disney no fly zone
Balloons of Mickey Mouse are carried down main street at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, March 11, 2011 Reuters

Disney is moving away from Netflix to develop its own tech-savvy platforms. In August, the Walt Disney Company announced its partial acquisition of the startup BAMtech, to the tune of $1.58 billion. Disney plans to leverage the startup’s technology to launch two video streaming platforms, one for Disney content and another for sports, through a partnership with ESPN. The former will launch in 2019 while the latter is scheduled for a 2018 debut.

The New York Times reported Disney will start by budgeting at least $150 million to make original content for its own streaming platform. Disney wants to eventually phase out third-party licensing, which media analyst Michael Nathanson estimates brings in around $835 million a year across the board. This will be a colossal undertaking, so Disney started working on a blockchain-based asset management platform back in 2015.

Could Disney become the next Amazon, blurring the lines between e-commerce, entertainment and web services?

Disney media
Minnie Mouse with fashion editor-at-large Annie Georgia Greenberg at Refinery29. There are lots of ways the entertainment and the tech industries overlap. Will new online platforms shift Disney's approach to products and services? Thos Robinson/Getty

The blockchain project took on a life of its own. In 2017, former Disney employees launched the nonprofit Dragonchain Foundation to steward this open source code. The Seattle-based Dragonchain team is now launching a commercial platform with funding from a month-long initial coin offering ending on Nov. 2. Although Disney is no longer in the driver’s seat, it still helped shape this ambitious blockchain platform for businesses.

Dragonchain Inc., the former Disney team’s new startup, is taking a radically different approach to ICOs. It’s not announcing a fundraising goal up front. Instead of saying “we want to raise $XYZ million” or offering pre-sale discounts to entice wealthy investors, the Seattle-based startup will decide Dragon tokens’ official value after the ICO wraps up.

“The point is to make this a simple process for people who aren’t experts and giving fair value to everyone... It’s very much a software license that happens to be contained in a token,” Dragonchain Inc. CEO Joe Roets told International Business Times, describing Dragon as a tokenized micro-license. “In that way we can offer micro-services and we can provide the network interactions that we need.”

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These services will eventually include expert consulting and access to a broader crypto-centric marketplace. Businesses of all sizes will be able to pay for these services with Dragon tokens. This new business platform will have a lot in common with Microsoft’s Coco Framework, in that it offers businesses secure and private access to a blockchain network. Bitcoin and Ethereum are transparent, which discourages businesses from using likeminded distributed ledger technology to work with private data.

Dragonchain’s blockchain network is a unique combination of bitcoin’s underlying technology and an Ethereum-based token. It is not an Ethereum-based network itself, like so many platforms in this space. Instead, Dragonchain is more like an electricity converter plug. It safely translates established infrastructures into a blockchain system. Meanwhile, the startup’s services help customers leverage the blockchain network.

“You have an existing system, and you can start adding those assets in parallel,” Roets said. “We have a platform, an incubator and a marketplace, an ecosystem altogether, where the marketplace is full of developers," Roets said. "Our goal was to make this so simple even an intern could do this in one whole afternoon. The platform itself makes it easy. The incubator helps accelerate you through to a level where the crowd can decide [through crowdfunding].”

Disney has been experimenting with niche currency for years via Disney Dollars, coupons accepted at Disney resorts and theme parks such as Disney World. The cryptocurrency trend could open up all kinds of new possibilities for companies like Disney, businesses with a devoted fanbase plus a variety of products and services.

Roets declined to confirm whether Disney will be one of the platform’s first enterprise customers, although Disney’s data was used in the technology's early testing and use cases. "Disney has no involvement in Dragonchain’s initial coin offering," a Disney spokesperson told Business Insider. Regardless, Roets said Disney executives are supportive and have even promoted the project on social media.

It’s not unusual for tech companies such as Facebook to straddle the shifting lines between public and proprietary technology. Although Disney is notoriously strict about its intellectual property, the corporation has been quietly warming up to the broader developer community over the past decade, including support for open source projects. New online platforms could fundamentally change one of the world's most recognizable brands.

“I think the most important thing one has to do when they’re contending with change is to admit that it’s occurring and to assess very carefully what the impact of the change is on all the businesses,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co., said at a September conference. “What emerged from that meeting, which didn’t surprise us, is that if you look at change and disruption across all of the Disney businesses — from parks and resorts to motion picture business, to theme parks, to media — the most dramatic change or the biggest impact from disruption is being felt by the media networks.”

Disney is slowly becoming a new power player in the tech industry. Video streaming and blockchain experiments are only the beginning. "They’re very much going in the right direction,” Roets said. “Because the more they [Disney] get out there, the more they give back the more community involvement they get.”