Disney Board to Discuss Pixar Animation Deal

Disney's board of directors meets Monday amid speculation that the entertainment company will buy Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar's animated offerings have been more successful than Disney's in recent years.

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Disney appears set to acquire Pixar, that's the animation company that made the hit movies Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. That deal could make Pixar's Steve Jobs the biggest individual shareholder in Disney. Steve Jobs, of course, is also the CEO of Apple Computer. Here to discuss these developments is NPR Entertainment Correspondent Kim Masters.

Kim, how likely is it that this deal will really happen?

KIM MASTERS reporting:

Well, the Disney board has been meeting, yesterday and today, and I've talked to insiders at both companies who seem to think that it will. But it's not done yet.

INSKEEP: This would be quite an historic deal, in a way, wouldn't it? Because you have Disney, this company that has been famous for its animation for decades, now reaching out to grab a company that's been more successful in animation in recent years.

MASTERS: Yes, Disney has lost its primacy in animation, and that's part of the reason, I think, that there's been a lot of pressure to make a deal of some kind. Pixar had walked away two years ago, before that they were partners and Disney was paid a fee for distributing Pixar films, and it was thought that the new deal would be another, sort of, sweetened distribution deal for Pixar. But as it appears now, Disney will just end up buying Pixar, and basically acquiring the animation strength that had ebbed away.

INSKEEP: Although, as Disney buys the company, as you've mentioned, Steve Jobs then becomes a significant figure at Disney. What would he do there?

MASTERS: Well that's a question that's on a lot of peoples' minds. I think the signal that they'll be sending from Pixar is that Steve Jobs loves Apple, he's caught up in Apple matters, and is not going to take Disney over. But, Steve Jobs, not unlike Michael Eisner, with whom he so famously clashed, is going to be, if this works out as expected, a very significant shareholder in Disney. So it's hard to say, I mean, he will be on the boards, it is considered likely. There, the signal is that he would not want to be chairman of the board, a job that will come open by the end of the year, and you know he's going to have a lot of money, presumably, caught up in Disney, and he would, I think, have an interest in how things go.

INSKEEP: What caused Steve Jobs' conflicts with Disney when these two companies worked together in the past?

MASTERS: A lot of this is the personality of Michael Eisner and the personality of Steve Jobs, both very tough, difficult people. And, you know, they quarreled over things like, would the sequel to Toy Story count as one of the movies that Pixar had to make under its deal with Disney. It seemed from the outside somewhat irrational, given that Pixar was churning out one giant animated hit after another while Disney was floundering, that you would fight with talent like that. It seemed to be incumbent on Michael Eisner to make the deal work, and that's certainly what Bob Iger has set out to do.

INSKEEP: Bob Iger is the CEO who replaced Michael Eisner.

MASTERS: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Beyond the personalities, will this really change the way that either company is run, or what we end up seeing on movie screens?

MASTERS: Well, you know, Disney, like all major entertainment companies, is at the brink of a huge change, as, facing the digital future. Steve Jobs is really the king of all media, he is at the crossroads of all of this, and I think a lot of people will be looking to him and saying, you know, show us, and take Disney into this future. Disney has already made moves in this direction by making a deal with Apple to have shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost downloadable on an iPod, and I think people will think that maybe Steve Jobs can help Disney in particular as a bellwether for studios generally figure out how to manage in this new world.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Entertainment Correspondent Kim Masters. Kim, thanks.

MASTERS: Thank you.

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