Jobs nixes chances of fix

Steve Jobs threw more cold water Thursday on the possibility of renewing a deal with Disney as Pixar reported strong fourth-quarter earnings due in equal parts to “The Incredibles” and continued strength for “Finding Nemo” in homevid.

Animation powerhouse’s topper said repeatedly in an investor conference call that it was “likely we will not forge a new relationship with Disney beyond our current deal.” Mouse House prexy and possible future CEO Bob Iger also has said such a renewal is doubtful.

Prospect of a deal wasn’t helped when Michael Eisner recently said the artistry on some of the Disney-Pixar pics was “pretty pathetic.” Asked to respond during the conference call, Jobs quipped, “I know our films don’t stack up against ‘Atlantis’ or ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ or ‘Treasure Planet,’ ” referring to Disney animated flops and underachievers.

Jobs stayed mum on who will end up as its distribution partner, saying only that the shift in major studio toppers, such as the recent installation of Brad Grey at Paramount and the hunt for a new Disney CEO, gave him reason to pause.

He did indicate a decision is likely by late this year, though, when the company also plans to release details on its slate of post-Disney pics, the first of which is already in production.

Whoever partners with Pixar next, though, will be limited to a small distribution fee, as the company ended 2004 with $855 million in cash and is on track to amass a hoard of $1 billion by the end of this year. That gives it plenty of coin with which to entirely fund its own productions.

Looking to the future, Jobs hinted Pixar may move to a schedule of two releases per year, like its major competitor DreamWorks Animation. Asked about such a scenario, he said: “We need to get on a solid footing at one picture per year. Then all sorts of discussions are possible.”

Jobs also cast some light on his decision not to participate in the Mouse House’s sequels, such as the in-development “Toy Story 3.”

“The question is: Should we fill the previous slots in our production schedule with sequels on which we will earn only 50% of the profits and will be forever controlled by Disney?” he asked. “Or should we fill it with original Pixar films, on which we will earn 100% of the profits, fully own and control?”

He noted that under the terms of their contract, Disney won’t be able to use the Pixar brand in any of its marketing to sequels of the studios’ jointly produced pics.

Company generated $108.9 million in revenue and net income of $55.2 million last quarter, down 33% and 34%, respectively, from a year ago. as the company had “Finding Nemo” in the more lucrative homevid window last year.

For the full year, Pixar earned $141.7 million on revenues of $273.5 million, up 11% and 4% from 2003.

“The Incredibles” is on track to gross around $625 million, putting it about equal with “Monsters, Inc.” and behind Pixar’s biggest hit, “Finding Nemo,” which generated significant coin for the animation studio last year on DVD.

That trend continued a year after pic first hit homevid. Company made $38.4 million from “Finding Nemo” DVDs and consumer products in the fourth quarter, just slightly behind the $40.8 million it took in during the fourth quarter from theatrical release of “The Incredibles.”

“Finding Nemo” has sold 48.6 million homevid units worldwide, 75% of which were on DVD.

Pixar also made $26.8 million from the rest of the pics in its library, primarily from “Monsters, Inc.” hitting network TV.

Company made just $3 million from sales of its animation software.

Pixar shares closed up 1% Thursday at $89.88.

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