'Monsters' vid revs power 31% profit hike

HOLLYWOOD — Pixar posted a 31% jump in fourth-quarter profit Thursday as the Steve Jobs-controlled animation studio closed the year with monstrous homevid revenue from Disney co-production “Monsters, Inc.”

Those revs also contributed to a 149% leap in annual net income.

Earnings news was announced after the close of market trading, with Pixar shares off $1.19, or 2%, at $54.42 amid a downbeat broader market. Further after-hours trading slippage seemed to reflect disappointment with execs’ reined-in forecasts for the first quarter.

Looking even further out, chairman-CEO Jobs said his still hopes to renew Pixar’s relationship with Disney when it expires in 2005. But that may not be possible on terms being sought, he hinted.

Talking with studios

“We are having discussions with several major studios about our future,” Jobs said in an earnings conference call. “This is very interesting, and we are learning a lot. It is also gratifying that all of them are interested in doing business with us. While our first choice remains to continue our relationship with Disney in a new form, this is far from certain at this point.”

Execs from studios including Warner Bros. and Sony have held preliminary talks with Pixar. But it’s unclear whether any of those distribs are any more enthused than Disney over Jobs’ reported desire to keep all of future Pixar pics’ grosses and merely pay its new partner a distribution fee.

‘Nemo’ next

It’s believed Disney now enjoys a 10%-15% distribution fee while also getting a 50% split of the balance of distribution-side grosses. Next up from Disney-Pixar is “Finding Nemo,” a nautical-themed toon set for wide release May 30.

Pixar is expected to deliver the pic to Disney shortly, opening a window for Pixar to lock into a new deal elsewhere if it chooses. Mouse House would still hold sequel rights to past Disney-Pixar releases as well as three more years of new co-productions under its current pact.

In the latest quarter, Pixar saw profit totaling $17 million amid a 51% rise in revenue to $39.4 million. Annual net income climbed to almost $90 million on a 187% revenue surge to $201.7 million.

Jobs said last year “was the most financially successful” in Pixar’s history.

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