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Jobs may breathe life into Disney

Steve Jobs could be the 21st century Walt Disney, helping the media giant Disney founded to regain its lost lead in animated films.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 11:30 IST
Reuters
Reuters
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Steve Jobs could be the 21st century Walt Disney, helping the media giant Disney founded to regain its lost lead in animated films.

Walt Disney Co. announced on Tuesday it would buy Pixar Animation Studios Inc. for $7.4 billion in stock, giving Jobs one of the largest share holdings and a seat on the board.

The Chief Executive of Pixar Animation Studios is nearly a household name as the founder and chief executive of Apple Computer Inc,, where he has helped marry technology and media, marshaling his famous powers of persuasion and charisma.

The 50-year-old head has already turned around the once moribund Apple, helped in large part by the ubiquitous iPod digital music player.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said Jobs would be a "big voice" at Disney.

"Steve is someone that obviously has tremendous experience in a variety of different areas, including feature animation, and as both a board member and a shareholder I hope to tap into that," Iger said in a television interview on CNBC.

Jobs has already sought to break down barriers that have long separated online content, computer hardware and digital distribution, although he cast Iger as the visionary in the television interview.

"We're really buying into Bob's vision, not the other way around," he said.

The two have already collaborated: Jobs and Iger recently jointly announce a deal to sell some ABC network shows including "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" on the iTunes music store owned by Apple.

Jobs, who founded Pixar, could help Disney get back something it wants: its once unassailable animation studio, in a film genre it created but has since given way to its partner, Pixar.

"He will have them understand that what consumers want is access to their content any time and anyplace and they want it on devices that are easy to use and easy to access and, probably more importantly, always synchronized," said Tim Bajarin, president of market research firm Creative Strategies and who has followed Apple for more than 20 years.

One of the principal reasons for the iPod's success, aside from its elegant and simple design, is its ability to easily sort, display and synchronize songs with the iTunes digital jukebox software that works on Macs and PCs. Apple has sold more than 42 million iPods since their introduction.

Jobs and his team followed up with an iPod Mini, the Shuffle, the Nano, and, most recently, the video iPod announced late last year. More content deals have followed with General Electric Co's NBC Universal and more are sure to come this year, Jobs said in a recent interview.

Jobs and Stephen Wozniak founded Apple Computer in the Jobs' family garage nearly 30 years ago in Silicon Valley and soon introduced the Apple 1. But it was the Apple II that became a huge success and gave Apple its position as a critical player in the then-nascent PC industry.

Jobs, by now a multimillionaire after Apple's IPO in December 1980, in 1983 famously lured John Sculley, then CEO of Pepsi, to lead Apple with the question: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?"

In 1984 came the Macintosh, the first commercially successful computer that had an easy-to-use graphical user interface and cemented Apple's prominence in the market at the time.

Despite the success of the Mac, or perhaps partly because of it, the relationship between Jobs and Sculley soured, and in 1985 the board removed most of Jobs' powers and he left the company. Soon after, he sold all but one share of his Apple holdings.

Apple's purchase of NeXT -- the computer company Jobs founded after leaving Apple -- in 1997 brought Jobs back to Apple. Later that year he became interim CEO and in 2000 the company dropped "interim" from his title.

He co-founded Pixar in 1986 with Edwin Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, buying Lucasfilm's computer graphics division for $10 million. In 1995 came "Toy Story," the breakout computer animated film. Academy Award winners "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles" followed.

Disney's first computer-graphics release "Chicken Little, released November 4, has had respectable box office sales of $279 million, but still less than Pixar's lowest-grossing film, "A Bug's Life," which earned $363 million worldwide.

"He really does believe technology, if done correctly, has the possibility to change the world," Bajarin said.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 11:30 IST