Back in the mid-2000s Walt Disney decided to get into the mobile carrier business. It launched two mobile network virtual operators (MVNOs) around the Disney and ESPN brands, buying airtime for its phones from Sprint. They both flopped, and Disney wound up shutting down both by 2008.
It turns out that customers didn’t want phones designed around specific exclusive content. They wanted generic phones on which they were free to customize their own content – a trend the smartphone revolution proved a year later. But Disney apparently hasn’t abandoned the idea of a Disney-branded phone and service entirely. Today it and a new-generation MVNO Zact Mobile began selling an Android phone customized with Disney games, apps and content intended for children.
The device, the ZTE Awe, is available for $99 today on Zact’s website, though the portal is a bit thin on details on the exact content the phone comes with. Zact said the device will come preloaded with custom-movie-making app Disney Infinity: Action! and game Toy Story: Smash it! as well as Disney video and music content.
As for the plan pricing, Disney made a rather shrewd decision when it selected its partner. Instead of working directly with AT&T or Verizon Wireless, Disney is making a little known MVNO the custodian of its new mobile operator presence. Run by ItsOn, Zact offers completely customizable service plans: you can buy SMS, voice minutes and data in whatever increments you choose, so a parent can customize a plan specifically for a child and enforce those usage limitations with parental controls.
Zact is offering a free 100 SMS/100 minute/100 MB promotion for four months on the new Disney service, but after that customers will select their own paid plans from Zact’s versatile menu. And though the apps and content are included on the device for free, data usage is not. Viewing a Disney video counts against your data plan just as any other video would.
This isn’t quite the same as Disney relaunching its old MVNO. All of the content included on the phone seems to be readily available from Disney online and in Google Play. But it will be interesting to see if Disney and Zact take the concept further. Zact has said it eventually plans to launch tailored content plans, for instance a social networking plan that allows unlimited Facebook and Twitter usage for a set fee every month. It’s not hard to imagine a Disney plan, charging, say, $10 a month to consume unlimited Disney content.