Walt Disney Co. announced its first "information highway" alliance Monday, teaming with three regional phone companies to deliver video programs into homes.
Disney and its partners, Ameri-tech Corp., BellSouth Corp., and Southwestern Bell Corp., said so far they've agreed only to work on a business plan for the venture. No financial details were disclosed.The services could go beyond existing broadcast and satellite television networks to movies-on-demand, interactive home shop-ping, educational programs, games and travel assistance, the companies said. The venture would also develop a "navigator" to help customers access the services.
Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chairman and chief executive, has been a vocal skeptic over the years about alliances between entertainment-based companies like Disney and those specializing in the hardware that delivers communications.
But in a statement Monday, he said Disney hopes to "use technological breakthroughs and new enter-tainment delivery systems to provide consumers with a compelling and creative array of programming."
Still, Eisner added, "The essence of entertainment will not change. What has always counted is the story and the skill with which it is told, and that is what Disney is all about."
The early announcement of the alliance was made in part to head off the takeover and merger speculation that has swirled around Disney in recent years. Disney will be talking with many hardware and software suppliers about possible roles, spokesman Tom Deegan said.
Deegan said Eisner continues to recover rapidly from heart surgery last month and visited Disney's Burbank headquarters twice last week. Eisner was to lead a regular meeting of top Disney staffers Monday, the first time he's done that since the bypass surgery July 16.
Ameritech, BellSouth and Southwestern Bell provide telecommunications services to more than 50 million customer lines in 19 states.
While the Disney Channel has been on cable TV since 1983, the venture announced Monday is the first time the huge entertainment company would offer direct access to programs to households.
Deegan said Disney would provide most of the content for the video venture, though it would buy some programming from other sup-pliers.
Besides providing the delivery lines for the material, the phone companies bring expertise in billing and service.