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Disney Will Shut Down Cellphone Service

  Business  -   POSTED: 2007/09/28 13:43

A year after shuttering its ESPN cellphone company, Walt Disney Co. said it is closing its Disney cellphone service. Walt Disney launched Mobile ESPN and Disney Mobile last year as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs. Under that business model, the Burbank, Calif., company leased wireless spectrum from Sprint Nextel Corp. and sold its cellphone service directly to customers. But in the competitive U.S. cellphone market, Disney struggled in its fight against the major carriers.

Disney announced in September 2006 that it was closing Mobile ESPN, eight months after its debut. The company initially remained optimistic about its Disney-branded service, which sold phones featuring Disney content and services aimed at children and their parents. However, Disney failed to make headway with the big-box retailers and find outlets to sell its phones and related services.

Disney will instead license its content to bigger carriers to sell. Earlier this year, it forged a partnership with Verizon Wireless, which is owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, to sell ESPN sports news and video. Disney said yesterday it is considering offering some of its Disney-branded services through a partnership with a major carrier. Disney Mobile included services that let parents locate their kids as well as content such as ring tones and games with Mickey Mouse and other Disney stars.

Disney isn't the only company to stumble in the MVNO arena. Amp'd Mobile Inc. sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy-court protection this year, after its youth-focused service burned through $350 million in start-up funding.

Disney declined to comment on how much it had invested in its MVNOs or the cost of closing them. During a conference call in August 2006, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said the company was investing $150 million in Mobile ESPN in 2006. After announcing its closure last September, Disney Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs told an analysts conference that the cost of closing it would be about $30 million.


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