The Failed Disney Mobile Phone Service

The Failed Disney Mobile Phone Service

Disney is no stranger to dipping their toes
into a new venture. Walt himself took the company from animated
shorts to features, to live action films, and even to theme parks. Decades later the company would explore everything
from retail stores to cruise lines to state fairs. So when the cell phone industry began to explode
in the early aughts, it was no surprise that Disney gave it a shot. Enter, Disney Mobile. Like their other ventures, Disney saw a corner
of the market to capitalize on. By 2005/2006 75% of 17 year olds in the United
States had their own cell phone. That ship had sailed. However, only 42% of 13 year olds had their
own cell phone, and that number was still on the rise. That’s where Disney decided to step in. They’d market Disney Mobile not only to
the growing market of phones for kids, but to their parents as well. It would be a family network with a priority
on ways to monitor and limit what kids could do on their phone. But you see, it wouldn’t be their network. I mean it would, but it also wouldn’t, because
Disney Mobile would be an MVNO. MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. In short, MVNOs are mobile networks that have
almost everything a regular cell phone carrier would have. Their own branding, their own pricing model,
their own customer support team and their own deals with phone manufacturers. The one thing MVNOs don’t have, however,
is an actual cell phone network. That, they lease from the major carriers,
such as AT&T or Verizon. It’s a way for companies to get into the
industry without the infrastructure costs of building their own coverage. By the mid-aughts, MVNOs were on the rise,
with over 175 either launched or in the works. Their appeal at the time was that they could
build their mobile service around a specific niche in order to reach a certain market. Virgin Mobile, for instance, focused on teenagers
and young adults who might not meet the credit requirements that major carriers set by specializing
on pre-paid service. The short lived Amp’d Mobile catered to
media heavy users, offering videos, music, and games. More and more companies saw this quickly growing
industry, and realized that if they found their own unique corner, they might be able
to build a business out of it. That includes Disney, who wasn’t even new
to the MVNO game. Back at the end of 2004, ESPN had announced
their own take on the trend, with mobile ESPN. Leasing usage from the Sprint PCS network,
mobile ESPN would offer its users everything from video highlights from recent games, to
up-to-the-minute scores. It would be the mobile network for the die-hard
sports fan. Taking that idea to their overall brand, the
next step would be Disney Mobile. Announced in the summer of 2005 and estimated
to have a $100 million investment, Disney Mobile would primarily focus on parental controls
for phones aimed at kids. Boy: And I can get all kinds of themes, ringtones
and lots of cools games, like Pirates of the Caribbean. Girl: Whoa! You must have the coolest mom ever. Boy: Yeah, pretty much. Mom: And I can check his phone usage, locate
his handset, and even control when he can use his phone. All from my computer or Disney Mobile handset. Coworker: Whoa! You must be the coolest mom ever. Mom: Yeah, pretty much. Launching in 2006 and partnering with Pantech
and LG Electronics to offer two phone options, the cell phones would have what was called
Family Center features. Parents would have the ability to limit and
monitor the number of minutes, text messages, and downloads their kids’ phones were allowed. On top of that, they’d be able to pick and
choose what days of the week and what hours of the day the children’s phones would make
calls and texts, with an obvious exception to 911. The Family Alert feature would allow the parents
to send a message to the kid’s phones that the children would have to read and acknowledge
before they could continue using it. Lastly, the Family Locator feature would use
the phone’s GPS to let parents know where their kids were. In a surprising turn, the phones themselves
were moderately priced and designed. The handsets started at $60 with a plan, and
while they did feature the Disney Mobile logo on them, they were otherwise completely normal
flip phones. No Mickey Mouse or other cartoon branding. At launch, Disney Mobile was fairly well received. People already knew that cell phones were
no passing fad, and so there was no stopping the eventual rise in kids using them. So it was considered a good thing that Disney
was throwing their hat into the ring to try and ensure they were as safe as possible. While Disney wasn’t public with any numbers,
there were early talks to bring the service overseas to the UK and other countries. However it would only be a couple of months
