Disney Interactive Media Group: The Turnaround Plan

The new chiefs at struggling Disney (NYSE: DIS) Interactive Media Group pledged to put the division in the black by 2013 at an investors conference for the conglomerate Thursday in Anaheim, Calif. Making their first public appearance since joining Disney last year, co-president John Pleasants and James Pitaro offered a first look at the many ways they plan to right the ship following quarter after quarter of the division dragging down the company’s earnings.

“When John and I came together, we knew it was important to set clear and bold business goals backed by a common mission that unified our businesses,” said Pitaro, who came to Disney from the helm of Yahoo’s media division in October.

Pitaro and Pleasants, an Electronic Arts (NSDQ: ERTS) veteran who came over to Disney as part of the $763 million acquisition of social-gaming company Playdom, laid out a vision for investors that certainly didn’t lack for ambition. They pledged on turning around DIMG into a growth business capable of spawning new franchises, a word freighted with big expectations at a company that has generated billions of dollars from intellectual property ranging from Mickey Mouse to Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pleasants alluded to cost savings already put in place last month through the elimination of hundreds of jobs across the gaming side of the business, which he will oversee while Pitaro leads the online portion of DIMG. More unspecified cuts are coming, with Pleasants identifying an additional 25% reduction in operating costs “to scale the business in a true march to profitability,” he said.

More highlights of the DIMG turnaround plan:

–Emphasis on personalization of content delivery online at hubs like Disney.com, which is being redesigned. Instead of offering the same content experience to parents and kids, websites will be able to intuit the user and customize the experience accordingly.
–Shifting investment from console gaming to mobile/social/online gaming, where greater growth is forecast not just stateside but globally.
–Conceiving of games less as one-and-done hits but as franchises that can see their digital ecosystems see upgrades for years to come.
–Virtual world Club Penguin will see further development, but also be positioned as an anchor for spinning off new virtual worlds.
–Disney Online Mom and Family portfolio of sites will be consolidated under one umbrella site in development. A DisneyBaby.com portal is also being built out in partnership with the Disney consumer products group.
–Companion viewing experiences like the recently launched ABC Sync iPad app for Grey’s Anatomy is under consideration for deployment across other Disney properties.
–A virtual currency system across all the platforms in Disney Studio All Access will allow consumers to earn and spend on content.

The importance of digital media in Disney’s overall plan came through loud and clear from the very beginning of the day, with CEO Bob Iger identifying technology as one of three central priorities for Disney, alongside creative strength and international growth. “We view technology as more an opportunity than a threat,” said Iger, drawing a contrast between Disney and other media conglomerates. “We believe it’s only going to become a threat if we fail to adopt it or try to will it away.”

Here’s more on what Iger had to say at the conference regarding digital media.