April 5, 2006 -- The Walt Disney Co. introduced a wireless phone service today designed for children but with parents' concerns in mind.
Disney, the parent company of ABC, said the new service would allow parents to control how their children used their mobile phones and even pinpoint their location through a built-in global positioning system.
Parents also will be able to set monthly spending limits on voice and text messaging as well as downloads like ringtones. Disney says parents will be alerted when monthly limits are approached and will have the option to increase them.
In addition to the cost controls, the service will emphasize safety. If the spending limits are exceeded, Disney said the service would still allow children to call home or 911.
Called "Disney Mobile," the service was announced at a wireless industry trade show in Las Vegas. Service will begin in June.
"This is very much about putting control in the hands of the parents," said Steve Wadsworth, president of the Disney Internet Group.
No Calls During School
One feature allows parents to set days of the week and times for phone usage, blocking it during school hours or at dinnertime. Parents can also decide what numbers can be dialed.
With the GPS feature, parents can map the location of their child's phone either on their own Disney phone -- which they must buy -- or through the Internet.
Handsets will start at $59.99 with a two-year contract, and will be sold over the Internet and at mall kiosks. Two cameraphones will be offered, from LG Electronics and Pantech.
Disney's phones will not feature the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse ears but will look very much like any other cell phone. Disney-branded features, however, can be downloaded, some free, others for a fee. They include ringtones, wallpaper and Disney graphics.
This is the second Disney-branded wireless phone service -- the first was ESPN -- in the company's attempt to generate revenue in new media and technology. The children's phone will compete with companies like Firefly, which have offered a kid's phone for more than a year. Firefly's phone has just five keys, with icons instead of numbers, and is designed for younger children. It also stores only 22 numbers.
Tic Talk and Enfora also offer phones similar to Firefly.
Analysts Iffy About Prospects
Some technology analysts believe Disney and other content providers who enter the phone business will find revenue is more difficult to attain than they may expect.
"Managing phone customers is a very difficult proposition," Ovum Research's Roger Entner said.
Some consumer groups are warning that kids can potentially run up huge charges for wallpaper and ringtones without parents knowing it until the bill comes.
But, "this is about building a business tailored for families," Wadsworth said.