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Sony rumor fuels Pixar stock spike

Iger: Pact didn't deliver shareholder value

This article was updated at 9:35 p.m.

NEW YORK — Walt Disney chief operating officer Robert Iger said Thursday that the Mouse isn’t likely to renew talks with Pixar, even as shares of Steve Jobs’ animation studio jumped on a surprising market rumor that Sony was preparing a buyout offer for the company at about $75 a share.

A spokeswoman for Sony in New York said the conglom doesn’t comment on market rumors, which pushed Pixar up more than 5% in early trading. Shares ended the day off their high, up 3.49% at $68.11.

Every studio in town has been eyeing Pixar with more than passing interest since the company broke off talks with Disney, its partner of more than a decade. Just now, Pixar may have an interest in waiting to see how the Comcast-Disney situation plays out, but the more buzz the better for any eventual deal.

Several Sony insiders dismissed the speculation. Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine & Associates said a Pixar deal sounds like “a bit of overkill” for Sony, given the studio’s internal capability with Imageworks. “But the temptation of the Japanese to own a name brand like Pixar may be too big to resist,” he added.

“More importantly, why would Jobs sell out at this point? He doesn’t need the money, and this is sort of like a game for him,” McAlpine said. He sees 20th Century Fox as the likeliest partner for Pixar.

Pixar declined to comment.

Iger reiterated Thursday in an interview on CNBC that the Mouse, which still has two pictures left on the current Pixar contract, could not agree to Pixar’s new terms.

“We fully evaluated the deal that Pixar felt it needed to make and it did not make sense in terms of delivering shareholder value,” he said, seeking to dispel the notion that Comcast’s hostile takeover offer for Disney last week might push a more vulnerable Mouse back to the bargaining table with Pixar.

Iger also said he doesn’t believe Disney needs to buy another company in order to bulk up and fend off Comcast (though the Mouse did buy the Muppets on Tuesday). He cited Disney’s strong earnings, upbeat forecast and the fact that the company “is in good shape and heading in the right direction” as the most potent defense against the raiders from Philadelphia. He repeated the party line that Disney has absolutely no need to own distribution assets like cable or satellite.

Still, Disney chairman-CEO Michael Eisner is under siege from former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold and is likely to face some combative shareholders at the Mouse’s annual meeting in Philadelphia March 3. Influential stockholder interest group Institutional Shareholder Services wants him out.

Iger said the board is discussing succession and considers it an important issue. “That does not mean there is a name, or a timetable in place,” he said. Asked if he would be sticking around if he wasn’t the designated successor, he said, “I have quite an interesting and challenging job … and what lies ahead for me is not something I care to discuss.”

Separately, Banc of America Securities said Comcast shares are “dead money near term” as its bid for Disney progresses. The analyst figures, as do others, that Comcast will raise its bid and add a cash component. Wall Streeters see the next move in this corporate drama unfolding after Disney’s shareholder meeting, particularly if Eisner fails to receive broad support.

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