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New media is inhouse for Disney

Conglom stays savvy with ABC, ESPN sites

Amid all the talk among media moguls about combating piracy on YouTube, forming their own joint video venture, and acquiring new Web sites left and right, Disney has been conspicuously absent.

That’s no accident. More than any other conglom, the Mouse is focused intensely on its internal efforts, which far outstrip those of its competitors. Rather than buying the next MySpace, it made ABC.com the first network Web site to regularly stream episodes of its shows and has invested heavily in a huge relaunch of the Disney.com site focused on kids.

The new site is based almost entirely around animation and video; it features popular Mouse brands like “Cars” and “Hannah Montana,” as well as new ones it wants to promote such as “Meet the Robinsons.”

Disney also has one of the top sports Web sites in ESPN.com and a mobile business that stands out in the still-small cell phone content space.

And unlike media congloms that have had to go from zero to 60 in the broadband world in the past couple of years, Disney kept its Internet Group active following the dot-com bust of 2001, when many others were retreating from the space.

CEO Bob Iger made his priorities clear when the first major deal he made was to sell ABC and Disney Channel shows on iTunes. Now it’s the only studio to sell feature films on iTunes on the same day they hit DVD. Those efforts were helped by the fact that Iger last year was negotiating with Apple topper Steve Jobs to buy Pixar, and now Jobs is the largest individual shareholder of Disney.

But partnerships are more of a rarity at the Mouse than its competitors, and Web acquisitions have been almost nonexistent since its disastrous purchase of InfoSeek in the late ’90s in order to form the failed Go.com portal.

Instead, thanks in part to the strength of its brand names, Disney is putting its digital resources behind efforts to make its brand, from ESPN to “Pirates of the Caribbean” to “High School Musical,” as vibrant and well-protected online as they are onscreen or in parks.

“We are not on a go-it-alone path, but we have so much to work with in our own backyard and the ability, skills and consumer willingness to create unique branded experiences, which is of real strategic importance,” says Paul Yanover, exec VP and managing director of Disney Online.

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