G lobal sales of netbooks (more compact, inexpensive laptops designed primarily for wireless communication) expected to surpass the 35 million mark this year, making the category one of the hottest in the consumer electronics market right now. And it didn’t take long for a major kids player to stake a claim in the space. Not surprisingly, licensing giant Disney Consumer Products is one of the first IP owners to take the leap and has partnered with Taiwan-based CE multinational ASUS to develop a branded kid-friendly netbook for the mass market that rings in at US$349.
‘Younger ages are using computers now,’ says Chris Heatherly, VP of toys and consumer electronics for DCP. ‘We think the computer industry is really poised to grow the business with kids because of the price point.’
The new Disney Netpal MK90 is intended for kids age six to 12 and will be available in Princess Pink for girls and Magic Blue for boys. Interestingly, DCP’s keeping the branding on the device’s exterior subtle, reserving more character-specific applications for its compatible software themes. ‘Kids character preferences are going to change,’ notes Heatherly. ‘So they will have the ability to customize the laptop to their tastes and as their tastes evolve.’ A full 10 themes come preloaded on both the boy and girl models, including Cars, Hannah Montana, Club Penguin and Toy Story.
The rugged-yet-lightweight laptop weighs in at about 32 ounces and has a Disney-branded internet browser preloaded with a number of Disney web destinations. Additionally, 40 different parental control options will let moms and dads determine safe sites and essentially monitor all aspects of their children’s computing life.
The netbook won’t be short of fun, either, as it’s stacked with branded widgets and applications, such as Disney Mix for music and media management, Disney Pix for photo customization and a Radio Disney widget that streams Radio Disney content.
Rolling out in the US at Toys ‘R’ Us and Amazon.com in August, Heatherly says DCP is taking a cautious approach with the Netpal and will only expand distribution to big box electronic stores as the demand grows. ‘We are starting with a small number of very large committed partners,’ he says. ‘We’ll take it from there.’
The marketing plan also exhibits the hallmarks of caution. The laptop won’t be the subject of a traditional mass-market TV campaign like other DCP offerings. ‘The computer business doesn’t quite lend itself to TV advertising,’ says Heatherly. ‘We will be focusing on online efforts, especially blogs and social media sites, and perhaps QVC [the American home-shopping network].’
DCP isn’t divulging sales targets or forecasts, but Heatherly says he is realistically optimistic about the potential marketshare for this new area of licensed product. ‘We’re not fooling ourselves – we don’t have the ambition to be the next Dell or Apple,’ he says. ‘We’re taking a humble approach, trying to build this kids market step-by-step.’