Dis ‘Finding’ favor

Eisner touts Pixar relationship in 'Nemo' wake

HOLLYWOOD — Head Mouseketeer Michael Eisner said Tuesday that the boffo bow of Disney/Pixar tooner “Finding Nemo” has been beneficial to their film collaboration.

“We have a very good relationship with Pixar, I think a better relationship today than we had on Friday,” Eisner told an investment banking confab to broad laughter.

Some analysts have suggested “Nemo’s” success could prompt Pixar topper Steve Jobs to play hard to get in talks about extending the animation studio’s relationship with the Mouse House (Daily Variety, June 3).

‘Win-win’

“I suspect we will change the relationship that we have with Pixar,” Eisner said. “But I am sure we will continue to have some kind of relationship with them. … It’s a win-win for us and a win-win for Pixar, so at the end of the day I have to expect that we’ll get together.”

Disney gets a distribution fee and box office split from Disney/Pixar movies. Jobs has demanded the deal be trimmed to a mere distrib fee.

Eisner was questioned by Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Tom Wolzien at Bernstein’s Strategic Decisions Conference in Gotham. Wolzien asked Eisner to assess past conglom perf, comment on the current media landscape and speculate about future moves.

“Capital Cities/ABC was not only a good acquisition but an essential acquisition, and that acquisition has paid off handsomely,” Eisner said. “We knew that the primetime schedule would be cyclical. Do I wish we hadn’t programmed ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ 22 times a week? In hindsight, yes.”

Recent disputes between content providers and cable carriers over carriage fees rep normal biz tensions and can be dealt with as flaps arise with individual operators, the Disney chief said. “Right now it’s Cox that is whining.”

High-tech enforcement

On the film front, Eisner seemed most focused on stepped-up efforts to combat pic piracy. Topper said Disney has begun outfitting security personnel at movie screenings with night-vision goggles, quipping, “We’re looking for camcorders, not guns.”

Eisner lauded the Federal Communications Commission’s move to ease media ownership regs and said Disney might buy more TV stations if the price is right. Mouse has had a relatively conservative approach toward acquiring such properties, with its owned-and-operated stations serving only 25% of U.S. households even as feds raise the limit on O&O coverage to 45% from the previous 35%.

Room to expand

“We can buy up to another 20% of the rest of the country, so we’re in the best position of anybody,” Eisner said. “While we were not lobbying aggressively for this (change), we certainly like to be in this position. … But it becomes an economic question. There are stations that we would love to have, but we’re not going to destroy (Disney’s stock) value to buy something we don’t have to have.”

Similar to his expressed patience with turnaround efforts at ABC, Eisner insisted Mouse theme parks will rebound eventually. “We’re just waiting for the pent-up demand,” he said. “I know it’s going to happen. I can’t tell you when it’s going to happen.”

Attendance at Mouse parks has been down ever since terrorist concerns swept America, but Eisner said it appears such anxieties may be receding. “The (recent) orange alert came and went, and it didn’t disturb people as much as the last time.”

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