ABC ads it all up

Hot ‘Wives’ returns net to profitability

NEW YORK — Walt Disney prexy-chief operating officer Bob Iger said Wednesday that ABC will be back in the black in 2005, buoyed by a newly vibrant sked led by “Desperate Housewives.”

In back-to-back presentations at dueling Gotham media conferences, Iger called the long-struggling Alphabet net’s push into profit “a watermark” and said he believes the “success is real, not flash in the pan.”

Iger said a decision earlier this year to hold back significant advertising inventory will pay big dividends starting in January when ABC starts selling ad packages that include spots on “Desperate Housewives” and other hit shows. He said about one third of the packages being sold for January-May will include spots on “Housewives.”

Asked if the burnished ABC could boost his odds of winning the top job at Disney, Iger shrugged and said, “I’m focused on performance.”

Iger is the only internal candidate the Disney board is considering to replace outgoing CEO Michael Eisner, who plans to retire in September 2006. Board hired a search firm to evaluate outside candidates and plans to name a successor this summer.

Iger said the decision — announced Tuesday — to move “Cars” from November 2005 to summer ’06 would not affect any potential discussions between the Pixar and Disney, whose lucrative partnership is set to end after “Cars” is released.

“Steve Jobs and Pixar noted the huge success of ‘Finding Nemo’ as a summer picture and said ‘Cars’ could be very well positioned as a summer release, and we agreed,” Iger said.

Disney’s first solo CGI pic, “Chicken Little,” will take the November slot, to be followed by a “rich pipeline of Disney-owned” CGI films, Iger said, interspersed with sequels of Pixar-Disney pictures.

“We have a great desire and attraction to see that sequels are made to the movies we have released” with Pixar, Iger said, listing just about all of them. He said the Pixar library to date, which Disney will control even if the pact ends, will ensure a stream of sequels for the next decade.

Pixar can fund and participate in sequels “on terms that evoke the current contract,” Iger said. “We would hope they would step up and participate, as would be their right.”

As for subsid Miramax, Iger said Disney is in discussions with founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein about their future at the company.

“It remains to be seen how it will conclude,” he said, calling the brothers “talented individuals” and the relationship “fruitful.”

Disney’s current contract with the Weinsteins expires next September.

Iger reaffirmed that the film studio will now focus more on Disney-branded live-action pics like box office hit “National Treasure” — and “moderate investment in non-Disney live action.”

He cited two more “Pirates of the Caribbean” pics coming up, plus “The Shaggy Dog,” “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.”

There are seven books in the beloved C.S. Lewis series. “We’re not saying all seven will be made, but we think we have a franchise that has ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Harry Potter’ potential,” he said.

In response to a question, Iger noted that movie merchandising has been dwindling industrywide over the past five to eight years. He said Disney’s solution has been “managing the characters across our businesses — I’m not talking about synergy.”

He said “The Incredibles,” for instance, “can easily be a TV series, with lots of opportunities in terms of videogames, toys and theme parks.”

Iger said Disney is committed to growing its games business, an industry that is now red-hot, and indicated acquisitions are possible.

Queried on News Corp.’s musings about launching a new sports channel to compete with Disney juggernaut ESPN, Iger said: “We know Fox is interested in sports …We don’t take anything lightly. Who needs competition? A loss of any customer is a loss of a customer.” He called ESPN “a strong brand to grow and protect.”

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