Okay. NOW this is all sort-of semi-starting to make sense.
Let me explain: For weeks now, people have been speculating about why the Walt Disney Company had chosen Philadelphia as the place to hold this year's annual shareholder meeting. I mean, given that the people in Philly don't exactly love the Mouse right about now (They're still mad that the Walt Disney Company abruptly abandoned plans to build a $167 million DisneyQuest at Eighth and Market back in April 2000. Leaving the "City of Brotherly Love" pretty much holding the bag for over $44 million in pre-construction preparatory costs for that project), it just didn't make much sense that Disney would opt to hold its meeting there. Thereby giving the "Boo Birds" an opportunity to cat-call at Mickey.
But -- still -- given that the Walt Disney Company has always used the city where its annual meeting is being held to re-enforce that year's goal or message from the corporation (EX: The 1999 annual meeting -- which was held in Seattle, WA, the town that is considered by many to be the veritable epicenter of the Internet entrepreneur universe -- was seen as the perfect spot to launch Disney's Go.com internet effort. And the 2002 annual meeting was held in Hartford, CT. Which is just down the street from Bristol, CT. Which -- not-so-co-incidentally -- is where ESPN's world headquarters is located. Which gave the Mouse an opportunity to brag about how well its sports network was doing during a year when Mickey had precious little else to boast about). Which is why Philadelphia seemed like an odd choice to me...
Except when you factor in that Comcast's Corporate Headquarters are located in Philadelphia, PA.
Now -- like a lot of you -- I'd been hearing the Disney/Comcast rumors for weeks now.
I'd seen the press speculation, like that Philadephia Inquirer piece back on December 8th, 2003. But everyone that I spoke to within the investment community always dismissed the Comcast/Disney talk as idle internet chatter. Which is why I eventually opted (now to my infinite chagrin) not to pursue this story.
Because -- I have to tell you, gang -- that the fact that Disney had decided to hold its annual shareholders meeting in Philadelphia just nagged at me. I just knew that there just HAD TO be some sort of significant reason why the Mouse would chosen this city -- out of all the other places in the U.S. -- as the perfect spot to hold its annual meeting.
And then there was the Steve Burke factor to consider. For those of you who don't already know: Comcast Cable's president, Steve Burke, has large scale ties to the Walt Disney Company. During his 12 year tenure at the Mouse House, Steve helped found the Disney Store, then shepherded that retail chain through its first few years of explosive growth. Following that coup, Burke moved over to Euro Disney S.A. in late 1992. Where -- as President and Chief Operating Officer of that troubled resort -- he helped put together the complex financial restructuring deal that allowed Disneyland Paris to keep its doors open.
After that extraordinary effort, Burke continued to rocket up Disney's corporate food chain by becoming president of ABC Broadcasting. Where he was in command of the 10 ABC-owned television stations; the ABC Radio Group as well as Buena Vista Television, the company's domestic syndication arm.
Yeah, Burke had been one of Michael Eisner's most trusted lieutenants. One of the men whose name had been on a very short list as a possible successor for Eisner.
But then -- in June of 1998 -- Steve suddenly opted to bail out of the Mouse House. Some say that the opportunity to run Comcast Cable was just too tempting for Burke. Still others suggest that Steve had grown weary of dealing with Eisner on a daily basis, of constantly having his decisions over at ABC second-guessed or micro-managed by Michael. I've also heard that Steve was frustrated by the fact that Eisner was continually refusing to name an heir for his Magic Kingdom (I.E. designate a successor).
So Burke bailed out of the Walt Disney Company. Though I'm told that -- thanks to his extensive network of contacts and old colleagues who still worked for the Mouse -- Steve was able to keep pretty close tabs on what had been going on. How the corporation had seemed to have to lost its way, creatively. How the value of the Disney brand was being damaged by continual corner cutting and short term thinking.
Which brings us back to Philly, folks. Now please don't be taken in by these news reports which suggest that this proposed Comcast/Disney acquisition deal was a complete surprise to Michael Eisner. I mean, if the Walt Disney Company hadn't already had something in the works with Comcast Cable, then why did the Mouse make arrangements WEEKS AGO to hold its annual shareholders meeting in Philadelphia? The city where -- not-so-co-incidentally -- Comcast Cable has its world headquarters.
Is this really a hostile takeover (as the press accounts this morning are suggesting)? Or is this some sort of deal that Michael Eisner was brokering -- which the hope that it would allow Disney's embattled CEO to go out on top, having just engineered one of the largest deals ($54.1 or $66 billion, depending on whether you factor in Disney's debt load that Comcast is looking to assume) -- that simply got away from him?
Either way, Michael Eisner's in a pretty interesting spot this morning. And I'm sure that he'll have some very challenging questions to answer this afternoon when he speaks with investment analysts at Disney's quarterly earnings conference call.
And JimHillMedia.com will be trying to stay on top of this breaking news story. Let's just hope that I don't bobble this one the way I did that Disney/Comcast story back in December.
(Damn it! I KNEW I should have written that article back then ... GRRRRR ...)