Disney wants to become the happiest place in the metaverse

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FILE PHOTO: Smartphone with displayed "Disney" logo is seen on the keyboard in front of displayed "Streaming service" words in this illustration
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By Dawn Chmielewski

(Reuters) - Mickey Mouse is poised to venture into the metaverse.

Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the entertainment conglomerate is preparing to make the technological leap into a virtual reality world first imagined by science fiction writers.

It is a popular destination these days, ever since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the future of his company would be devoted to creating a robust, three-dimensional environment where users’ digital avatars would work, hang out and pursue their hobbies.

Other big companies, including game-makers Roblox Corp and Epic Games, and software giant Microsoft Corp, are working on their own metaverses. Disney’s plan was notably devoid of specifics, beyond dropping a buzzword that has animated Silicon Valley.

Chapek told investors Wednesday that entering this new digital frontier is consistent with Disney’s long history of technological innovation, dating back nearly a century to Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound.

“Our efforts to date are merely a prologue to a time when we'll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing for storytelling, without boundaries in our own Disney Metaverse,” Chapek said during Disney’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

In an interview with CNBC, Chapek said he envisions it as an extension of streaming video service Disney+ -- through the “three-dimensional canvass” he envisions for new types of storytelling.

Disney’s former executive vice president of digital, Tilak Mandadi, wrote on LinkedIn in 2020 about creating a theme park metaverse, where “physical and digital world converge” through wearable devices, smartphones and digital access points.

Not all of Disney’s digital forays have had happy endings. Its online children’s social network, Club Penguin, shuttered in 2017, after 11 years. Its entry into social gaming, via its $563.2 million purchase of Playdom in 2010, resulted in a write-down. Its efforts to capitalize on the galloping popularity of short-form YouTube videos through a $500 million acquisition of Maker Studios in 2014, resulted in the operation being absorbed into other parts of the company.

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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