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Summary:

The NYT uses the pending relaunch of Disney.com — CEO Bob Iger is supposed to introduce the revamp during his Jan. 8 CES keynote — as a wi…

The NYT uses the pending relaunch of Disney.com — CEO Bob Iger is supposed to introduce the revamp during his Jan. 8 CES keynote — as a window of sorts into the company’s internet strategy. The central theme: too much power may be centralized at the Walt Disney Internet Group and the divisions might not have enough. The only identified sources are analysts; execs from inside aren’t signing their names to complaints that WDIG is somehow holding them back from integrating the internet into their own strategies. ESPN.com, which is far ahead of its corporate siblings, got that way, it is suggested, because it has more autonomy. (I don’t recall seeing any mention of how that same autonomy resulted in Mobile ESPN.) One other difference between ESPN.com and Disney.com: the former has one core mission — sports — while Disney.com has multiple missions and a mix of audiences.
– One aspect that can be confusing is the way WDIG operates some of its own businesses while consulting with the others about strategy. There’s some argument here for decentralizing or shifting WDIG’s mission. For instance, should the online games stay with WDIG or go to consumer products? Where does Disney Online, which operates Disney.com, really belong? Disney is far from the only company with decisions like this to make. One example: NBCU has shifted to a kind of federation with content driven by the divisions and centralized technology. But I’m not sure Disney, which has a number of sites firing on all cylinders, needs to upset this particular apple cart any time soon.
Updated: WSJ has a story as well, this more focused on the relaunch of Disney.com, and social networking as a major part of it, and Iger says the new Disney.com is “the single most important companywide strategy Disney is currently implementing.” Also this: Iger feels the company doesn’t need to do any major online acquisition like rivals are, and believes the company can largely go it alone based on the strength of the Disney brand.
In its first iteration, Disney.com will lock its audience inside the Disney world — kids won’t be able to bring in anything from outside the site. Iger accepts that the policy is restrictive and says, “we’re looking at ways to change that” — but only if contact outside the site can be policed.

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  1. There are definitely different angles to the story depending on who you ask.

    WDIG provides some really great centralized services to business units such as ad serving, registration, and hosting/operations. They also do a ton of great R&D work which results in tangible products such as the ABC Broadband Video Player. The business units are able to reap the benefits of this stuff without having to manage much of it.

    The flip side is that there are many things business units should be doing for themselves such as site design, information architecture, production, and product planning. In some cases (as with ESPN.com), they've concentrated hard on making sure they have a great staff to do such things. In other cases (as with ABCNews.com), they've frankly been asleep at the wheel for the entire decade. Where CNN and MSNBC have invested in their teams and their product, ABCNews has mismanaged their site to the point where it's an absolute embarassment next to its competitors. That predicament has nothing to do with centralized technology and everything to do with management of the business unit.

    Iger is smart to concentrate on placing more accountability in the hands of the verticals. Business units will always succeed or fail based on their own decision making… WDIG is just there to provide services when it makes financial sense to.

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