I often wonder what Walt Disney would be doing if he were alive today (e.g. WWDD). My guess is that he would be pioneering internet content, for more than any person in the history of entertainment, with the possible exception of a few Roman Emperors, he was willing to push the boundaries of new technology to create entirely new experiences. He understood, more than anyone of his generation, the linkage between the virtual and the real; between what I have termed the Marketplace and the Marketspace. He understood that Snow White sold Disneyland, and not the other way around. He knew that television complemented his theme parks and movies, and did not substitute for them. Furthermore, he saw that technology -- from that which he used in his groundbreaking film Fantasia, to the technology they invented for the rides -- was a means to create things that had never been done before. Furthermore, that people who experience thing in the marketspace of the movies and TV, desired a linked experience in the marketplace, in the theme parks. Given this profound and obvious fact, it is amazing to me that it is news that California's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival, have partnered with major media companies to stream Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and other artists -- as noted in today's Wall Street Journal on page P2. Like Disney, the virtual will drive the value of the real. Moreover, with the advent of companies like Stub Hub, where tickets can be bought and sold for their real value -- not their face value -- the streaming of the content into the marketspace creates a large potential buying market for the marketplace tickets. We know from studies of auctions that as you increase the number of participants in an auction, price rises -- until you have a very deep market of bidders. Put another way, most events are sold through an old style, bureaucratic, price system with merchandizing that is pre-Disney.
Actually, I am not surprised by this slow movement toward using the power of the interactive network. Alan Kay once told me that Walt Disney had to start Disneyland with his own money and then sell it back to the corporation after its success was clear, for they were too risk averse. The same thing happened with Disneyworld, but Walt died before EPCOT was completed. That is why EPCOT is a feeble, permanent World's Fair, as opposed to the original design which was an Environmental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, hence its name. It was supposed to be a design for a new way to live and work, not a recycled idea from the 1800s, surrounded by shopping malls, golf courses, and sprawled suburbia. Since Walt Disney had to go outside the corporation that bore his name to truly innovate, it is expected, albeit frustratingly, that the leading lights of concert management might run into organizational resistance in their own shops.
So what? Well, if Walt were alive today, I think he would be doing at least two things. First, he would be creating incredible new experiences in gaming, and on the cell phones, for those are the leading technologies of interaction. (It is important to remember that cell phones are the new PC, with 170 million phones in this country, 330 million in China -- going to over 650 million by 2009.) You can bet that there would be a killer multi-player game at Disneyworld, in which you got to be a part of an incredible, multi-sensory experience at the park, while being jacked into the world of gamers on line. Phones would be part of the park experience -- from navigation, to content to communication. I mean, how obvious is it that Disneyland is a perfect place to design and prototype entirely new digital experiences at scale (as Alan pointed out to me). They see tens of millions of people a year. Alan's thought was that if a new device and software was included in the ticket price, and integrated in the part experience, after a few years you could launch entirely new consumer platforms -- just by equipping Disneyworld customers with that technology!
I would also expect that Walt would be running a market for content, and then selecting from that content market those things which would be most deserving of the Disney creative and distribution push. What do I mean by a market for content? Well, I think he would be looking carefully at YouTube, and other end user generated content trolling for stories, and talent. He then would cherry pick those initial concepts and build them out Disney style -- as he did with the great myths and stories of our culture. He would be funding many, many artists to come up with new modes of storytelling, especially around animation/reality mixes. He would be open sourcing critical parts of his catalogue and allowing people to remix it because he understood that the interaction of the network with content creates brand loyalty, and interest. For example, he would allow people to use Pinocchio's voice to answer their cell phones, and Grumpy to be in their emails -- for marketspace interaction drives marketplace extraction. He would take tired characters like Goofy, and let the folks at Spounge Bob Squarepants, build him into their material. He would not be holding these global memes in their current form -- he would evolve them, and let the audience and other content creators evolve them with him.
In this, I am not saying he would give it all away for free. I am saying that he would strategically enable those media that spread his voice. If this meant that the best way to create a new experience would be to allow a slice of Fantasia to be open sourced so that people could put it in their content and remix it, he would let that happen, for he knew that it would drive interest in the original. He would certainly use the net to reach the world. Disneyland's virtual presence would be larger than its physical -- as it was in his reign. It would be interactive. It would be innovative, it would be most cool, and it would be immensely profitable.