Letter From Las Vegas

Whew! Just when I thought this year's CES was about to be a celebrity-free event, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger turned on the starpower during Monday afternoon's keynote speech. Sandwiched between a glossy, nearly I-Maxian preview of the company's new Web site and a sneak peek at the third movie in the bodaciously successful 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series were ESPN commentator Don D'Enrico, followed by LOST's Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox, and finally, prolific producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Despite the major media company dazzle that was perpetually and bombastically on display, starting with the opening Monday Night Football parody featuring everyone from Paris Hilton to CEA president Gary Shapiro, Iger repeatedly drilled home the central concept of 'empowering consumers' and delivering content in convenient, timely ways anywhere and everywhere, on platforms from mini mobile to the big screen. Iger touted the company's pioneering status as the first to post content on iTunes, plus the fact that 'Disney provides more hours of HD programming than anyone else' and that 'no one else delivers more content in all ways.'



Like his counterpart at Microsoft who opened the Consumer Electronics Show Sunday night, Bob Iger and company seem to be enthusiastically "getting" the surprisingly abrupt shift in the balance of power between corporation and consumer. In describing Lost's ultra intense, cultish audience who wield an unusual amount of clout, actress Evangeline Lily put it bluntly (but adorably): "We're at the mercy of the fans. Our producers are constantly going online."

Thanks to this to hell-with-content, consumer-is-king new trend, Disney is now morphing into a kind of do-it-yourself Disney, first at ESPN, where sports fanatics (like me: please don't retire, Brett) can create their own MyESPN page, and soon, at the new Dubbing the new site "the digital doorway into Disney for children and parents," Iger promised it would be a "robust, broad and deep entertainment experience" and significantly, tie into the "explosion of personal media experiences." Customization now comes in all types and flavors, from choosing features or "channels" based on age or gender to choosing an immersive character world of say Fairies or Princesses. Disney's 1-click customization immediately "transforms the entire Disney experience."

In addition to improved navigation, the site will feature a built-in videoplayer.Videoplayers and in fact, all things video are pretty much de rigeur these days but especially important if the target is a High School Musical fan. And just in case Mom never studied Festinger's theory of Stimuli Overload in her college Abnormal Psych class, now she can see it upclose-and-personal in her own family room when the kiddies log on to Disney's new X-D or Xtreme Digital, which sounds like it was designed by one of my kids' focus groups. Essentially X-D feeds into existing multi-tasking behavior and simply enhances it the Disney way. With X-D, kids can watch a video, play a game, surf the web and IM with friends, all at the same time.

Taking the concept of personalization to an even higher level, kids can create a 'My Disney My Way' channel, mixing and matching content, and even publish it so other kids have access. Upping the participatory media quotient even more, these channels can be experienced like a multi-player gaming system, with rewards and status as in 'where I stand in the community.' These customized communities or 'virtual worlds' can be designed around a Disney property like Hannah Montana, the Pirates Channel, Narnia, Create A Fairy or whatever your little consumer heart desires.

Moms will be happy to hear that the richly experiential features on this newly revamped are free. For now.

But it wouldn't be a major media company speech if the obligatory piracy issue hadn't been raised.

"Getting the balance right between convenience and pricing is a challenge facing all of us," Iger said. "The best way to combat piracy is to bring content to market on a well-timed, well-priced basis."

Switching smoothly from piracy to Pirates, Disney is again tapping into the rich reserves of the Pirates franchise by introducing Pirates of the Carribean Online, a free multiplayer online game scheduled to launch this spring.

The audience, probably 3,500 strong, was also treated to a scene from Pixar's new animated movie from famed director, Brad Bird, Ratatouille. From what I could tell, the film seems to be about a rather smartass, all too realistically furry rat who has culinary ambitions beyond fromage.

And was that Rupert Murdoch sitting in on Iger's talk? Someone who looked suspiciously like him zipped past me and almost tripped on my Toshiba schwag bag. Although and MySpace are at opposite ends of the social media landscape, as they say, keep your friends close ....

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