Media companies like Discovery — the company behind the Discovery Channel — are pushing into education, because they see in digital textbooks a growth opportunity too good to pass up:
Conventional textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade are a $3 billion business in the United States, according to the Association of American Publishers, with an additional $4 billion spent on teacher guides, testing resources and reference materials. And almost all that printed material, educators say, will eventually be replaced by digital versions.
And then there’s Disney:
It is building a chain of language schools in China big enough to enroll more than 150,000 children annually. The schools, which weave Disney characters into the curriculum, are not going to move the profit needle at a company with $41 billion in annual revenue. But they could play a vital role in creating a consumer base as Disney builds a $4.4 billion theme park and resort in Shanghai.
This move into education has failed before:
Discovery in 2006 promoted Cosmeo, an Internet-based service that offered children videos and other tools to help them with their homework; a year later, Discovery decided to stop marketing the product, which cost $99 a year, and laid off much of its staff. (Why pay for help when you can search Google at no cost?)
In 2007, Disney introduced a new position — senior vice president for learning — with the goal of moving into the North American education businesses. None of the company’s major efforts got off the ground, and Disney eventually pulled the plug, in part because it decided technology was changing the sector too rapidly.