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Disney to buy Pixar and… er… Apple?

Steve Jobs to become CEO of Great Satan of 'Toons, apparently...

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If the latest rumours about the company are to be believed -- and it's a real big 'if' -- Apple is about to become a subsidiary of Disney, as a pawn in a multi-billion deal between Steve Jobs and the Great Satan of Cartoons and Themeparks. Sounds bizarre, no? But let's just think for a moment about how such a deal might work. The lynch-pin is Jobs' other interest, Pixar -- the computer animation company he bought off George Lucas back in 1986. Pixar's links with Disney were forged in 1991, when the two companies signed a three-picture distribution deal on the basis of Pixar's various award-winning short films Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy. The first was movie was Toy Story and the second, A Bug's Life, has just opened here following a US premiere back in November. Both Toy Story and A Bug's Life have done remarkably well at both the box office and the toy store, thanks to some highly lucrative merchandising deals. The current speculation, according to sources cited on the AppleInsider Web site, has Disney talking to Pixar about extending their movie distribution agreement which is then parlayed by Jobs into a takeover deal. It sounds fine: Jobs makes a huge pot of money, and gets to devote all his time and effort to Apple, dropping all this 'interim CEO' stuff. However, the current round of speculation has Jobs bringing Apple into the deal too, allowing Disney to buy Pixar and Apple in a colossal share-swap in return for Jobs becoming Disney CEO in place of the current incumbent, Michael Eisner, who would become chairman. A grand plan, indeed, and one that would certainly appeal to an ego like Jobs', but would it make sense for anyone else? Disney is clearly keenly interested in new technology and the opportunities it offers an entertainment company. It has software operations and recently launched the Go Network with Infoseek, bringing together the portal with Disney's numerous commercial Web sites. But does it need a hardware operation? Well, probably not. As an entertainment operation, Disney is fundamentally platform-agnostic company -- it will merchandise its movies on whatever system will generate the highest sales. Right now, that's Wintel for software and the Internet for content. In any case, Disney is a such a conservative company it's far more likely to move into the Wintel space. Apple might be making inroads into consumer computing with the iMac, but it still has a some way to go to before it can show it's a key player and not a flash-in-the-pan. For Apple, the deal would be advantageous, providing it with a firmer financial footing and a major thumbs-up as an entertainment platform. That said, the Disney name alone is unlikely to persuade all those software developers who ship far more units than Disney does to embrace the Mac. No, what they want to see is rather higher unit shipments than Apple is currently achieving, though it is at least and at last moving in the right direction. On the other hand, ending up as a Disney subsidiary could well kill what reputation Apple has a one of the big guns in the computer business. People simply don't take subsidiaries as seriously as independent players -- somehow it's seen as a sign that they just can't cut it on their own. Of course, that won't stop the respective boards of Apple, Pixar and Disney doing they deal if they think, for whatever reason, it's a good idea. But while a Disney takeover of Pixar seems very likely, we're sceptical about the deal's extension to Apple. ® Oh, and for anyone who thinks a Disney takeover of Apple would be a really cool thing, may we suggest you take a look at Miami Times journalist and top crime novelist Carl Hiaasen's interesting tome Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World...

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