Banking on the cachet its brand has with families, Disney is launching its very own mobile phone service in the U.S. early next year, piggybacking on Sprint’s PCS network. Not satisfied with merely licensing its content to wireless operators, Disney Mobile will be a full-service offering, and the company plans to handle everything from handsets to billing itself. And naturally, it will include a whole whack of exclusive content from the Disney vault.
According to Rod Ergdorf, Disney Mobile’s VP and chief marketing officer, selling a 360-degree phone experience for a specific demo is a relatively new approach. While it’s true that the mobile market already supports a lot of family plans, they’re all centered on minutes and billing structures. ‘Our service will have unique phones, pricing and customer care,’ says Egdorf. ‘We may even come through with some very interesting ways to present bills and usage.’
He adds that the programming Disney can mine will play a big role in how the phones themselves are designed and programmed, all the way from how content is stored, to an on-line shopping experience. At press time, Disney hadn’t locked in a handset partner and was keeping mum about specific services and features that will be on offer. Egdorf says the company will continue to license content out to other service providers on a property-by-property basis, but Disney Mobile customers will have access to all of it.
The Disney deal is the latest in a slew of branded mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partnerships Sprint has forged recently, following Virgin Mobile and an ESPN service that’s still in development. A relatively new business model, MVNOs let companies lease cellular airtime from a major carrier for branded mobile services targeted to their specific audience, and they take on responsibility for everything else including product development, content, delivery systems, marketing and distribution.
Companies like Disney benefit from these deals because they don’t have to make the same large capital investment in building and maintaining the infrastructure, which has already been set up by the carriers. And they can lease network time on a variable cost structure, which makes it possible to maintain decent margins.
The family segment is one of the fastest-growing wireless demos, according to industry analyst IDC. In fact, U.S. wireless subscribers ages 10 to 14 will nearly double by 2008, from 5.83 million to 9.56 million.