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High-tech Disney film delivery

 

 

 

LOS ANGELES - Mickey Mouse just celebrated his 75th anniversary, having made his screen debut in "Steamboat Willie" in November 1928.

But his corporate parent isn't living in the past. Disney is at the forefront of the major studios in exploring the latest digital technologies.

Disney's goal is to bring its name-brand content to a worldwide consumer audience, from beaming movies into the living room to a Mission Impossible-style self-destructing DVD.

"We're looking at all the different windows, from video on demand to pay per view," said Peter Murphy, Disney's chief strategic officer.

"If you want to see it at the movies, you can. If you want to rent it, you can rent it. If you want to watch it on your PC, you can. If you want to watch it on cable or satellite, you can. If you want a jukebox like MovieBeam, you can have it," he added.

And Wall Street's impressed.

"Disney is really taking a much more aggressive approach than the other companies," said Tom Wolzien, senior media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.

"What they're doing is trying to cut out the middle man, like BlockBuster or cable operators."

MovieBeam - coming to New York next year - is one of the most innovative Disney digital initiatives. Launched in September in three cities, the service lets consumers watch films on their TV without having to hike to the video store.

It offers an ever-changing selection of 100 films from the major studios, ranging from "Lord of the Rings" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" to "Chicago" and "Finding Nemo."

"MovieBeam is a very sophisticated, secure system," said technology analyst Rick Doherty of The Envisioneering Group in Seaford, NY, and an alternative to video releases.

Another Disney division is testing the EZD, a DVD that self-destructs in 48 hours with "no rental fees, no late fees, that you can watch whenever you want," according to Bernstein's Wolzien.

Many different kinds of retailers could sell the EZD, which is cheaper (currently around $6.99) than a standard DVD. And there's no need for merchants to build a video store structure.

The issues with EZD, says Wolzien, are "garbage and price point." Environmental advocates shudder at the thought of millions of throwaway DVDs becoming landfill.

He also believes EZD's price should be more like $4.99 to compete with rentals.

EZD launched in four test cities with a limited number of titles, including "The Hot Chick" and "Frida."

Disney's Murphy said "some people really enjoyed it. For example, we did a promotion with Poppa Jon pizza - buy a pizza, get a movie."

Disney has digital initiatives in many other venues as well.

Wolzien cites ESPN's Motion on ESPN.com, which "will download up to 10 minutes of content while you're not even watching. It effectively bypasses the cable operator. When you play it, it has commercials, which it forces you to watch - you can't skip them, like a TiVo."

As for Disney as an investment, Wolzien, believes its shares are currently "appropriately valued." Still, he added, "Over the next three to five years the digital stuff can make a big difference."

Daily News

 

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