four promotion with AT&T this spring. Participants could choose their Final Four picks on ESPN.com or through their wireless devices. Shapiro said a significant share of AT&T Wireless customers placed their Final Four picks via their cell phones.

Disney also wants to work out profitable, entertaining content ventures with U.S. and European carriers, as it has done with wireless carrier ITT DoCoMo in Japan.

More than 1 million ITT DoCoMo subscribers have signed up for the Disney Channel, which includes downloadable games, content and customizable rings, in less than a year. Thirty thousand additional Disney Channel subscribers came on board about a month ago when Disney added a Winnie-the-Pooh content collection to the service.

ITT DoCoMo subscribers are willing to pay about $1 to $3 extra a month for the Disney Channel.

“Based on our DoCoMo experience, we believe that wireless customers will pay for compelling content. We're learning … what customers will like and what the right price points are,” Shapiro said.

In the next four months, Disney will announce similar deals with other carriers in Asia and in Europe soon after. However, U.S. wireless carriers will not have 2.5-generation and third-generation wireless systems — which promise greater bandwidth to deliver streaming audio and video content — in place for up to a year, Shapiro said.

“They can't deliver those kinds of content packages yet, but they're all looking at DoCoMo and seeing success,” Shapiro said. “It provides an incentive … for companies like us to make an investment.”

In addition, Disney is still testing what kind of content would be popular in the United States. “Content that works well in Japan may not work as well in other markets, but the converse is also true,” Shapiro said. “There will be 'killer apps' in each market.”

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