Disney Launching Web Site That Aims To Offer Objective Advice To Parents

Monday, March 12th 2007, 6:43 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Walt Disney Co. is launching a new Web site aimed at moms who are increasingly turning to the Internet for answers to everything from problems with teething babies to financing college.

The new site, Disney Family, is a departure for the media conglomerate, which has primarily launched Web efforts to promote its own brands and products, keeping strict control over content and presentation.

By contrast, the new site is a one-stop site for parents, especially mothers, providing everything from Internet search to user-generated articles on key topics such as education and food, and, eventually, a "ParentPedia," a compilation of information on 1,000 topics that can be expanded by users.

The site, to be announced Tuesday in Los Angeles, will go live later this week at http://www.family.com and remain in beta, or testing, stages until the summer, said Paul Yanover, executive vice president of Disney Online, a unit of the Walt Disney Internet Group.

Disney hopes to make money from selling advertising and from sponsored search, text ads that appear next to search results.

The launch marks Disney's second big Web announcement since it revamped its main Disney.com site in January to include more video, games and interactive features.

"This is uncharacteristically good," said principal analyst Josh Bernoff of Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

"To get community right, you need to have the right mix between homegrown content plus the ability to loop in people and content from outside. That takes guts because you don't really know what users are going to say. It's uncharacteristic for a company that wants to control things as much as Disney."

Yanover said the openness of the site is what the more than 30,000 mothers surveyed over the past year said they wanted, along with trusted content vouched for by Disney.

The company will include Disney products on the site and promote Disney films, but alongside similar products and content, Yanover said.

"We want to be clear that 'Disney' does not necessarily mean Disney-branded products and services," Yanover said. "It means Disney as a reliable brand. We don't just want to push Disney products."

Parents have become a larger part of Disney's online audience, accounting for nearly half of the 25 million unique visits per month to the Disney.com site, the company said. Most of those are moms.

In addition, the company has seen growth in a smaller site, FamilyFun.com, that is coupled with a magazine and aimed at providing craft and other projects for families with younger children.

Other sites already cater to parts of the audience Disney is hoping to reach by aggregating various topics under one roof.

"Can Disney bring more to the party with this integration approach than the other guys can and compete against them?" asked David Card, media analyst for Jupiter Research. "I think they'll do well, but they have some serious competitors out there."

Disney formed an advisory board that includes mothers who had launched their own online Web journals, or blogs, some of which will be featured on the site. Yanover figures the "mommy bloggers" alone account for 9 million unique visitors each month.

One feature that should appeal to moms is the "Family 1,000," a prefiltered list of smaller Web sites that typically do not rank high on searches using traditional Web search sites such as Google and Yahoo, Yanover said.

The list will change as users nominate their own sites, and the ranking will change based on how users rate them.

"As a family, we have to go to the Internet to get answers," said Victoria Pericon, who runs the Web site SavvyMommy.com and served on Disney's advisory board. "I need a convenient source, but is it also trusted? Because it's Disney, you know it is, so you don't have to question that."

The site will be monitored for foul language, racist remarks and other comments that go against the "house rules," Yanover said.

Guests will be able to load their own profiles to the site and make connections with other users.

But the site is not meant to become a dating service.

"This audience doesn't want to 'hook up,"' Yanover said. "They want to find someone who says 'I've been through that as well."'