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Industry Report: Animation

Disney Interactive Studios – Connecting Audiences


- Christophe Maridet has been working for the Walt Disney Company since 2005. He is in charge of the Disney Interactive Studios which is the division developing, producing and publishing all the videogames.

Why is it important to build audience engagement not only through cross-platform gaming, but also through cross-platform content?
Walt Disney Company is a multiplatform company.
We think that videogames or any other interactive connecting experience is not just having a consumer product for the movie or just building movie audiences, it's already part of the overall portfolio orientation and experience that audience craves on the equal foot of the movie, TV and music.
If gaming is only regarded as a promotional tool to drive the movie audience, I think we're going to miss a huge streak.
We all moved to a 360° approach. The movie department and the game department are equal in terms of importance.
One of my first projects in videogames, a long time ago, was a French movie called The City of the Lost Children. It was virtually impossible to have access to the film set or the script because of the confidentiality. Now I think we are moving to a better understanding between movie and gaming business.
An example of this could be Prince of Persia, Disney is now working on a movie based on the videogame.
The interactive entertainment company now understands the key relationship between movie and gaming industry and we are working much better now.
As our president and CEO Bob Iger said: “..we see ourselves as a company focused on delivering long-term shareholder value by creating high quality, branded content that’s leverageable over most of our businesses, in most territories of the world, on virtually every technological platform that exists, over a long period of time.”

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Why have you been working on this vision?
We do not see the movie experience in isolation and we actively build a brand across different activities of our division.
This vision is coming, of course, by a lot of consumer research and by our studio audiences.

How do you engage your audience for cross-platform gaming entertainment?
I want to take to some of the research that we have seen regarding current consumer behaviour in the entertainment space.
Our president and CEO made some headlines recently by commenting the fact that he saw the potential for several changes in the whole entertainment space. Entertainment today it's not just going to a movie, watching a TV show or listening to a song or putting a DVD on a player. Entertainment, and this is very important, is a social networking, interaction... in this vision, gaming is not just on a console. We try to capture causal games with free Internet gamers. Entertainment is what we create ourselves: mash ups, home videos... We have seen an explosion of personally created entertainment not only for the creator but for others too.
In YouTube we have countless examples of that.
We are facing huge competition now. This dramatic change in consumer behaviour is very well illustrated by these numbers: PC has become more an entertainment device than the TV through all ages.
PC is the primary but not the exclusive access point to the rule of changing in the entertainment.

Can you give some examples?
We conducted a very important research over the last couple of years to understand kids behaviour across Europe.
A typical day in their lives consists of using a great number of connecting devices. Kids start in the morning before school using their mobile phone, watching TV, playing their handheld console games. At school, depending on the rules, they can use their phones and playing games. Back home they can play PC, watch TV, play with the home console and use the mobile. Kids have access not only to content but also to services that appeal to them. It is here that Disney focuses much of its activities in creating branding entertainment, experience across connecting media devices. Our inspiration is to engage our audience from all these media: PC, TV, consoles, mobile, movies.
And that's what we're trying to do with Club Penguin, High School Musical, Toy Story, Cars... and across all ages.
One of the crucial findings in this survey it's that the kids are multitasks. They do several things simultaneously: they can watch TV, text their friends, check their social networks in their PC or mobile (without logging in or out) and playing games on their PCs.
We are also very conscious at Disney that children are not a homogenous group, and their behaviour change with time. Even between the ages of 9 and 13 the specific use of PC increases. This is also true on the mobile phone and console.
All of which play as an important aspect of the entertainment landscape as the TV. Particularly for boys the engagement with gaming is increased.
When we did this survey, Disney was divided into 4 groups. The first group was parks and resorts, the second is the Studios including the movie section and the home video, the third one is the Media (media is TV, like Disney Channel or ABC in the US) and also included the online, and the forth was consumer product.
In July 2008, in response to this changing consumer behaviour, we created a new division called Disney Interactive Media Group. This has been built to be able to create a consistent connecting experience.

