Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Real Meaning of Disney's Acquisition of Pixar

Out of curiosity, I watched the CNBC coverage of the Iger-Jobs announcement of Disney's acquisition of Pixar this afternoon. To say it was anticlimactic is an understatement.

Of far more interest, I found, were the various pundits and analysts weighing in with opinions on the brewing deal throughout the day. My favorite is a guy whose name escapes me, but is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair.

He stated what I believe is the most lucid and informed view of the combination. A view which I share.

Basically, he felt that, had Michael Eisner spent more wisely over the past 5-10 years, Disney would have had a capable team of new animators to drive a more integrated, home-grown value-adding capability for more digitally animated movies.

Instead, Eisner skimped, and drove off other talented Disney senior managers, leaving the company to rely on an outsider, Pixar, for most of the value-added components to its animated features. The result is a $7B price tag for Disney's existing shareholders.

The commentator went on to note that Disney already owns the rights to distribute the current and next animated films from Pixar. Thus, the $7B is being paid for future efforts. A well-regarded senior Pixar employee, John Lasseter, director of animation, was mentioned as certainly costing much less than $7B to recruit to Disney.

Despite all the hoopla about this combination, and what it means for Apple, Disney and digital media content development and distribution, it really seems to be a very simple story.

Disney has been mismanaged for a decade, and lost control of the evolving digital animation components for its signature feature films. Steve Jobs, while wandering out in the wilderness during his exile from Apple, founded Pixar. The latter ultimately came to provide what Disney shortsightedly failed to develop- digital animated content creation. The result is a $7B tab presented today to Disney shareholders, further enriching Steve Jobs and partners.

Nevermind the nattering about Jobs and Iger, or Disney and Apple, or Pixar and Apple. Even your grandmother knows, at this point, that all the entertainment and other content shops are going to be looking to distribute digital media content onto every handheld, wireless, desktop and laptop device they can, anyway they can. Jobs and Apple, aside from their current lead in music, probably don't have that much of a conceptual advantage in this regard.

No, this story is solely about Disney's failure under Eisner to invest for the future, and Iger's need to purchase Pixar in order to gain control of the creative engine for digital animated feature-length films in the future.

Credit Iger with saying not a word about his predecessor's mistake. And with being able to get Jobs to the negotiating table. It's not Iger's fault that this was a necessary step for Disney. However, that said, I don't think it materially enhances Disney's value. It probably just keeps it from deteriorating in the near future. Marriages of creative functions and companies are fraught with peril.

Stay tuned to see if this one follows the usual script.....

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