Pixar’s boss animated about summer releases

'Nemo' numbers have Jobs mulling seasonal switch

The summer film season might soon get even more crowded.

Pixar CEO Steve Jobs said in an investor conference call Thursday that the CGI studio is considering moving its future movies from a holiday release to summer.

Exec said the possible change was motivated by a comparison of “Finding Nemo” with “Monsters, Inc.” Research showed that more than 65% of the fish pic’s $83 million B.O. advantage is explained by higher attendance at midweek screenings because children are out of school. In addition, a summer theatrical release would let Pixar release its movies on homevideo for the holidays.

“The comparison suggests Pixar can maximize return on its films by releasing them theatrically in the summer and on homevideo in the holiday season,” Jobs stated.

But the CEO declined to make any specific predictions of release schedule dates and wouldn’t say whether it would start with next year’s “Cars” or might begin with Pixar’s first non-Disney film, slated for 2007.

Either way, he said a change would necessitate Pixar sliding its schedule back by six months rather than moving a release date up.

Jobs remained elusive on the question of Pixar’s next studio partner, although he did state that his company is not talking to Disney at all, confirming Mouse House prexy Bob Iger’s prediction that the two won’t make another deal.

He said Pixar is “getting to know some of the other studios, but we’re not in negotiations with any of them.”

Exec added that Pixar can likely wait until the end of 2005 to make a decision, especially if it pushes back its release schedule. The opening of the top post at Disney could yield a musical chairs effect among other studio toppers and Jobs wants to wait until that settled before making a final deal.

“I’m fully confident we will finish a favorable distribution agreement with one of the major studios in the time we need to,” he stated.

However such a deal turns out, Pixar is well poised to fulfill its goal of fully funding its post-“Cars” slate with $833 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, a move that will let it own 100% of its movies in the future.

Jobs added that he has had discussions about creating sequels to “Toy Story” and other properties, which Disney has the right to produce with or without Pixar’s involvement, but hasn’t made any decisions on whether to take part in the production. If Disney makes sequels to Pixar pics independently, the CGI studio would still receive a passive royalty.

Colorful quarter

News came as Pixar reported another boffo quarter of earnings, driven by continued strong homevideo performance for last year’s “Finding Nemo.” Company reported $44.5 million in revenue in the third quarter, up 47% from a year ago, and net income of $22.4 million, a 77% jump.

Diluted earnings per share of 38¢ were nearly double company’s previous guidance of 20¢.

Ninety percent of the revenue was attributable to Pixar’s films, with the rest coming from sales of its animation software. “Finding Nemo” generated $22.8 million from homevideo and consumer products in the third quarter, while “Monsters, Inc.” brought in $12.1 million.

Jobs and chief financial officer Simon Bax are very optimistic after the $71 million B.O. opening of “The Incredibles,” predicting it would become one of the most successful animated films of all time and specifically saying it looked poise to beat WB’s “The Polar Express” this weekend.

Pixar is now predicting it will generate diluted earnings per share of between $2.10 and $2.20 in 2004, driven primarily by the fourth-quarter box office of “The Incredibles.”

With pic scheduled to hit every major international market by the end of the year, company said that it will likely recognize nearly all the domestic box office and 75% of its international ticket sales in the current quarter.

Shares in Pixar were up 3% before earnings were released, closing at $79.94 Thursday.

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