March of the Preteen Consumers
Club Penguin, the online virtual world for children that is part of a worldwide trend, has finally been sold. Not to News Corp. for $200 million. Not to Sony for $450 million. But to Disney for a sum that could eventually hit $700 million. The Mouse House will pay $350 million up front for Club Penguin and an additional $350 million if it meets certain performance goals through 2009. Not bad for a site created by three 20-something fathers from the British Columbia Interior and built largely by word of mouth.
Not bad for Disney, either. The site currently boasts 12 million registered users, 700,000 of whom pay $5.95 a month for the ability to customize their penguin characters and decorate their igloos. How many more will do that once Disney throws its global marketing might behind the site? “Disney’s technological know-how, online capabilities and international reach will support global expansion of the Club Penguin franchise,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said yesterday during the company’s earnings call. “We plan to rename it Disney’s Club Penguin and to immediately use our Disney-branded properties such as Disney.com, Disney Channel, Radio Disney and our parks and resorts to raise its profiles. … We believe virtual worlds can extend and expand on the life of a franchise, expand our global reach for our entertainment content, and allow us direct contact with our consumers in a more personalized and engaging way.”
In other words, it’s only a matter of time before Buzz Lightyear and the Disney princesses appear as Club Penguin costume options and great piles of Club Penguin Puffles show up in local Disney stores. As Walt Disney’s brother Roy once said, “The sale of a doll to any member of a household is a daily advertisement in that household for our cartoons and keeps them all ‘Mickey Mouse Minded.’ ”