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What's Happening In Virtual Worlds?

Virtual Worlds Expo
Virtual Worlds Expo
Virtual Worlds Expo

The Virtual Worlds Expo is well underway in Los Angeles, companies using the event as a platform to make announcements about their companies. Second Life, arguably the most prominent player in the space, with nearly 15 million registered users, is announcing a new voice-driven instant messaging technology so avatars in the virtual world can communicate without lifting a finger.

Vollee, a 3G streaming services provider is announcing some milestones for its Second Life mobile application: it's been downloaded by users in over 98 countries across more than 253 mobile operators' networks, and it only launched in June. Wow, I guess these virtual worlds really are global.
The head of DisneyOnline Studios, Steve Parkis, took the stage for Wednesday's keynote. Parkis revealed specifics on this month's launch of Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow virtual world -- it's in beta but will go live by the end of the month. He also gave some more details on the virtual world based on Pixar's "Cars" that's launching early next year. Disney already has Toon Town and Pirates virtual worlds, and it purchased "Club Penguin" a virtual world targeting younger kids.

I spoke to Parkis about Disney's strategy, and it's about a lot more than just revenues, though it does bring in a steady stream from subscription fees to these sites. Parkis explains that these worlds are like virtual theme parks in which the company can expand Disney's brand experiences to be accessible whenever and wherever users want. So building brands from other divisions ends up growing revenues in those other divisions as well. For example, a girl who gets really into the Pixie Hollow virtual world may beg her parents for a Tinkerbell T-Shirt.
IBM also had an interesting announcement; it's "Same Time" instant messaging application is going virtual. You may not have heard of Same Time, but it's a lot like AOL IM, and it has over 100 million individual users, and some heavy hitting corporate clients, from HSBC and Cisco, to Ericsson and the CIA and FBI. Now someCalled "Same Time 3-D", it'll launch within the next year, and it'll allow users to click from a one-dimensional instant messaging chat over into a virtual conference room. You can hold a meeting in a virtual room or in a grassy field, and you can invite many people into the space from your IM list, with the click of a button. Sounds pretty cool.

One big trend everyone is talking about is Virtual Worlds targeting kids and tweens. There are now over 150 virtual worlds operating and in development for the 18 years-old and under market, up from just 100 of these worlds in April.

The folks working ont hese must have notoiced they're good acquisition targets. In Jaunuary Time Warner invested in Gaia Online, which targets teens. And both Warner Bros. and Sony signing agreements to distribute their libraries through virtual online worlds. And in August of 2007 Disney acquired Club Penguin for $350 million in cash.

More here: Virtual Worlds Expo: Real Investments In Virtual Space

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.