Last Spring, the Walt Disney company announced the introduction of a mobile phone service targeted at kids (and their parents), called Disney Mobile. The new service would allow parents to control who their kids talk to on the phones as well as limiting the monthly bill to a set amount. The Disney service will be offered via Sprint's mobile network, with 2 new phone models being offered specifically to support the Disney Mobile service.
Readers who are familiar with the concept of strategic competency will be well aware that Disney has built their empire on a competency of family entertainment. While it would be easy to say a family-friendly phone service is a good strategic fit for Disney the reality may be much more complicated. Phones are, after all, not entertainment – they are a means of communication, a relatively high-tech product, and possibly something that can be used for entertainment – but they are not, in and of themselves, entertainment. That being said, it's possible that the Disney brand will give the service an edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
The crowding of the marketplace for this kind of phone service is certain to increase in the near future. It's clear that Disney Mobile will soon see competition from two angles: other kid-focused organizations, like Nickelodeon (who has already announced a similar service), and the phone carriers themselves. There are two big strategic questions here – first, will parents sign up for this kind of service, and second, will the pull of brand be more valuable than technical competency in the product?
In answering the first question, we should be wary of the entire market simply because it has the potential of further complicating an already bewildering array of services offered to families by cell carriers. Also, we should not forget the disappointing performance of the Firefly phone last Christmas, as this product was aimed specifically at the market that Disney is attempting to address.
As for the second question, this is a clincher. If family-friendly phone services go the way of other specialized services offered via mobile networks, we can expect rapid imitation and commoditization of the new services within a matter of months, if the market proves to be big enough. Even if the market isn't that big, the technology required for an imitation service isn't terribly difficult, and competing cell carriers such as Verizon may seek to neutralize the Disney advantage by finding branded partners of their own. In that case, look for the battle to be fought in the minds of the kids using the phones, rather than the parents, since the feature set is unlikely to be as differentiated as the cachet of the brands involved.
In the final analysis, Disney Mobile is a good candidate for the same fate as Disney's Go.com – an OK idea which doesn't have a strong enough link to Disney's outstanding strategic competency.
Robert Bradford is President with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.
He can be reached via e-mail at
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