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IGER SEES ANOTHER TRY BY COMCAST FUTURE DISNEY OFFER 'INEVITABLE'.

Byline: Greg Hernandez Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Iger said Tuesday that he believes Comcast Corp. is likely to come back with a higher bid to try to buy the Disney empire.

``I think Comcast comes back,'' Iger said, despite Comcast head Brian Roberts' insistence this week that his company will not sweeten last month's takeover offer. ``I sense this inevitability to another offer being made . . . that's in all likelihood going to be higher than the offer that was made. It's just my opinion.''

Iger, appearing at the annual Bear Stearns media and entertainment conference in Palm Beach, Fla., called a future Comcast offer ``inevitable'' during a wide-ranging session that also touched on Disney's split with Pixar Animation studios and last week's raucous Disney shareholder meeting in Philadelphia, where Michael D. Eisner was stripped of his title as chairman of Disney's board, although he remains CEO.

The Feb. 11 hostile takeover bid from Comcast, rejected by the Disney board less than a week later, came on the heels of Pixar calling off talks to extend its lucrative partnership with Disney and placing the blame squarely on Eisner.

Roberts appeared at the Bear Stearns conference Monday, where he outlined his case for a merger with Disney, which he said would result in creating faster value for shareholders of both companies. But the Comcast chief executive said Disney was not a ``must have'' and that he would not raise the original all-stock bid now valued at $47.7 billion.

``If it happens, great,'' Roberts told investors and analysts. ``If it doesn't, life goes on.''

But after last week's Disney shareholder vote, the Philadelphia-based cable television giant had seized the moment to renew its unsolicited bid for Disney. Comcast had no comment on Iger's remarks Tuesday.

Iger said the board will give any future bids serious consideration ``with an eye toward shareholders and shareholder value and what it means to the long-term future of the company.''

While Pixar CEO Steve Jobs has taken some parting shots at Eisner since the two companies announced they are parting company after the release of ``Cars'' and ``The Incredibles'' over the next two years, Iger spoke in a conciliatory manner about Pixar.

``I hope maybe things will change,'' he said. ``I'm not suggesting they will or won't. But we actually still have a decent relationship with them, and we're both invested in seeing that these two pictures are successful, and I believe they will be.''

Pixar declined comment Tuesday.

Iger said if the two companies do not reconcile, Disney will continue to mine the value of past blockbusters including last year's ``Finding Nemo'' and other hits such as ``Monsters, Inc.,'' ``Toy Story,'' and ``Toy Story 2'' and ``A Bug's Life.'' Disney has the right to create sequels to any of the Pixar-created films they have released and to also use the characters at theme parks and on television.

``I think the combination of our efforts - Pixar with tremendous creativity and Disney with both marketing and distribution clout and some creative input along the way - created unbelievable product that will live for years and create value for shareholders of both our companies for a long period of time,'' he said.

Iger acknowledged that the split with Pixar was particularly painful on the public relations front but still believes Disney made the correct decision. He said a restructured deal with Pixar extending beyond the current agreement expiring in 2006 would have required that Disney concede far too much financially.

``There wasn't an angle that we missed, and in the end it just didn't make sense,'' he said. ``Steve believed that there was a level that he wanted to go . . . we just weren't able to do a deal.''

Iger acknowledged that Disney had come to rely far too much on Pixar product over the past decade while its own studio-created animation has often faltered since the heady days of ``The Lion King'' and ``Pocahontas'' in the early 1990s.

``For a 2-D animated picture to survive, it has to be fantastic, almost perfect in terms of story and character and concept, and that doesn't happen very often,'' he said. ``We have had some success, 'Lilo and Stitch' and 'Tarzan,' but we have not come close to the success on our own that we've seen in the Pixar relationship.''

Among Disney's animation failures was the costly ``Treasure Planet,'' which tanked at the box office in 2002. Meanwhile, last fall's ``Brother Bear'' has grossed a respectable $85 million but was dramatically overshadowed by the $339.7 million grossed by ``Nemo.''

Iger said that going forward Disney has 20-30 pictures in development, mostly computer-generated animation. The first, ``Chicken Little,'' comes out in 2005.

``It's a challenge to us; clearly, we've got to prove to the world that we still have it.''

Greg Hernandez, (818) 713-3758

greg.hernandez(at)dailynews.com

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 10, 2004
Words:818
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