Disney Begins Mobile Service in Japan

March 1, 2008

Disney launched a mobile phone service in Japan on Saturday in cooperation with Softbank Corp, entering the tough Japanese cellular phone market following its withdrawal from the the United States.

Walt Disney Japan, the local unit of Walt Disney Co., released three types of mobiles, made by Sharp, all covered with silhouette patterns of Mickey Mouse.

They also have a special online feature that allows subscribers to jump to Disney websites, while Disney's iconic characters can be used on standby screens and to decorate e-mails free of charge.

Walt Disney Japan has teamed up with Softbank, an Internet conglomerate and one of the nation's three mobile giants, leasing part of the networks and outlets owned by the Japanese firm.

Disney has become Japan's first so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), or a company that buys capacity from another firm to provide cellphone services.

In the US Disney Mobile marketed itself as a family-friendly mobile phone service that would allow parents to talk easily to children. But the MVNO with Sprint shut down after only 18 months, with Disney finding it more profitable to sell its content through other service providers.

Japan, a nation of 127 million people, has more than 100 million mobile phones in operation -- which translates into a major challenge for service providers to achieve growth.

A Walt Disney Japan official said the firm was confident of success here as Disney already had a strong following in Japan, where Tokyo Disneyland receives tens of millions of visitors every year.

Disney had already been a major content provider for mobile phones in Japan, the official said, adding that its tie-up with Softbank would also help bolster profitability of the service, named "Disney Mobile".