Interview: Disney’s Steve Wadsworth On Tapulous, Android & Mobile Money

What is it with Disney (NYSE: DIS) and summer game deals? Three years ago, Disney Interactive acquired sought-after virtual world Club Penguin for $350 million, looking for a path into a growing online game area. Now, for an undisclosed sum, it’s picked up Tapulous, the profitable developer of some of the most consistently popular games and apps in the iPhone ecosystem. In some respects, the deals are very alike: for instance, Disney didn’t just want the product or the brand, it wanted the talent both to grow that business and lead Disney’s effort in that area. But they differ in at least one big one: Club Penguin’s co-founders had an earn out clause that could have doubled the payment but they missed; Tapulous co-founders Bart Decrem and Andrew Lacy don’t have one.

Steve Wadsworth, president of Disney Interactive Media Group, spoke with paidContent just after the Tapulous deal was announced Thursday afternoon. He explained that his team and the Disney corporate team became interested in Tapulous a few months ago as part of an ongoing effort to find new ways to grow in digital media — “and very quickly realized that they could be a great addition to what we do.”

Why Tapulous? Wadsworth: “Because they have great talent. They have proven success with iPhone games and applications, and they’ve built a big footprint with the applications they have. And they’ve demonstrated an ability to very effectively monetize what they do.” That last one is pretty significant. A lot of companies can build a good product or make something popular; not all can make money doing it.

Leading Disney mobile: “We plan to continue to grow on what Tapulous has been able to do. They’ll continue to be based in Palo Alto and both Bart and Andrew will take on leadership roles running our entire mobile operation; Bart will report to me.” The existing mobile operation includes the entire range of Disney-branded mobile games and applications, the LA-based team, the studios in Beijing and Prague. Wadsworth says the Tapulous team will over time become part of the broader operation but “we’ll take our time about it.”

Outside deals, inside potential: Tapulous adds development power, but it also brings its own licensing business and partnerships with Universal Music, Warner Music and others. That won’t change, Wadsworth says. “That’s part of what Tapulous does. Those are great partnerships and relationships that they