"High School Musical's" blockbuster success shows just how dialed in Disney is to its audience. And now the Magic Kingdom hopes to plug in that magic into a new line of consumer electronics, and we got the exclusive sneak peak into what's coming.
The sheer breadth of the company's upcoming consumer gizmos and gadgets is impressive: Flat panel televisions, mobile entertainment music/video players, and digital cameras.
"We have this 15-inch High School Musical LCD TV," Jon Guerra, director of global consumer product design, says, showing me an array of slickly designed tech items that will hit store shelves in the next few weeks. There's also cool flats featuring "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Hannah Montana," and a princess theme targeted specifically at girls.
Pulling out a tiny digital camera, he tells me, "A kid can throw it in their backpack, throw it in the car, carry it with them at all times, take pictures of themselves, their friends, their teachers, their dogs, take it with them and always have a camera." And there are a dozen models at various prices featuring a number of Disney characters on the casing.
Disney will even unveil a 3/4 scale guitar, both acoustic and electric, to take advantage of the success- steamroller of "Hannah Montana." And the set-up will feature a cool little extra just about every parent will love. "This is what we're calling a pocket amp and it plugs into the guitar, take the cord, plug it in, put the headphones on and a parent never has to hear a girl banging on her guitar," Guerra says.
Disney does better than $26 billion in global merchandising, but that's everything from stuffed animals to a new line of home furnishings. Consumer electronics though is Disney's fastest growing member of the merchandising family.
So Disney invited me to take a tour of the small design group based in a non-descript Disney building in Glendale, Calif. where this magic takes place. The design team comes from stalwarts like Frog Design, Sony, Motorola and many other top industrial design firms. What Disney had done out of house on a licensee basis is now all brought in house. The attention to detail across dozens of new products is striking.
"We've worked very hard that the design, the fit and finish, the look of all our products is truly Disney," says Chris Heatherly, the vice president who runs Disney Consumer Electronics.
He shows me one of the brand new items: a video camera ideal for loading new images onto your myspace or Facebook account--or your Club Penguin identity, the online social networking site for kids that Disney just acquired. But this device comes with an added twist. The camera includes software that helps kids create their own movies using clips from Disney films, right inside the camera.
"It's like you have a Disney director living inside the camera telling you how to act out each scene," says Heatherly. All of these new electronics create yet another way for the company to extend the shelf life of its on-screen blockbusters. "Technology is becoming a more integrated part of the way kids learn and the way they play and we're a big part of that," Heatherly says.
It's a smart move, especially when Steve Jobs is your largest shareholder and somewhere down the road, a co-branded Disney iPod is not beyond the realm of imagination. Disney seems to see huge potential in consumer electronics, investing big, and ready to unleash a large family of brand new gadgets: Consumer electronics becoming a new way to tune in and turn on, inside the Mouse House.