before red flags started to show up. In the fall of 2006 it was announced that
mobile ESPN would be halting operation at the end of the year. It was rumored that the service, at that point,
only had tens of thousands of subscribers when the business model demanded hundreds
of thousands to make it viable. Yet at the same time, when it came to mobile
news sources that year ESPN was ranked third, just behind Yahoo and CNN. ESPN was plenty popular, but the public didn’t
feel like they needed a phone dedicated to it. The closure of mobile ESPN raised eyebrows. It would be the first major failure of a popularly
branded MVNO. Beyond directly putting Disney Mobile into
question, it had the public wondering about all MVNOs. If a household name like ESPN couldn’t win
over enough subscribers, how could the little guy? Disney assured the public that the folding
of mobile ESPN didn’t mean anything for Disney Mobile. They were wrong. Just a little over a year later, in September
of 2007, it was announced that Disney Mobile would shutter at the end of that December. When questioned about the decision, Disney
argued that it was a matter of the economics needed to make it work. However what they didn’t mention was that
their primary selling point, the parental controls, were quickly becoming standard features
for cell phones. It also didn’t help that their reasonably
designed phones meant that there wasn’t any novelty to the hardware of Disney Mobile. Owning a Disney Mobile phone rapidly shifted
from having this phone designed for families… to just having a regular phone with the word
Disney on it. And while this is more speculative, something
else happened between the launch and closure of Disney Mobile. Steve Jobs: And we are calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. Now I’m not going to try and argue that
the iPhone was the first smartphone. It wasn’t. However what Apple does well through their
brand is popularize relatively new technology. They help bridge the gap between obscurity
and ubiquity. So while I don’t believe the iPhone had
any direct responsibility in the short life of Disney Mobile, I do think it presented
writing on the wall for Disney. Smartphones were the future, and that short-lived
idea of MVNOs that focused on packaging a brand or content and carving out a market
was going to die off. With the adoption of smartphones, users were
going to be able to access the internet more or less the same way they would at home. That meant you didn’t need a phone specially
made for sports or games or cartoons. All you needed was a phone. Today MVNOs still exist, however they’re
not that popular in the United States. The ones that remain don’t focus on specialized
content, but instead depend on more specialized plans and pricing. As for Disney Mobile, while it shuttered in
the US, it found some moderate success overseas in other markets. Disney partnered with 3 Italia for an Italian
Disney Mobile called Disney Mobile 3… which was pretty confusing since there wasn’t
a Disney Mobile 1 or 2. They worked with Globe for a Disney Mobile
in the Philippines, and perhaps most successfully they launched Disney Mobile in Japan along
with DOCOMO. The others came and went, but Disney Mobile
in Japan is still around. They had found that of the over 3.5 million
users regularly utilizing Disney mobile sites in Japan, around 75% were women over the age
of 20. So instead of focusing on families they shifted
their attention to that demographic. And instead of offering up phone features
that were easily emulated, Disney Mobile in Japan instead focused on the one thing nobody
else could copy: their brand. They began to sell phones with Disney branded
wallpapers, icon sets, and even video content. Most importantly though, they began to sell
exclusive Disney themed phones. Disney had learned a lesson from the failure
of Disney Mobile in the US, and that lesson was apparently: Do the exact opposite of what
they already tried. Disney Mobile was a… fascinating venture. On the one hand it’s hard to blame them. They were chasing a potential gold rush like
many of the other MVNOs that would also flop as quickly as they appeared. On the other hand, many of their decisions
seemed especially odd. They intentionally chose to not leverage perhaps
their most valuable asset, their own brand, and instead focused on a bunch of phone settings
that could easily be cloned. It was short-sighted. Perhaps it was a lesson in the value of taking
time to properly plan things out. Sure they might not get in on the bottom floor,
but they’re also that much less likely to become a footnote in the company’s history. I want to give a quick shoutout to Kevin Perjurer
of Defuntland for suggesting the topic. If you like documentaries on defunct rides
and parks and television shows, be sure to check out his channel.

