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CES: Disney talks up interactive site

Plus: Pirates of the Caribbean MMORPG

As befits the head of one of the world's biggest entertainment conglomerates, Walt Disney's Robert Iger had an array of stars on hand to spice up his CES keynote yesterday.

But the biggest hit in the speech was a sneak peak at the company's new website, and its upcoming massively parallel online "Pirates of the Caribbean" game.

Previewing the new technology, Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney, stressed the synergy between content and technology.

"Technology advances provide a tremendous opportunity to engage consumers with more breadth and depth," Iger said. "To every screen within reach we are witnessing an explosion. Disney is a catalyst to that explosion."

Slated to go live on 22 January, the new Disney.com site has been revamped with new navigational tools, customisation capabilities, and the ability for users to interact with each other via games and other features.

Iger touted the site as a "destination and portal into a vibrant and rich online entertainment experience".

The new site provides navigation features that stay with users as they go from site to site within the Disney empire. A local navigation toolbar, a playlist and video player, for example, stay on the screen as the user goes from site to site. Users can instantly customise the site by clicking on fields for gender and age, to display features that are targeted specifically for adults, children, males and females.

An associated site, called XD (Xtreme Digital) and aimed at broadband users, has a richer feature set and a wide array of games.

Slated to debut in the second quarter, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), is only one of a series of "digital worlds" to come from Disney, Iger said.

Iger used star power to drive his points home, introducing Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the Pirates of Caribbean movie series, who confirmed rumours that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards would be in the upcoming third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End. Iger also introduced sports broadcaster Mike Tirico, and Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox, stars of the TV programme Lost.

Lost has been a television pioneer in allowing TV fans, through its website, to compare notes about the series and give feedback to the show's producers, Iger said. User feedback has changed the relationship among actors and producers, Lilly said.

"The fans have more control than we do. The producers are constantly going online and checking what the fans want and what they're asking," she said.

One young entrepreneur in the audience was impressed with Disney's online efforts, especially the new site.

"This is what Web 2.0 is about: the ability to interact and give users a rich experience," said 14-year-old Maxwell Brodie, founder, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Maxwell Enterprises, a website content creation consultancy in Kelowna, British Columbia. "It looks like Disney put a lot into the new site. I think it'll get a lot in return."


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