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Get Ready for Happiest Place in Cyberspace : Telecom: Disney says it will launch a family- oriented on-line network, to be headed by former magazines chief.


Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it will move into yet another medium, this time the world of on-line networks.

Jake Winebaum, formerly president of Disney's magazine publishing division, will lead the effort to bring Mickey Mouse, Pocahontas and other popular characters directly into homes through computer lines. Winebaum, 36, will be president of a new division called Disney Online, where he will also be responsible for building a comprehensive site on the Internet's World Wide Web, which he said will be in service by late fall or early winter.

Winebaum said he and others at Disney have been working on the yet-to-be-named on-line service for a year and a half. He said a rollout of the full-blown service is still a year or two away.

"We're going to generate a really unique on-line experience for families," Winebaum said in an interview from New York. "It will be very active."

Subscribers will pay a fee to access the service, which will also be supported by advertising revenue and transaction fees in much the same way that industry giants America Online and Prodigy operate today, he said.

"This is a logical extension of everything that's happening in the media communications field," said Harold Vogel, an analyst with Cowen & Co. in New York. "All the major media companies will have representation in on-line services."

Two weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced a joint venture with MCI Communications Corp. that will turn the struggling Delphi Internet Services into a full-fledged on-line service. And the competitive landscape is expected to change dramatically with the arrival of Microsoft Network.

Rather than go head-to-head against America Online or Microsoft Network, Vogel said, Disney's on-line venture will compete with video games and network television for customers' attention. Ultimately, Disney could end up purchasing an established on-line service of its own, he said.

Launching an on-line service may be a natural move for Disney because the company has so much content and can profit by finding more outlets for it all, especially if the company's deal to acquire Capital Cities/ABC Inc. is approved by regulators as expected. But there are skeptics.

Keith Benjamin, an analyst with Robertson Stephens in San Francisco, said the deal reminds him of Disney's decision to launch its own pay television channel rather than become part of a basic cable lineup. That gave Nickelodeon the chance to surge ahead of the Disney Channel.

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