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The Iger sanctions

Exec lays out strategy for Disney top job

NEW YORK — If he were Mouse House CEO, Robert Iger said Tuesday, content, creativity and innovation “would be a real priority of mine.” So would international expansion, especially in China and India, and creating a “growth-oriented culture … because a lot of our businesses are mature.”

“Those are the areas I would focus on,” he told investors at a media conference in Phoenix. Also, “I think Disney needs to have an entrepreneurial culture and an entrepreneurial spirit” and be run as efficiently as possible, he said.

Iger, Mouse chief operating officer, is the only internal candidate being considered to replace outgoing CEO Michael Eisner.

His candidacy, launched in the dark days of ’04 with Disney under heavy shareholder fire and ABC in the tank, has achieved a new vibrancy — to the point where many on Wall Street and in Hollywood expect to see him crowned. If fawning introductions and thunderous applause at investor confabs are any guide, he’s a shoo-in.

Disney’s board hired an executive search firm to troll for outside candidates and has said it expects to announce Eisner’s successor in June.

ABC’s impressive turnaround has been key for Iger. “I wish I had the formula. I could bottle and sell it,” he joked.

“It’s the right people. There have been a number of regime changes. We think we hit it right naming Anne Sweeney and Steve McPherson. He’s the final and the only call when it comes to making decisions for the network in primetime. ‘Desperate Housewives’ was brought to his attention first.”

“A couple of hits (‘Housewives’ and ‘Lost’) can go a long way, not just in changing perceptions, but in improving the business,” he added, especially when Disney owns the worldwide rights to both shows.

Iger said burgeoning channels of distribution make content ever more valuable and Disney wants to invest more aggressively — for more upside — beyond purely licensing its product to third parties. A case in point is ESPN’s wireless venture with Sprint.

Iger mentioned videogames as a potential acquisition target, probably developers who could work under conglom’s Buena Vista Games unit rather than more costly publishers.

In film, he lauded “The Incredibles” and “National Treasure” and said the upcoming “Chronicles of Narnia” series showed “real franchise potential.” He said 300 global retailers at a recent meeting in Anaheim thought so as well.

There were no questions or discussion during his presentation about the future of Disney’s deals with Pixar and Miramax.

In response to a question, Iger said he thought the Sony-backed Blu-Ray format for high-definition DVDs “offers more services and dimension to the consumer” than the rival HD DVD standard championed by Toshiba.

Disney is the only studio beside Sony to commit to Blu-Ray so far. U, WB and Par have signed onto HD DVD.

“Both services are more similar than dissimilar and our hope is that one platform emerges, and that it happens sooner rather than later,” he said.

Time Warner chief financial officer Wayne Pace said earlier in the day that both platforms have advantages, but noted HD DVD was set to hit the market earlier. Warner has a huge library and “lots of things we want to get out there as soon as possible,” he said.