Disney to Buy Playdom, Latest Sign of Its Social Media Embrace

From Twitter discounts to Facebook games, Disney is making waves in the social media sphere in recent months. Its latest move to acquire social gaming firm Playdom is yet another example of the old media powerhouse’s embrace of digital and social media.

Disney today announced its agreement to buy Playdom, producer of online games like Mobsters, Sorority Life, and Tiki Farm (pictured below).

Disney described the acquisition as a way to bring its array of licensed characters – from Mickey Mouse to Spider-Man – to new platforms. Disney already offers several games inspired by characters from its films, TV shows, and entertainment properties, such as Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Hannah Montana: Sound Board Mix-Up, on its Disney.go.com site. Disney also bought the popular Club Penguin gaming site in 2007.

According to data from InsideSocialGames.com, Playdom’s titles rank much higher among MySpace users than Facebook users. While several Playdom games including Mobsters, Sorority Life, and Poker Palace ranked among the site’s top 25 MySpace games in July, just one – Social City – made it into its top 25 Facebook games last month. InsideSocialGames.com ranks social games according to number of monthly active players.

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But Disney already has taken its social strategy far beyond games and online entertainment. Earlier this month the company expanded its relationship with Twitter via a “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” ticket discount offered through Twitter’s paid @earlybird service.

“Enter your zip code, show time, 2 tickets, the APPRENTICE code, and get your 2 for 1 ticket to #SorcerersApprentice!” stated one post linking to a page on Fandango.

The campaign followed a promotion for Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation’s “Toy Story 3” through another paid Twitter service, Promoted Tweets.

At this stage, a Disney exec told ClickZ News, the company is merely testing the social media waters. Each effort is “brand dependent, product dependent, and situational,” rather than part of a broad company-wide strategy. In the end, he added, it’s all part of the company’s mission to be where people are and offer them a number of ways to interact with Disney brands and characters.

In keeping with its efforts to pair immersive branding experiences with revenue-generation, Disney developed a Facebook application called Disney Tickets Together which allows people to coordinate “movie parties” by organizing groups of friends to buy tickets to Toy Story 3.

Disney has also embraced viral efforts employing YouTube and Facebook for films including Toy Story 3 and “Iron Man 2.” The Toy Story 3 campaign, for instance, featured an intricate series of viral efforts, including Web videos mimicking ’80s toy ads. An elaborate collection of websites, video, and Facebook content was created to promote Iron Man 2, a Paramount Pictures film based on the Disney-owned Marvel comics title.

The social gaming sector has heated up this year. Yahoo partnered in May with Zynga, maker of popular Facebook games like Farmville and Mafia Wars, to integrate its games on Yahoo. And today, a Wall Street Journal report suggests Google is in talks with gaming firms including Zynga and Playdom in conjunction with development of a Google social networking service.

According to a Disney press release, Playdom’s shareholders will receive $563.2 million, and a performance-linked earn-out of up to $200 million. Playdom will remain in its home base of Mountain View, California. Playdom CEO John Pleasants has been named EVP of the Disney Interactive Media Group and GM of Playdom. Disney said it expects the deal to close by the end of its 2010 fiscal year.

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