June 24, 1998 3:00 PM PDT

Disney to launch children's search engine

SAN FRANCISCO--Disney today introduced a children-oriented search engine, trying to further its online reach to its core market: children and families.

The move comes just a week after the entertainment giant bought a 43 percent stake in portal Infoseek.

The Dig, as the new engine is called, is a categorized search engine that clearly competes with the likes of Yahoo's engine for kids, Yahooligans, as well as others looking to capture the Net audience while it's still young.

Many have made some efforts to capture the young market, or the "little Websters," as Jake Winebaum, chairman of Disney's Buena Vista Interactive Group, called them today at Jupiter Communications' Digital Kids '98 conference. However, no one has come to "own" the market or even lead it, said Andrea Williams, online analyst with Volpe, Brown, Whelan.

The move to build Dig, to be featured on Infoseek as well as Disney's own site, comes at a time when parents are searching for a haven for their children online, Williams said.

"This is a big opportunity for safe havens on the Web and Disney is the perfect player to dominate this space," Williams said. "This is also a big opportunity to migrate their dominance in kid-oriented entertainment offline into the online world.

"Nobody is established in this space at all," she added. "Nobody has dome anything to develop content that has since captured a significant share of kids' content online. There are no standouts. There are a lot of opportunities out there and Disney's the No. 1 candidate."

Winebaum emphasized Disney's ongoing commitment to children's privacy online, an especially prickly topic with both legislators and parents.

In fact, the industry is at a crossroads right now, trying to convince legislators and regulators that it is able to regulate itself. Though Disney has a clear privacy policy, other companies don't and the Federal Trade Commission has given up its push for self-regulation in favor of legislation to protect children.

Industry representatives have banded together to stave off government intervention.

And today Winebaum drove home the point. "The potential of the Internet will only be realized if we work to earn the trust of children and families," he said. "If we don't act [to ensure online privacy], Washington and state governments will act with a tangle of legislation."

All sites on the search engine, powered on the back end by Inktomi, were hand-picked by an editorial staff, according to the company. Disney declined to disclose details about the effort to build the engine, such as staff size or financial investment.

Disney also said Dig will power Infoseek's children's channel, but executives declined to say whether Infoseek will be promoted extensively on Dig. Proctor and Gamble and General Motors currently are charter sponsors of the site.

Richard Wolpert, president of Disney Online, told CNET NEWS.COM that the company does not have definite plans yet to add free email--one feature considered necessary to turn a search engine into a portal, but often fraught with problems when it comes to protecting the safety of children online.

Wolpert added, however, that if email were introduced, it would have to include parental controls, which could be difficult to develop and implement.

The launch of Dig is an additional effort Disney is making in hopes of becoming the Internet gateway for families, Wolpert said. Disney plans to use Disney.com as its primary gateway to the Internet despite the fact that the site mainly leverages Disney's own content.

Disney will launch a redesign of the Disney.com in a few weeks, and may give Dig a greater presence on Disney.com's home page, Wolpert said.

Dig's categories fall under eight basic topics: Animals & the Outdoors, Sports & Recreation, News & the World, Learning & Life, Games & Toys, Stories & Comics, Arts & Entertainment, and Computing & the Internet.

Disney's other online sites now include Disney.com, Family.com, Disney Blast Online (a subscription service), ESPN SportsZone, ABC.com, and ABCNews.com.

 

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