February 26, 1996
TAKING IN THE SITES/By LAURIE FLYNN
That Other Mouse, Now on the Web
edia conglomerates sometimes move at the speed of glaciers, so it is no surprise that some major media companies are only now putting up Web sites. But in at least a few cases, it appears the delay has enabled the latecomers to learn lessons from earlier media sites and allowed them to take advantage of the latest eye-catching (and ear-grabbing) Web technology.
The most recent of these is the Walt Disney Co. site, a cross between a family magazine of animation, games and activities and a promotional brochure with more hype than a TV commercial for Disneyland. But its clever use of a newspaper metaphor for navigation and its inclusion of more than 200 video files, 434 audio files and thousands of photos of familiar Disney characters may make it a site worth visiting for children and adults alike.
The Disney site arrives on the heels of another major media site, called Iguide, a long-awaited result of the shaky on-line alliance between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and MCI Communications.
In amassing content, both sites appear to have benefited from the shortcomings of such early ventures as Viacom's original Showtime site, which initially was little more than a fancy program schedule for the cable channel, and Time Warner's Pathfinder, which in the early going offered little more than electronic access to the company's media holdings, including Time Magazine.
The new Disney site offers a broad array of choices -- perhaps even too many, as some pages seem crowded. All the Disney characters, from Alice to Pocahontas, are there, behaving in their trademark ways.
There are games and puzzles that are constantly updated in hopes of keeping you, and your kids, coming back. The offerings also include schedule and ticket information on the Disneyland and Disney World theme parks and program notes for Disney television shows.
The site adheres to its mission of promoting the Disney brand, so there is not a trace of anything ABC there, despite Disney's recent completion of its Capital Cities/ABC acquisition. ABC already has its own site, closely tied to programming on the ABC television network.
News Corp.'s new Iguide, by comparison, does not purport to be a brand-enhancer, but rather an all-purpose media Web site -- including, for example, news stories from Reuters and other sources as well as a lot of useful material on cyberspace and computing.
As such, it serves as an excellent annotated guide to Internet sites on subjects ranging from science to television to travel. And compared with the chock-a-block Disney site, Iguide has an elegantly sparse look, and is easy to navigate.
In many ways, Iguide could be compared with the current Time Warner Pathfinder site, which was one of the earliest media sites on the Web, appearing in 1994. Both Pathfinder and Iguide are offering continuously updated news feeds and ongoing coverage of the Republican primary campaigns.
In some ways, the Disney site does for Disney fans what Cyberwalk, the Web site maintained by MCA Inc., does for star-struck Hollywood movie buffs.
Cyberwalk has program guides, movie reviews and previews and information for visiting MCA's Universal Studios theme parks. Seagram Co. holds a controlling stake in MCA.
Like the Disney site, the MCA/Universal site features an on-line store. Unlike Disney, MCA does not hawk movie memorabilia -- no "Jurassic Park" place mats, no "Waterworld" drinking mugs. Instead, the shop is an on-line version of MCA's Spencer's Gifts retail chain, with such novelties as a $7.99 back scratcher and a $39.99 "wall gargoyle."
Taking In the Sites is published weekly, on Mondays. Previous columns are available.
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Walt Disney Co.
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company