Spirit venture targets families

NEW YORK — Walt Disney is beefing up its mobile telephone business.

In a partnership with Sprint, the Mouse will launch the first national wireless phone service specifically designed for families, called Disney Mobile, next year. Company said Wednesday it is also creating a new business unit, also called Disney Mobile.

Partners said the new service will offer exclusive handsets and a package of features “tailored to meet the unique communication needs of families.” It will also include a range of entertainment content, aimed at families and children.

Most wireless companies offer family plans that let parents add their kids for a modest additional monthly fee. But Disney’s heavyweight brand, the companies hope, bodes well for a strong market position in one of the fastest-growing segments of the mobile industry.

The Mouse, through the Walt Disney Internet Group, will oversee all aspects of the service, including product development, distribution, marketing, customer relations and billing.

WDIG prexy Steve Wadsworth said in a statement that the service will be in “investment mode” for the next few years but that he expects “solid financial returns” in the long run.

The newly created Disney Mobile unit within the Internet group will be led by senior VP and general manager George Grobar, who reports to Wadsworth. Grobar, a 10-year Disney vet, has worked with Disney Auctions, NASCAR Store Online and DisneyStore.com.

Rod Egdorf and Sunir Kochhar have joined the mobile division as VP-chief marketing officer and VP for product development and operations, respectively.

WDIG entered the mobile arena in 2000 with the launch of Disney-branded content, including graphics, ringtones, games and utilities, on NTT DoCoMo in Japan.

Last year, Disney’s ESPN announced the first U.S. wireless phone service specifically targeted to sports fans.

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