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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 9, 2007 10:30 AM

Disney's new online world: like an Xbox Live Jr.?

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I wonder if this is what TV viewing will be like in a few years, after we've all got broadband and content flowing through the house: Instead of visiting channels, you visit personalized pages where you watch movies, TV shows and other video content in a resizable window that's always playing something "over the air" or from your playlist of saved clips.

The windows also connect you to online games, a friend list, online chat and a commerce system involving points that can be redeemed for more content. It's customizable, so it feels like your own place, and it's filled with ads and promotional material.

That's what The Walt Disney Co. is doing with an impressive update to its Web site that the company's chief executive, Bob Iger, unveiled in a CES keynote late yesterday.

At first I was yawning during the keynote as he talked about a refreshed Web site, the Disney brand and distributing content in different formats -- online, mobile devices, etc. I've never watched "Lost," so I wasn't captivated by the video clip referring to its finale, or the appearance on stage of its star actors.

But slowly it dawned on me that Iger was explaining what the TV experience will be like for the kids he's targeting with Disney.com. Those with broadband and the PC-TV technology emerging at CES will grow up with all these interactive applications and immersive brand advertising that presents itself as entertainment.

At the new Disney site, kids would be able to customize a Web page so it has the feel of a particular characters' fantasy world -- like Jack Sparrow's pirate land or Tinkerbell's fairy world. With a click, the site can be tailored for boys or girls or different age groups.

Like traditional TV, the site is also offering lots of free content, including new multiplayer online games. The first game is pirate-themed -- at piratesonline.com -- but different genres are coming.

"We believe that Disney.com has to serve the interest of the online user by offering a broad, robust and deep entertainment experience,'' he said.

It seems Disney is making its move on the broadband entertainment niche serving kids ages 2 to 12. Then those kids may move on to a service like Xbox Live or Disney's sports world, ESPN, where Iger said fans are now spending two hours a day consuming content through their TV, computer or mobile phone.

Iger also made an interesting comment about sports content: He described it as the "killer application" for consumer electronics that's driving purchase of technology such as high-definition televisions. Then he talked up MyESPN, a customizable online service that gives sports fans the same experience as Disney.com offers to kids.

Here's an idea for next year's CES: Display manufacturers should start making sets that project ultraviolet rays, as well as colorful images, so viewers will get the health benefits of sunshine.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.