Disney brings online worlds to U.K.

British Club Penguin and Disney.com go live

LONDON With the upcoming launches of U.K. versions of Disney.com and Club Penguin, plus the recent expansion of its Prague-based mobile gaming studio, the past seven months have been a whirlwind of activity for Disney’s Cindy Rose.

“It’s been a year of investment, we’re building a lot of new products,” says Rose, who only took over the running of Walt Disney Internet Group’s European business back in February. “It’s been a real ramp up for us.”

With Disney recently announcing plans to make further midlevel investments in the digital space, and Bob Iger talking up the company’s web strategy at last month’s Sanford C. Bernstein Media Symposium, it’s clear that the Mouse House is intent on becoming a major player online.

And Europe’s booming broadband market looks set to play a key role in those plans.

Just last week Rose was busy announcing the launch of the new-look Disney.co.uk, the first localized version of the revamped Disney website.

Next year will see the launch of the first localized version of Club Penguin, the hugely popular virtual world that Disney acquired in August.

Club Penguin is just one of a number of virtual worlds that Disney plans to offer via its “immersive” website, which goes live in the U.K. on Dec. 10, with further launches planned for Italy, France, Germany and Spain next year.

“The longer term strategic vision is to create what we call a world of worlds,” says Rose.

Enter the “Pirates of the Caribbean” world, for example, in which users can create their own pirate avatars and interact with other characters. Next year will see the launch of a “Cars” world.

The U.K. launch follows the successful relaunch of Disney.com in the U.S. last year, which brought together the company’s various different online offerings in one destination. Since its launch, the site has seen a 25% increase in unique visitors.

“We needed to consolidate as a company our web presence, because the consumer was having various different experiences of Disney online,” Rose says.

The U.K. version of Club Penguin, meanwhile, won’t be up and running until the middle of next year, but Disney has already begun recruiting a Brit team.

Although the site already has a following in Blighty, Disney is hoping that the launch of a localized version will significantly increase subscribers.

“You can expect to see some contact that is local to the U.K., that wouldn’t make sense in a North American context,” says Rose. “It’s very much about reflecting the interests of the local community.”

As for other digital platforms, the group has just expanded its mobile game development studio in Prague, which it inherited through the acquisition of Munich-based Living Mobile in 2005.

There are also plans to replicate Disney.com as a mobile offering. And then there are the group’s recently announced merger and acquisition plans.

“The company as a whole is looking to make low-level acquisitions in the digital space,” says Rose. “We’re actively talking to people all over the place.”

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