What are the responsibilities of Interactive Media Group?
Disney Interactive Media Group is at the heart of the strategy to engage our audience from a combination of different connecting projects and services. We are responsible for all the online for the company, the mobile content, the video games and virtual worlds. And one of our many intentions is to have them worked as integrated as possible, so that consumers can engage with our products from whichever connecting device they use.
You may notice, for example, that you can find that Club Penguin on Virtual Worlds, or High School Musical on Disney Franchises, then they can work successfully across different lines of business of the company.
For example Club Penguin is coming from the online community. It exists on a variety of digital platforms that are on consumer's hand. The Interactive Media Group is increasingly building contacts, products and services to work across all these environments.
We started with Virtual World. We released some videogames which are going to unlock some codes. Club Penguin is available on application on ipod, and we are going to go across all these different digital platforms within the next twelve months.
If we take the vision of Bob Iger when he says "we produce branded content that’s leverageable over most of our businesses", Club Penguin shows how Disney is practically approaching this and how by leverage multiple technical platforms across multiple businesses we can achieve a multiple effect for every product we bring to the market.
One of the last cases is coming from Disney Interactive Studios and is a game: Split Second.

How are you working on the development of this product?
This year we spent 130 millions dollars in product developments. Only 70% of our product development is based on a Disney existing franchise, like High School Musical or Toy Story, the rest of it is able to fill the company by new franchises. Split Second is not a franchise. At the moment is intellectual property. It might become a franchise if it's successful in videogames and then we'll think about different lines of business.
When we think Disney we think on an audience of children from 6 to 7 years old and mostly girls. We try to extend our brand to a different target audience.
Through deep understanding of audiences and the digital consumer patterns it is possible to create products and services that work across all the new media devices. There is no one single platform that now dominates the leisure entertainment time to the people.
Audience engagement is key to any business and by adding value to a consumer with persistent connecting entertainment experience.
Disney is trusted by people. Parents and grandparents know that they are going to get high quality family entertainment with a reasonable set of values from basically anything that we deliver: theme park experience, on line experience, game experience, TV experience and movie experience.
At Disney we spend a lot of time focusing on Disney. It's one of the reasons why the Studio is making more Disney movies than non-Disney movies, it's why we focus so much on launching Disney channels around the world by creating programmes under our umbrella, it is why we focus so much on Disney grounded games and why we build our website not just in the US but all around the world.
That brand had meaning, by the way, when I was a child to my parents, to my grandparents to me. It had a meaning when I was a parent to my first generation of children, it has a meaning to my grandparents to my grandchild.

Disney is present everywhere, don't you have problems with a certain amount of violence which is not acceptable in some places of the world?
When I said we have a set of values is not about money, it's about the value of the people. When we look at the strategy of our international company, 70% of our turnover is based on North America, so we have a huge gross in other countries and not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the world.
For example, in Latin America we have one TV show called Desperate Housewife has been completely localised by a movie crew from Latin America, so we do pay attention. In Russia also, for example, we're going to have Christmas movie releases this year and it's completely based on the Russian culture. In India, we are doing also TV shows.
We do look at local content as well, when there's some local specificity and then even though if we are looking at local content, we are still thinking as a brand within the country and to develop as well all the different types of experiences.

Which is the percentage of the non-game interactive business? Can you imagine producing for Internet animation or content already now?
What we started first is to build one single website, we had many websites at Disney and what was very key was to have only one. The main goal at the moment is to build audience for the website. Disney represents 10 millions of unique visitors per month, we are the number 1 in the UK and in Germany.

Are you building multiplatform stories?
Yes, for example Pirates online has been in development for a long time. The online team develops the virtual world, they create the story from the scratch based on their knowledge of the brand, but they are independent. This methodology not always works. With Pirates we had a problem. The online world was targeted to an older audience, and it didn't work at all. We are now positioning to a much younger audience.

If someone thinks he created a product that should be a Disney product, a film or an animated series, who he should talk to first?
It depends where it comes from; we are very open to any kind of ideas. For example, in videogames, we released a game called Spectrobes, developed by a Japanese team. Each land of business has a business developer manager. We are very open to new ideas. When we want to work on a project with a team or a partner, they have to understand that we want to leverage this brand across all the different units of the company.


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