Bart Decrem On How To Stay Lean And Mean In Mobile Gaming (Even When You’re A Part Of Disney)

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While some parts of the media world — think films, publishing and music here — have been largely dominated by old-school heavyweights, one that has been disrupted has been the world of gaming, specifically mobile gaming. A small studio from Finland by the name of Rovio owns the single most successful mobile gaming brand — the viral, runaway success that is the Angry Birds franchise, which has seen upwards of 500 million downloads of its games already.

Yet when it came to marking the 25 billionth app download on Apple’s store earlier this month, one of the Old Media guard won the day: the honor went to “Where’s My Water,” from Disney, downloaded, apparently, by a young woman in China.

Bart Decrem, who runs Disney’s mobile division, himself comes from the world of upstart startups — he came on when Disney bought his company, Tapulous, in 2010. His world now is about trying to combine the best of both worlds: the fast-moving, fast-thinking elements of startup culture with the marketing and financial might of its bigger, more deliberate parent.

(Ironically, Rovio’s approach has been to become more like Disney, building a franchise for Angry Birds and moving into alternative forms of merchandizing as a way of marketing and adding new revenue streams.)

And while it might seem easy enough for Disney to buy what works already — why not buy Rovio, for example? — Decrem says the company is actually more focused right now on using the resources it has to compete better against them. “Less games, but higher quality,” he says.

Decrem says it was pure coincidence that he was in Asia — Korea — when Apple announced the “Where’s My Water” milestone. “That’s not how Apple works,” was his response to my questions about whether the announcement had been coordinated. Still, it meant that he got to hop on a plane for a quick journey to Beijing, where he watched people play the game at the Apple flagship store in celebration.

It’s a bit of news that fits well not just for where Apple, but for Disney, because China is the market where they both hope to grow next. “China is just opening up for Walt Disney,” Decrem told me.

Watch my on-the-fly video for more on acquisition targets, what Disney’s doing in Asia and to hear what Decrem thinks of Rovio.