100 thoughts on “The Failed Disney Mobile Phone Service”

  1. I remember this as a kid. This scared me so much just knowing my mom could deactivate my phone. Pretty bad marketing tbh

  2. wow u must be coolest mom ever
    bc when mammal brain customers watch the commercial WE wanna be the cool mom!
    ..why would your mom controlling your flip-phone's already atrocious applications be anything but the worst thing you've ever had to experience

  3. I’ve never seen or heard this phone back in 2006 lol. The only phone i wanted back then was The pink Motorola Razr. When my best friend was the first to get one when nobody in school really had cellphones like that, I practically flipped shit because they were to expensive.😪 I still want it for the nostalgia but now i can get one on EBay for $6 LOL

  4. I guess Disney and Globe got along pretty well. Here in the Philippines we have DisneyLife, through Globe. Pretty good selection of content for under $3 USD a month (p149). I wish it had more old content – I really want the old Wonderful World of Disney tv shows…

  5. If this was around now I could just imagine all the older people saying that young people can't use these because it's for kids! Those kids need to grow up! my kid deserves it more than you!

  6. I didn’t remember this until I saw the movie theater commercial and then all my repressed memories from high school came flooding back! My parents threatened to get us these phones! Thank goodness they changed their minds!

  7. Disney still have this but with modem routers I played world of warcraft with a girl that was 20 years old but lived in a very religious household so her rather used some form of disney software/router to control web traffic.

  8. Disney 3 refers to the third generation of mobile phone technology, but it also might mean the mobile phone company "three", which operates throughout Europe.

  9. Woah. I remember those commercials. lol. My parents just got my a pay-as-you-go chonky Nokio phone when I was 8 cause I was in theatre and and needed to contact my parents lol

  10. Lol if they thought Live scores for sports games and having multiple games on your phone was such a special thing iPhone really must’ve blew their kinds

  11. If disney worked with apple or any famous things like bts or billie eillish and made a phone it could’ve been a success

  12. So basically this is for Karen’s that are overprotective, helicopter moms, and Karen’s that want to make sure their kids have absolutely no freedom cause freedom is bad and you absolutely should never ever be allowed to do anything.

  13. seen you at Hollywood studios about a week Ago didn't want to bother you .. u were eating at the Backlot 😀 I did want to say whats up & That you make great Videos!!

  14. All the cool kids at my school had these Disney phones and I was jealous… Now I have an Iphone 6 and wonder why the fuck I was so jealous about it…

  15. 2:26 what are those weird little alien things? I remember seeing them on the T.V as a kid but I cant remember what they're called

  16. When Disney mobile was a thing in the USA (age 11-12): Ugh mom! I don't want to be watched you all the time by this stupid GPS. Like, I can go to the mall with my friends alone. It's not like we're idiots!!!
    Me now (age 28): Okay yeah if I was a mom in the early 2000's I would rather have my kid have this than no phone at all. If I was a mom now they would definitely have that tracker turned on. Knowing the way I was, every year older my imaginary daughter got, the higher the likelihood that I would monitor her every movement. She'll never grow up.
    Me now also: The government has no right to track its citizens. It's not like we're idiots!!!
    Oh wait……

  17. I actually sold these phones lol
    That happend to them and ampd mobile even helio
    Was that the major carriers such as AT&T Verizon Nextel sprint T-Mobile
    Ran credit and people with low credit had to put down like 150 deposit plus the phone on the low side (sprint) or Verizon was like 400
    When I ran credit I would almost always get you approved for Disney mobile 0 dep just the phone so what happens no one pays there bills lol

  18. Time traveler: What year is it?
    Me: 2019?
    Time traveler: Oh, I live in 2050..
    Me: Cool, how it is?
    Time traveler: Well, Walmart is gone and replaced with Disneymart, our phone carriers are now Disney, everything is Disney

  19. Oh my gosh I found an old firefly in the basement, I’m not sure if it was mine or my cousins but it was pink. The only thing you could do it’s call mom, dad, or police.

  20. Ok. Who thought it was a good idea to give kids only 1,2,3, and 4 numbers on the keypad? Like what does it stop? (And obviously emergency and home and stuff) but like seriously

  21. I know $100 million seems like a lot, but for FY 04-05, it represents .3% of their revenue for the year. Luckily, I think they could handle it.

  22. the disney network sounds like every ISP and mobile provider in Australia. Telstra owns just about everything and ultimately dictates the high prices and shitty speeds, yet you get stupid bogans here trying to say we have it better than the yanks because seppos are always bitching about comcast and at&t. lol.

  23. i wanted this phone SO BAD when i was a kid, and i remember my dad saying "by the time you get older, cell phones are going to be so much cooler" and he was kinda right lol. i don't think it was the nokia 7280, but there was a phone just like it advertised by verizon that was advertised to be a phone for music, and as i kid i wanted that one just as bad. it looked so cool!!!

  24. They tried cellphones and why not try an airline company they have a cruise ship why not a plane im pretty sure that will but Emirates on the number 2 spot on the most luxurious airlines

    Edit: laydeys and gentle men introducing the Disney mobile X

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