Aiming to strengthen its offerings in online gaming, Walt Disney Co. has acquired Togetherville, a social network for elementary school-age children.
Togetherville seeks to mimic the experiences of social networks such as Facebook, but in a way that's protective of children younger than 10 and allows for parental supervision. The site lets children connect with their real-world friends in its virtual neighborhood.
"Togetherville is very focused on trying to really reflect what the adult community has been doing on the Web and build a real online experience that adults enjoy for kids, but do it in a safe, COPPA-compliant way," said founder and Chief Executive Mandeep S. Dhillon, referring to the safeguards established by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
Dhillon said the acquisition, the terms of which were not disclosed, was completed Feb. 18.
The Togetherville transaction is the latest digital acquisition by Disney, which in July bought social gaming company Playdom for $563 million and mobile application developer Tapulous. The co-presidents of Disney's Interactive Media Group, John Pleasants and Jimmy Pitaro, recently outlined plans to invest more heavily in emerging technological platforms, while spending less money developing games for mature markets such as the video game console business.
"The acquisition comes as Disney is increasing its exposure to the social/online space as well as catering its content offerings to mothers and young kids," Anthony J. DiClemente, a media analyst with Barclays Capital, wrote in a report Thursday.
Dhillon said he set out to create a safe online network where his three children — ages 9 and younger — could learn and play while under the watchful eyes of their parents. The site offers a range of entertainment, including games that enable kids to have virtual snowball fights as well as music videos and animation snippets that have been prescreened as age-appropriate. Members of the community can also give virtual gifts such as greeting cards and works of art.
"What we try to do is reflect what kids' real-world experiences are with the online environment," Dhillon said.
Parents, meanwhile, can control whom the kids interact with; and Togetherville ensures that kids can't leave the protected confines of the network to go to another site.
The structure is reminiscent of an earlier Disney acquisition, Club Penguin, the online virtual world for children that the Burbank company acquired in 2007 for $350 million. Disney CEO Robert A. Iger recently boasted that Club Penguin's user base has grown substantially over the last three years.
Dhillon said he was excited by the Disney purchase, noting, "They're one of the most amazing family brands on Earth."
Disney issued a statement Thursday morning confirming that Togetherville will become a wholly owned subsidiary, reporting to the entertainment giant's interactive media group.