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Tinker Bell Appears In 'Pixie Hollow' In Act Of Marketing Magic

Canadian Press
October 24, 2008


LOS ANGELES Tinker Bell, the cute fairy who has long played second fiddle to Peter Pan, makes her grand entrance in The Walt Disney Co.'s virtual world of Pixie Hollow on Friday.

In a sprightly act of marketing magic, she appears in the online game just four days before the Oct. 28 straight-to-DVD release of the "Tinker Bell" animated movie.

New toys called "Clickables" that link to the online world are hitting store shelves for the holidays, and some 7.5 million fairy avatars that children have created will now be allowed to become privileged members of the world for $5.95 a month.

The arrival kicks off a multimillion-dollar payday for The Walt Disney Co. on a Tinker Bell franchise that is already worth $1 billion this year and highlights the company's "Disney Difference" approach to leveraging its assets in books, movies, games and merchandise.

"This is probably our first real effort at this more holistic approach to a franchise that includes a very immersive online experience tied to consumer products, physical goods," said Steve Wadsworth, president of Disney Interactive Media Group. "This is the world where all these things come together."

Tinker Bell's established fan base and online plans convinced studio executives that the DVD could succeed without a theatrical release, since theatres will be crowded already with family films, including Disney's own "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" on Friday, "Bolt" Nov. 21, and DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" on Nov. 7.

The sale of 12 million copies of some 400 Fairies books published worldwide since 2005 has more than readied Tinker Bell fans to hear the Disney animated character's voice for the first time. Unrelated to Disney, Julia Roberts played the speaking sprite in the 1991 movie, "Hook."

"We've always had Tinker Bell product in the marketplace. She's always been a very popular character for us," said Kathy Franklin, vice president of girls franchise development for Disney Consumer Products.

The goal, Franklin said, is to grow revenue in the franchise year over year. The model is its Disney Princess business, a group that joins Sleeping Beauty and Snow White with more recent heroines like Pocahontas and Mulan, and reaps $4 billion a year.

Disney has been ramping up its online presence by creating virtual worlds since the 2002 launch of ToonTown, based on an area in Disneyland where players play cartoons trying to save the town from greedy business robots. It bought Kelowna, B.C.-based virtual world Club Penguin for $350 million in August 2007 and launched the Pirates of the Caribbean Online last October.

Executives say Disney's virtual worlds have become tidy earners.

Among the 65 million avatars so far created in Disney's four worlds, there were 9.2 unique visitors in September, up 37 per cent from last year, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Steve Parkis, the senior vice president of Disney Online Studios, said makers of virtual worlds generally convert 5 to 20 per cent of visitors into paying customers with monthly subscriptions - which enable users to buy better gags or weapons, pursue more interesting quests or, in Pixie Hollow, make and buy outfits.

"Ten to 12 per cent is where you want to be, 20 per cent is very successful," Parkis said of the conversion rate. "We would be in the more successful range across the majority of our products."

Disney does not make its online revenue public. But, with a 10 per cent conversion rate and monthly fees from $5.95 to $9.95, Disney's online worlds rake in an estimated $7 million a month, or $85 million a year - on par with one low-budget hit movie.

"It's not a meaningful revenue generator for anyone yet," said Michael Pachter, a video games analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.

But it does keep children engaged with the Fairies mythology when they help online fish swim upstream or light virtual fireflies, just like in the movie.

"Clickables" bracelets and charms help real world friends exchange phrases or gifts that later appear online.

While it's unlikely the fairies will ever run out of work in Pixie Hollow, Disney plans to keep children interested by releasing three more movies in the Fairies franchise every year through 2011.

 

 

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