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The BLOG FLUME -- Disney A.E.

The ink-stained class ponders the Walt Disney Company's future After Eisner. Hey, haven't we been fantasizing about that for years?

Written by Robert Niles
Published: September 13, 2004 at 10:35 AM

Eyes on Eisner
Motley Fool -- Sept. 13

Eisner Successor Speculation Swirls at Disney
Hollywood Reporter -- Sept. 13

Eisner Sets Exit, but What's the Strategy?
Los Angeles Times -- Sept. 13

At Disney, Mending Fences or Moving On?
New York Times -- Sept. 13

Don't Blame Eisner
Theme Park Insider -- Sept. 12

The weekend gave the ink-stained pooh-bahs time to reflect on Disney CEO Michael Eisner's announced departure. The Motley Fool serves up the obvious -- before Frank Wells died, good. After Wells died, bad. The investment website offers that the company's got no place to go but up in 2005, however, presumably allowing Eisner to leave on a high note.

The Hollywood Reporter looks forward, not back, appropriate for a town with the historical sense of an amnesiac after a fifth apple martini. Who's gonna head the Mouse House? Iger? Karmazin? Jobs? Roy Disney? Bad karma points to the H.R. for mentioning Paul Pressler, even if it does bury him in the final graf, where the H.R. sticks the names of people who really don't have anything to do with the story but have to be included for no other reason than to prevent hostile phone calls from flacks of the snubbed.

The L.A. Times buries the lead, devoting the top grafs to unsourced speculation about how Eisner might change now that he's announced he will leave. Yet another anonymous source answers the question in the 12th graf: "Personality doesn't change." Duh. The more interesting news? Overtures may be forthcoming to Pixar, in an attempt to get the animation companty to re-up with a Eisner-less Disney.

The N.Y. Times leads with that issue in its story, but takes a far less optimistic view toward a reunion. But the NYT suggests that Eisner's departure might make Harvey Weinstein's life a lot easier. Not that very people in Hollywood would welcome *that* thought.

Finally, some contrarian bumpkin at some theme park website suggests that it is the Disney Dorks themselves (to borrow Kevin Baxter's oh-so-affectionate term) that brought this management meltdown upon their beloved company by not practicing a little tough love and spending their money elsewhere when Disney trotted out so many crappy videos, movies, TV shows, books, clothes, kitchen gadgets and theme park rides in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Oh wait, that was me.

Readers' Opinions

From J. Dana on September 13, 2004 at 8:26 PM
Don't mention Paul Pressler's name around many of those professionals still hard at work at Disney on both U.S. coasts. His departure was both welcome and celebrated. He is credited with turning the theme parks into large shopping malls with an attraction or two. And what about this Bob Iger thing? After having read the interview with him, some show producers over at WDW bristled, saying: "When asked about the job, Iger didn't say why he wanted it; he just said, 'Well, I deserve it.'" Hmmmm. Is that reason enough to give it to him? We don't want just another peeing match, do we? Is there anyone out there who actually believes in the whole Disney name anymore? What about Steve Jobs? A visionary, to be sure. Perhaps the most direct heir apparent to Walt's legacy. An executive with Disney's multimedia productions says she'd prefer to see Judson Green come back. For those of you who don't remember, Judson was operation leader at WDW during some of the big changes during the 90s. He loved the company and he genuinely cared about the people working for him and the guests coming into the park. There's no chance he'll get the job, but it does bring up a good point: what type of person is the best fit for this job. For all his shortcomings, at least Eisner "got it" when it came to preserving the company's core assets (at least he did initially). He was so interested in every aspect of the company, that he even concerned himself with the design of the wallpaper during the construction of the Animal Kingdom Lodge (I guess he did a good job). Heck, he's even supposed to approve logos for internal company "clubs" or internal organizations. This is a little much, but it shows two things: 1) A non-ending concern for everything about the company; 2) A control-freak management style that chased away all likely successors.

