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Jobs strokes Mouse as Pixar soars

Pixar profits tripled; exec upbeat on Iger

Steve and Bob are getting along.

Boosting the chances for a Disney-Pixar reconciliation, Steve Jobs had nothing but good words for incoming Mouse House topper Bob Iger during an investor conference call Thursday to announce Pixar’s first-quarter revs and the happy news that profits had tripled from a year ago.

“I’ve been getting to know (Iger) a little bit, and he seems like a terrific guy,” the Pixar CEO said. “If they come wanting to strike a new deal, we’ll see how things go.”

Soothing remarks provided a sharp contrast to the testy words previously uttered by Jobs.

In last quarter’s conference call, Jobs said such a renewal was unlikely and insulted some of Disney’s toons when asked about Michael Eisner’s comments that the artistry on some Pixar pics was “pretty pathetic” (Daily Variety, Feb. 11).

Exec added that he expects a new distribution deal with a studio partner to come by the end of the year.

Company also plans to announce late this year its three films to come after “Cars,” for the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Pixar is known to be looking for a deal similar to Lucasfilm’s with Fox, in which it would fully fund production and give a studio only a distribution fee. Jobs hinted that Pixar may even pay for the marketing of its post-“Cars” slate, given company’s growing cash horde, which reached $875 million as of March 31.

News came as Pixar reported another quarter of strong earnings, driven primarily by fantastic sales for “The Incredibles” on homevideo. Toon has sold 17.7 million VHS and DVD units since its March debut, and 5.7 million more in several international markets including the U.K., Spain, Italy and Mexico. It has yet to hit a number of key markets, including Germany and France.

Total revenue was $161.2 million, nearly triple the figure from a year ago, when “Finding Nemo” had already sold most of its homevid units before the 2003 holiday season.

Most of the revenue came from “Incredibles.” Company also generated $14.4 million from continued homevid sales of “Finding Nemo,” its most successful pic, as well as $14.8 million from library titles.

Net income was $81.9 million, more than triple its profits a year ago.

Chief financial officer Simon Bax said profits will likely fall in the current quarter with no major revenue drivers except for international homevideo releases of “The Incredibles.”

Since Pixar decided to delay release of “Cars” from this fall to next summer, it now has over a year with no major new releases. Only significant event will be the 10th anniversary re-release of “Toy Story” on DVD in September. Bax said a re-release of “Toy Story 2” will likely follow shortly thereafter.

Despite the release delay, Jobs said “Cars” is on track to be completed by October and the company is well into development and production on its following three pics.

After closing down 42¢ to $46.27 before earnings were announced, Pixar shares rose 5% in after-hours trading.

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