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Disney To “Blur” Lines Between Toys & CE

Burbank, Calif. – Disney Consumer Products, marketer of Disney-themed CE for kids, is building up its technology toy line and launching its first robotic toys in an attempt to “blur the lines even more between toys and consumer electronics,” consumer electronics VP Chris Heatherly told TWICE.

Also as part of its 2008-2009 product roadmap, the company is stepping up efforts in the musical instrument (MI) category targeted to 8- to 12-year-old tweens, and it is taking a new design approach to enhance the ruggedness and usability of preschool consumer electronics by 3- to 5-year-olds, he said.

Traditional Disney-themed consumer electronics for 3- to 12-year-olds remain in the line, including small LCD TVs, MP3 players, portable media players (PMPs), digital cameras, boomboxes and portable DVD players.

The technology-toy expansion and robotic-toy launch are part of the company’s nine-month-old Toymorrow Initiative, under which the company hired designers and technologists “to position Disney at the forefront of technology, to be first with new technology and innovative concepts not tried in the toy space before,” Heatherly said. Technology toys will complement Disney’s position in traditional non-electronic toys and leverage a trend in which consumer electronics are competing with toys for the attention of kids.

New technology toys due in stores from Disney this year include a remote-controlled Ultimate Wall-E robot, a remote-controlled flying Tinker Bell, two Wii-like motion-game systems said to combine toys and video games for kids ages three and up, two guitar-based TV games for kids six and up, Disney Fairies Clickable charms that unlock gifts on Disney’s online virtual world at, and iDance Wall-E, a tabletop version of the robot that dances to the beat of music playing on a connected MP3 player.

These products will reside in toy stores and the toy aisles of mass merchants, both of which have expanded their assortments of kid-targeted CE products in recent years, said Heatherly, who also believes the products will be of interest to many consumer electronics stores. RadioShack, he noted, plans to offer select Disney technology toys, putting Disney’s electronics brand in the chain for the first time to join an assortment of electronic learning aids and remote-controlled robots.

In mass merchants, Disney expects to gain expanded shelf space in the youth electronics areas of the toy aisles. “In the CE aisles, Disney is the top kids’ CE brand, but in the toy aisles’ youth electronics area, we had a small presence. We want to fill out our assortment there.” In these outlets, Disney’s technology toys will be follow the drift of products, such as digital cameras, from these retailers’ CE aisles to the retailers’ toy aisle, he said.

Disney’s stepped-up focus on the musical instrument (MI) category reflects the growing frequency with which musical instruments are turning up in CE stores and mass merchants’ toy departments to replace declining product categories, including music CDs, Heatherly said. Best Buy has pared down its music CD department to make room for MI, he noted, and Wal-Mart has added kid and adult MI to its toy area, having previously offered MI on a seasonal basis.

In musical instruments, Disney will follow up last year’s launch of a three-quarter-size Hannah Montana guitar with a pair of Camp Rock models and multiple new Hannah Montana accessory products. Those include a pocket amp for use with headphones, a microphone kit, and Vocal Trainer PC software with microphone and stand. In 2009, the company plans electronic keyboard and an electronic drum set bearing the Hannah Montana name.

In preschool consumer electronics, the company continues to offer Disney-themed TVs, clock radios and the like targeted to preschoolers, but whereas these products “largely” rely on cosmetics to appeal to preschoolers, the new products ergonomics and operation are designed specifically for preschoolers, and they’re ruggedized to withstand drops.

The first two preschool products designed according to this strategy include the ruggedized $49-suggested Pix Jr. 1.3-megapixel camera with large color screen, only four control buttons, and the ability to insert Disney characters into a picture. The $79-suggested Mix Max Jr. portable media player (PMP) and game machine accepts large plug-in cartridges that store music, video and games and will retail for around $10 each.

“This is the direction of preschool electronics in the future,” Heatherly said. “Our technological experience will “position us well against Fischer-Price,” which he described as the market leader in preschool electronics. He said he expects consumer electronics stores, not just toy stores and mass merchants, to pick up Disney’s preschool electronics.

Some of the key technology toys and robots due soon include:

  •  the $189-suggetsed Ultimate Wall-E remote-controlled robot, which also responds to select voice commands, features a sound sensor to follow someone, and includes obstacle-avoidance sensor. It also dances to embedded music. It’s due in August.
  •  two $79.99-sugested UltiMotion TV-game systems, due in the fall. Each comes with UltiMotion console that plugs into a TV’s A/V jacks and multiple toy-shaped wireless remotes. The Playhouse Disney version comes with four games based on Disney Channel TV shows and includes remotes shaped like a hammer, rocket, Mousekatool and Super Sleuths Spy Glass. There will also be a Sleeping Beauty and Disney Fairies version with magic-wand-shaped remotes and two wearable remotes in the shape of fairy wings and a princess dress. Girls who don the wings can control the flight of their on-screen avatar, and with the dress on, they can control the dance motions of their avatar simply by moving around.
  • the $69.99-suggested Hannah Montana guitar-based TV game system, a Guitar-Hero-like game intended for younger audiences.