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Iger: Technology Is Disney's Future

1/29/2007 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Walt Disney chairman and CEO Robert Iger dazzled attendees at his International CES keynote speech with sneak previews of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," the third installment in the hugely successful series, and "Ratatouille," the upcoming 3D animation adventure from Pixar.

But there was a serious message beneath the sizzle: Disney is intent on moving beyond traditional movies and TV programming to become a multimedia, multiplatform digital entertainment company.

The highlight of the hour-long presentation was the announcement of a new, massively multiplayer online game based on "Pirates of the Caribbean," which the company will launch in the spring as part of a revamped Disney.com.

Pirates also will be the basis for one of several new channels on the retooled Web site, where users can immerse themselves in a virtual world based on Disney characters and properties.

"Almost from the day Walt Disney started this company, we've had one key to success: combining the timelessness of our memorable characters with the timeliness of the cutting edge," Iger said. "Disney is a company where art challenges technology and technology inspires art."

Other multiplayer games also are being developed based on an array of Disney properties.

"You can imagine living in Buzz and Woody's toy universe or racing with Lightning McQueen in the Piston Cup," Iger said, referring to earlier Disney hits "Toy Story" and "Cars."

Taking a page from such social networking sites as MySpace.com, Disney is adding a new element to its Web portal called XD, for Xtreme Digital, which allows users to compile a personalized page of clips and other material from the Disney universe to share with friends.

For now, sharing will be limited to Disney-owned content, side-stepping the controversy surrounding the unlicensed use of copyrighted material on social-networking sites that has dogged other media giants such as News Corp. and Google, which acquired MySpace.com and YouTube.com, respectively, in 2006.

"The best way to combat piracy is to bring content to the market that is well timed and well priced," Iger said.

Underscoring Disney's commitment to embracing the technological innovation represented by International CES, Iger's presentation drew on the full range of the studio's creative resources to promote the show.

A clip from the purported final episode of ABC's hit series "Lost" showed Sawyer asking Kate, played by Evangeline Lilly, where she would go when she finally got off the island. Her response: to Las Vegas for CES.

Iger then brought Lilly and co-star Matthew Fox on-stage to chat about the impact of new technology on the show.

"TV actors have in general decided the story line, but now we are at the mercy of the fans, because TV has become much more interactive," Lilly said. "The producers are constantly going online to see what viewers think should happen and what they're talking about on Web sites about the show, and then they use that to develop story lines."

Another clip featured the booth crew from ESPN's "Monday Night Football" indulging in some pre-game hype for CES.

Iger also was joined on stage by Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, who confirmed that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards will appear in the third installment later this year as the father of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow.