Jobs to become Heir Apparent at Disney?

Here’s a Hollywood rumor that keeps popping up from time to time: Disney, in need of tying up Pixar’s soon-to-be-ending contract, offers Steve Jobs a board seat, or even a Senior VP role.

Disney’s cut of their partnership with the animation studio has been extremely lucrative. More than that, the cutting edge animation technology developed by Pixar has kept Disney relevant; Without Pixar, Disney’s star would have fallen much much further than it already has. And, Disney knows that the future direction of animation is Pixar’s specialty, not Disney’s. If that niche of the industry were to fall another studio, it would be disastrous for the Mouse House.

With a market value more than 10X that of its important partner — Disney’s cap stands at $43.99 Billion to Pixar’s $3.81 Billion — DIS should just get it over with and buy PIXR outright. That would resolve the future of the lucrative animation business, and solve the issue of who’s gonna replace Eisner, in one fell swoop.

Eisner, who’s already sucked out over a billion dollars in compensation from the entertainment giant’s coffers over the past decade, could make a graceful exit. The alternative may be an ugly ego driven battle with the company’s largest shareholders (Walt’s heirs) that would make Carly Fiorina’s battles with the Hewlett heirs look like a mah-jong scrum.

Here’s the gossipy NYPost’s take on the matter:

As far as the entertainment industry and Wall Street would be concerned, the most welcome second-in-charge and nominal successor to Eisner could be none other than Steven Paul Jobs – head of Apple Computer and Pixar, and the guy who currently has Disney over one massive barrel.

“That one’s been around for a while,” says a Disney spokesperson. Indeed. But sources out in the land of warmth say speculation that the Disney Co. would be forced to offer Jobs a position – if only a seat on the board – intensified this week, as soon as Roy Disney’s keister had cleared the company parking lot.

But there are problems, naturally. For one thing, Eisner apparently doesn’t much like Jobs, either. And the famously independent Jobs, who founded Apple Computer in his family’s garage, apparently has been returning the dislike ever since Eisner accused Apple in Washington of abetting video piracy.

Now for the final twist: Disney right now is in the middle of renegotiating a very important movie production deal with Jobs’ Pixar, an animation studio that made a bundle for Disney with “Finding Nemo” and others even as Disney’s own cartoonists had become a mere caricature of their former selves. And other studios are trying to lure Pixar away. If a new deal with Pixar wasn’t urgent for Eisner before the Roy Disney episode, it certainly is now. And that fact won’t elude Jobs when he sits down to discuss the terms of any new deal.

Can Eisner get along with anyone? Will Roy Disney rescue the family business? Does Jobs want another job? This is reality entertainment.

H’Wood Buzz: Jobs May Fill Seat At Disney
December 4, 2003, NY Post

Disney sets global box office record, courtesy of “Nemo”
Reuters, December 3, 2003

Disney Sets Box-Office Record
By Claudia Eller
L.A. Times, December 4, 2003,1,1251228.story?coll=la-news-politics-california

Twelve Less Angry Men
By Buzz Johnson
Film Stew, December 4, 2003

Roy E. Disney’s letter to Michael Eisner.

Stanley P. Gold’s letter to Disney’s Board of Directors.

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Jim Picerno commented on Dec 4

    Jobs, of course, owns 54% of Pixar, and it’s not clear if he’d be willing to sell to Disney, or any one else for that matter. Pixar relationship with Disney has been a profitable one for both sides, but Disney also has some issues with moving to full computerized animation from its traditional hand-drawing style. Indeed, Roy Disney headed up the animation division at Disney. And a recent Wall Street Journal article reminds that the transition from hand animation to computerized animation is less than smooth at Disney. Pixar defintely represents the future for the animation business, although it’s still not clear if Disney the company is willing and able to embrace it.

  2. Barry Ritholtz commented on Dec 8

    I agree — but I also believe that the Disney CEO position would be the ultimate validation to Jobs. Recall how Jobs was deposed by former Pepsi CEO Sculley ina boardroom coup that put the Apple co-founder out on the street.

    Jobs may be financially secure, but I believe he craves the recognition Gates recieved, mostly on Apple’s innovations.

    Apple’s turnaround is pure Jobs, and in order to move into the next pantheon of greats, Steve needs a major company like Disney. Even his buddy Larry Ellison is not CEO of a Dow Jones Industrial.

    And Disney is under increasing pressure to resolve that succession issue; See: “Disney Is Plagued by Lack of Succession Plan”,1,4778519.story?coll=la-home-politics

    If Disney acquires Pixar, it locks up Pixar’s business (and prevents a competitor from grabbing them), gains for Disney all that techncial expertise, likely resovles the successor issue, and gives Steve a shot at the really really big time.

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