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Disney Thinks Interactive TV -- Without the TV

Maybe cable programmers will bring out interactive TV features sans set-tops.

Disney Channel is kicking around a concept that would let viewers interact with each other using a device most already use dozens of times a day: their mobile phones.

I met today with Larry Shapiro, general manager of mobile and EVP of business development and operations for Walt Disney Internet Group (soon to be renamed Disney Interactive Media Group).

Shapiro noted that a big initiative for his group this fall is to tie together Disney’s Web and mobile services. Stuff like maintaining the same login, favorites and navigational icons across both platforms.

Now, as an example of the future multiplatform possibilities for Disney’s interactive group, Shapiro showed a demo of a feature called "Watch Along, Play Along." This would link Flash-based phone applications with Disney Channel’s programming schedule. 

So, for example, when Hannah Montana comes on at 11 a.m., a tween viewer’s phone would pop up the Hannah mobile app. (She’s already registered herself on Then the Hannah fan can chat with her friends, vote on something happening in real-time on the show, etc.

"All their interactive activity is already on the phone," Shapiro said of Disney Channel’s core tween audience. "They’re watching TV while texting on their phones already."

That’s not to say Disney won’t also continue developing interactive apps for the TV. But using the mobile phone as an ITV platform is an interesting idea.

Of course, the big challenge for mobile today is the same as it’s always been: the Balkanization of platforms, which requires content developers to cut distribution deals with each carrier and/or tweak their offerings to reach lowest-common-denominator functionality across phones. 

Shapiro believes those issues will evaporate, once there’s a broad base of iPhones and equivalent devices that use regular Web browsers.

"That will change the dynamic pretty significantly," he said. And content owners will be able to try all sorts of cool new things.