But let me ask you this: Do you think it's any coincidence that almost all qualified candidates are from OUTSIDE the company? All the good guys leave. Why stay in with a CEO who only appreciates how well you can say "yes, sir" and is only interested in how long it takes you to lean over and kiss his....as sure as I am that Eisner was the right guy for the right time (the numbers show it: $1.7 billion revenue in 1984, and $27 billion in 2003), he's kinda out-stayed his welcome.

So, will Roy Disney get back on board and be the nostalgic namesake for the company again once a more suitable CEO is found? (remember, is the one who brought Eisner on). And will Pixar cozey back up to the mouse if there's a new Big Cheese? Who knows? But over at WDW, from what I'm told, no one was that surprised (were you?). And no one is that concerned either.

Why two more years? Roy Disney is trying to cut that long good-bye short, but why do you think Eisner is taking so long? Probably because he expects to personally pick, train, and direct the successor. If the board were wise, they'd cut his swan song to 90 days and move on.

From Kevin Baxter on September 14, 2004 at 3:15 AM
I think everyone is waiting to see how Disney does with The Incredibles in November. There's no way it will beat Shrek 2, but if it doesn't do at least Monsters, Inc numbers, Pixar will want to stay away from Disney for more reasons than just Eisner. And if Shark Tale beats it, then chances of Pixar returning to the fold would stand at about ZERO.
From J. Dana on September 14, 2004 at 1:09 PM
Shrek 2 is a sort of aberration in earnings...it's not normal even by blockbuster standards. But doing Monsters' level is also a tall order. You know, world-wide, monsters brought in more than half a billion dollars...it outdid Shrek overseas. So that's also a steep point to measure oneself by. How sad is it that doing "only" $200 million would be considered a failure. I didn't think Nemo would do that well, so look how well I predicted that one. The Incredibles doesn't have cutesy talking animals, so I'm not sure how well-recieved it's gonna be. Shrek had Donkey. Nemo had Nemo. And the Lion King had nothing but. Those are the top three animated films. All talking animals. I hope Pixar proves me wrong again, because I'm really interested in the Incredibles. I think Shark Tales is a threat, though. Big numbers for sure....just how big is the question.
From Robert Niles on September 14, 2004 at 2:07 PM
Can't both Disney and Pixar spin the B.O. for Incredibles their way?

If it is a hit, Disney says that proves how well it can open and promote a movie. Pixar counters that the B.O. really demontrates its perfect track record in creating hits.

If the movie fails to become a hit, Disney says Pixar's slipping and that the studio's lost its creative edge. Pixar counters that Disney bungled the promotion and distribution, perhaps due to sour grapes about Pixar splitting.

So, ultimately, the performance might not tell either side anything that it doesn't already want to hear.

From Kevin Baxter on September 17, 2004 at 1:05 AM
True, as far as that goes. But Pixar will undoubtedly BELIEVE a poor Incredibles performance will have NOTHING whatsoever to do with them. They've hit all these homeruns after all (although I would call A Bug's Life a triple). Underwhelming box office will just be the straw that keeps the camel from going back to Disney. Arguments could be made - and I have made them - that Disney has failed them previously. Finding Nemo was no less loved than Shrek 2 but it got seriously dusted. AND it got dusted by a film that was out in a MUCH more competitive summer. Plus, there is an argument that Toy Story 2 not only didn't make what it should have, but that Disney wasn't interested in it as an actual feature film until it was near completion.

Beyond that, I don't see it being all that sad that certain movies are considered disappointments if they make "only" $200M domestically. A movie that costs more than $100M to make and close to half that in marketing, SHOULDN'T it make more than that? Certainly that is the goal, or they'd give up on these expensive films.

I think Incredibles may have more problems than just no talking animals. People are looking for humor in their CGI films, and the trailers play it as more action than laughs.

Plus, where is that supposedly awesome Disney PR machine? I have already seen Shark Tale ads everywhere. I haven't seen anything on TV for Pixar's film yet. It opens in two months and where is the Shrek-sized hype? Even Nemo got more than this. Maybe all the commercials are on ABC, which no one watches!