As Disney prepares to launch its ambitious portal play, Go Network, next month, the company is using one of its most familiar brands to give its mass-oriented customer base a taste of the Internet: Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.
The new attraction, "Disney.com's Internet Zone; Powered by Gateway," was produced by Burbank, Calif.-based Disney Online to teach adults and kids how to use the Web. Its official opening at the Lake Buena Vista, Fla. theme park is on Dec. 1.
Gateway computers are located within each of four themed areas within the 3,000 square foot Internet Zone complex, featuring travel, shopping, finance and entertainment. Visitors can access partners' and Disney-owned sites such as ABC.com, family.com and mrshowbiz.com. However, this will be an offline introduction to the online world, with appropriate pages from participants' Web sites cached on local computers, so that people new to the Internet will not begin wandering aimlessly. It's a pure awareness play: No commerce or even direct access to participants' sites will be available.
"By associating ourselves with Disney and the Epcot Center, we can appeal to the American public that has yet to shop online, which is the next wave in e-commerce," said John Rindlaub, vice president of marketing for barnesandnoble.com, New York. "To us, it means association with that huge and important 'post early adopter' audience."
"This exhibit does what Disney does best," said Scott Schiller, senior vice president of advertising/sales for Buena Vista Internet Group, parent company of Disney Online. "It connects with consumers and gives marketers an opportunity to extend the relationship with Disney Online offline."
Other sponsors include Wall Street Journal Interactive, United Airlines, L.L. Bean and Fidelity Investments.
After visitors to the exhibit are sufficiently intrigued, they can proceed to the Web site Construction Company area, where they can create their own sites, receive printouts of their creations or post them on an area of disney.com. Schiller said that in keeping with Disney policy, no registration or user information would be gathered from participants.
Internet Zone does not include Go Network, the joint project of Disney Online and Infoseek, Sunnyvale, Calif., expected to launch sometime in December. However, Go Network will ultimately be integrated into the exhibit as the business evolves. Last week, Disney completed its purchase of 43 percent of Infoseek.