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It's t-minus 10 days 'til the official kick-off of Disneyland's 50th anniversary. So you'd think that Michael Eisner -- the company's out-going CEO -- would be sticking close to home. Making sure that everything was in readiness for next week's start of that 18-month-long celebration in honor of the company's first theme park.
Well, as it turns out, Eisner isn't all that interested in Disney's first theme park right now. He's more concerned with where the corporation is going to build its next theme park. Which is why -- as you're reading this -- Uncle Mike and Disney's CEO-to-be Bob Iger are in India.
Oh, sure. Press reports will tell you that the real reason that Eisner & Iger made this special trip to Asia was that they wished to inspect the broadcast facilities of Disney Channel India & Toon Disney India. Two new cable channels (which only began broadcasting back on December 27th) that will help introduce India's more-than-100-million children under the age of 10 to Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the rest of the Disney gang.
But ... If that's really the case ... Then why are Michael & Bob also meeting with Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam? Not to mention the country's prime minister, Manmohan Singh as well the country's chief financial minister, P. Chidambaram? Surely Eisner & Iger aren't going to waste all of that valuable face time with India's top officials by talking up "Jo Jo's Circus"?
No, the smart money is on Uncle Michael trying to set up one last large business deal before he exits the Walt Disney Company in September 30th. So Eisner can then go out on top, go out in style. And what bigger (or better) business deal could there be then making preliminary arrangements to place a new Disney theme park inside a country that has a population of 1.1 billion people?
Mind you, nothing's in writing yet. Nor will it be for quite some time to come. This trip is basically what's known as a "get acquainted" session. As Eisner & Iger meet with the country's top officials to show that they are sincere & serious American businessmen, eager to learn how business is actually done in India.
But -- from the WDI side of things -- I can tell you that the Imagineers are absolutely itching for Michael & Bob to close this deal as quickly as possible. You see, now that the Disneyland Shanghai project is on hold 'til Hong Kong Disneyland proves itself to be a financial success, WDI has no other projects of size in the production pipeline right now. Which is why (in an effort of cut down on overhead costs) the company will begin laying off members of Imagineering's management team starting in the second week of May.
However, were Eisner & Iger to at least get a handshake deal with senior Indian officials ... Well, that would allow the Imagineers to begin preliminary concept & design work on this new Asian theme park. And that would go an awfully long way toward providing some job security to those people at WDI who are just weeks away from being let go.
"Soooooo .... What's the tentative timeline for the construction of Disneyland India?," you ask. Well ... According to folks that I've spoken with, Disney officials really want to fast-track this project. They'd like to have this new theme park up & running by 2009. 2010 at the absolute latest. Why For? Well, due to mounting pressure from the Hong Kong government, it could be 2012 before the Mouse is finally allowed to begin construction of the Shanghai theme park.
Which is why Imagineering reps are now pinning their hopes on Eisner. Hoping against hope that Uncle Michael is actually be able to persuade those senior government officials to allow the Walt Disney Company to begin preliminary development of Disneyland India.
"This deal is Eisner's baby, right?" you query. "So how's Bob feel about all this?" Well, given that Iger told investment analysts back in January that " ... international expansion is one area, particularly in emerging markets like China and India ... " that the Walt Disney Company really wants to get serious about ... I would imagine that Bob's thrilled that Michael's pushing so hard to get this deal done so quickly. "So when can we expect this project to officially be announced?," you continue. Well, that depends on how well this trip's meetings with senior Indian officials go. If all goes according to plan, Eisner & Iger should be able to sign a letter of intent with the government of India just before Uncle Mike officially exits the Disney corporation on September 30th.
Mind you, if Disney's out-going CEO and its in-coming CEO were to be quizzed by the media about this matter ... I can virtually guarantee you that Michael & Bob would deny that they spoke with any Indian officials about the Walt Disney Company possibly building another theme park in Asia. To hear Eisner & Iger tell it, this whole trip was just about getting the chance to see Disney Channel India & Toon Disney India's new broadcast facilities.
Well, if you believe that ... Then I know a guy who can get you a really good deal on the Chenab Bridge. Your thoughts?