Excerpts from the blog Ten years after setting up shop in Seattle through its acquisition of Starwave, Disney is again building up its presence...

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Excerpts from the blog

Ten years after setting up shop in Seattle through its acquisition of Starwave, Disney is again building up its presence here.

Disney Internet Group is planning to expand its team here from 300 to 400 people over the next year, reflecting the Seattle operation’s importance to Disney’s broad digital strategy, according to John Spelich, vice president for corporate communications.

Disney’s employment has been up and down since it made Seattle its Web-development outpost when it bought Starwave in 1998. The group had more than 500 employees during the dot-com peak, but cut back dramatically a few years later after the crash and strategy changes.

For years Disney was a major part of the cluster of Web companies in Pioneer Square, where it occupied much of Smith Tower. But the company recently moved a few blocks uptown, to Fourth and Madison.

The Seattle office includes engineering, advertising and operations teams that build and run a platform of services powering the online sites of Disney, ABC and ESPN. They power registration, e-commerce, ad serving and data warehousing for the global network.

Spelich listed some impressive stats for the Seattle operation: It’s serving a billion ads a day, handling more than 100 million registered users and managing 27 million unique visitors a month just at Disney.com.

Among other services run from Seattle are ESPN’s fantasy-sports group and the network’s SMS sports-alerts service.

Xbox chat

While we watched kids at Children’s Hospital playing Xbox 360 kiosks that Microsoft donated Wednesday to the recreation program, I chatted with Robbie Bach about a game that won’t appear on those particular consoles — “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Group, which includes Xbox, expects the company will get a boost from the rowdy action game New York-based Take Two Interactive will begin selling Tuesday.

We also touched on recent Xbox shortages and the status of Sony’s PlayStation 3. A few excerpts:

Q: What will “GTA IV” do for your business?

Bach: We’ll see. I think it will be a great game. I think it will sell a lot of units. Hopefully it will sell consoles as well. Forget whether it’s an Xbox or a PS3, but I think it will sell consoles — it’s a highly anticipated game.

Q: You put a lot of effort into getting special “GTA” content for the Xbox.

Bach: In the last [console] generation, certainly, us not having “GTA” on the platform at the same time as the PlayStation created some challenges for us. We wanted to make sure we weren’t in that situation this time. I think we’ve done good work with the folks at Take Two.

Q: I wonder how the game will affect the PS3. It’s coming out just as Sony’s console is getting its stride.

Bach: Well, I think the thing you have to recognize is, from an installed base, we still have a big advantage and a big lead there. I think we’ll do very, very well with that. I also think some of the perception of advantage relative to PS3 for momentum has been at a time when we’ve been mostly out of stock and that’s now changing. We’re getting back in stock. I think the game will do exceptionally well and I think it will help Xbox.

Q: Was the lack of Xbox stock related to changes made to the guts of the thing?

Bach: No, we basically worked very hard. We had a lot of demand at Christmas. We pulled a lot of consoles into the holiday. You can’t change your manufacturing pace fast enough to make up for that, so it’s taken us two or three months to get manufacturing back to the level we think we need.

The business is so cyclical that you plan for a certain level during the holiday, then everybody slows down production because the second half of the year, you don’t need as many consoles. So what happened was with the production we planned for the second half, we tried to pull as much of that up as we could. Once you sell through that, it’s hard to replace it. It takes time to get the manufacturing back up. Getting us in stock in time for “GTA IV” was important.

New research lab

A new six-person advanced Microsoft research lab is a cooperative venture with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a powerhouse in database-systems research.

David DeWitt, the school’s former computer-science chairman, will head that lab, which is called the Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab in honor of the pioneering computer scientist.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.