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Disney plans phone service

Lauren Webber

July 7, 2005

Mickey Mouse is entering the wireless age.

Mickey's creator, the Walt Disney Co., said yesterday it is teaming up with Sprint to offer wireless phone service with Disney-branded content. The new program, called Disney Mobile, will be offered next year and will target families and the growing number of kids with cellphones.

Deals like this one are increasingly common as entertainment companies aggressively test out new ways to market their brands and cellphone service providers search for new users.

Children have become a favorite new market for mobile services now that most adults - over 80 percent, by some counts - already own cellphones.

According to NOP World Technology, a consumer research firm based in Manhattan, 40 percent of kids aged 12 to 14 owned cell phones at the end of last year, up from just 13 percent in 2002.

Already on the market are Hello Kitty phones, offered jointly by Nokia and the character's creator, Sanrio. Mattel sells a Barbie-branded phone as part of its My Scene line targeting 8- to 14-year-old girls. Verizon Wireless has added Sesame Street and Nickelodeon clips to its V Cast wireless broadband service, presumably so harried moms and dads can entertain junior for a few minutes.

Kim Kerscher, a Disney spokeswoman, said the phones will offer Disney-branded "ring tones, graphics and information," but she gave few other details about the service.

Susan Linn, a child advocate and psychologist at Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, criticized the deal, saying it's just one more platform for sending advertisements to kids in an already over-commercialized society.

Kerscher responded that the phones will be "tools for communication," not marketing.

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