Disney Online is merging its subscription-based Blast Online service for kids with Disney.com, a channel of the GO Network, the online joint venture between Disney and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Infoseek.
The new site has been redesigned with 12 channels, including ones devoted to games, activities, shopping and vacations.
While about 80 percent of Disney.com will remain free, a number of offerings, such as multiplayer games, new communication tools and merchandise discounts, will be part of a premium, subscription-based area called Club Blast.
“We’ve taken a lot of the older Blast content and moved it to the free part, then created brand new content for subscribers,” said Ken Goldstein, senior vice president and general manager of the North Hollywood, Calif.-based Disney. “People who subscribe will always get the latest and greatest, but eventually it will roll to the free section.”
For $5.95 a month, or $39.95 a year, Club Blast members will have unlimited access to the premium content. This includes several new features, among them Disney BlastPad, a proprietary, kid-safe instant messaging system that parents control, and the Mouse House Jr. playground for pre-readers.
Launched in 1997, Daily Blast has around 190,000 subscribers. Goldstein couldn’t estimate what percentage were on a 30-day free trial, but said the conversion rate was about 65 percent. His goal for 1999 is to grow subscriptions by 50 percent.
“It will be 100 percent,” predicted Rebekah Salgado, manager, communications, for Disney. “We’re already way ahead of that goal.”
While subscriptions generate less revenue than advertising and commerce, Goldstein said, “It’s a meaningful piece of revenue, something I can use to reinvest in software development.”
Seema Williams, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, was impressed by Disney’s ability to build a paid subscriber base. “We weren’t expecting them to break the 50,000 barrier,” she said. “We’ve seen many subscription models stall out at 20,000.”
Williams thinks subscribers will continue to get their money’s worth. “One of the most valuable components,” she says, “is giving kids the ability to communicate.”
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