Commentary

Disney To Tackle Mobile, Game Advertising

katy perryWhen Tapulous last week launched a new Katy Perry-themed app in its hugely popular "Tap Tap Revenge" franchise, it marked the first time a new game in the series included a title sponsor: Bing.

The Microsoft search engine was also featured within the free app, allowing users to search for Katy Perry lyrics and to navigate to the full Bing app for other searches. Previously, most artist-inspired versions of "Tap Tap Revenge," including the initial Katy Perry game, were paid offerings, typically costing $4.99 a pop.

The Bing sponsorship could signal a more ad-centric direction for Tapulous under Disney, which acquired the game maker in July as part of its recent push into mobile and social gaming, which also included a $763 million deal for Playdom. The latter's integration got a boost with Playdom CEO John Pleasants and former Yahoo head Jimmy Pitaro being named as co-heads of Disney's interactive media group.

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In a briefing last week discussing Disney's recent digital initiatives, Brad Davis, senior vice president of Disney online ad sales, said the company is beefing up mobile ad sales staff on both coasts following the acquisitions, as the company looks for new ways to monetize games.

Exactly how Disney approaches the gaming space is still evolving, but Davis said it could involve expanding brand integration -- as with the Bing deal -- as well as sweepstakes and marketing efforts more focused on user-generated content.

A big question whenever a media giant like Disney acquires a smaller player is whether the move will lead to changes that alienate the target company's existing user base. Is sticking Bing in the title of the Katy Perry game, for instance, an overly aggressive marketing tactic that might turn off some "Tap Tap" fans? Or is there a trade-off in offering a free game with a new single from the singer? Those are the kinds of things Disney will have to figure out as it integrates Tapulous and Playdom.

And while both companies are hot now, there's no guarantee they'll continue to flourish at Disney. Mediaweekreported earlier this month that Microsoft will shutter Massive, the in-game advertising unit that the software maker acquired in 2006 for $400 million.

Besides the blow of Electronic Arts taking its ad business in-house, the report cited sources saying Massive's ad sales efforts were never fully integrated within Microsoft's Xbox Live team. How effectively Disney can combine its own ad sales teams with its new mobile and social game properties could play a key part in how well the acquisitions turn out.

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