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Iger: Digital is 'Most Important'

8 Jun, 2005 By: Paul B., Kathleen A.

Robert Iger, who becomes CEO of the Walt Disney Co. on Oct. 1, amid telling analysts Tuesday that he has begun renegotiations with Pixar Animation Studios, said that shepherding a further embrace of digital technologies is one of the "most important things I need to do" for the company.

Speaking to Wall Street analysts at the Deutsche Bank Securities Media Telecom Conference (webcast), Iger said he will "not allow management of traditional businesses get in the way of very, very important migration to new-media platforms."

He specifically mentioned video-on-demand and beefing up the rich-media offerings at Disney's various Internet sites, including full-motion video and ABC.com and ESPN.com, and making the content easily portable.

"The competition will get the best of us if we don't move in that direction," he said.

He spoke of possible initiatives like a "Desperate Housewives Plus," whereby consumers would buy an episode a day after it airs, though the purchased episode would include omitted scenes and "a few more bells and whistles."

He said that he's having "good talks" with Comcast and Time Warner Cable that will put some of his new-media ideas in the marketplace next year.

Of Pixar, he refused to give odds on whether the lucrative partnership might be extended, though he added, "The fact we're having a dialogue is very healthy."

He said he's seen most of Cars, the next and possibly last of the Disney-Pixar films, and called it a "great movie," saying Pixar CEO Steve Jobs and he seemingly agree that to continue what has been a lucrative partnership was to their mutual best interests.

Executives from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia also spoke at the conference Tuesday, saying ad pages for the company's publishing group are on the rebound with a 40% increase in the second quarter. "We are also very optimistic for advertising for 2006," CEO Susan Lyne said.

The company's TV division soon will go into high gear, she said, with Stewart's return to TV in the fall. Stewart's syndicated show will bring in revenue from license fees from stations, which Lyne said are showing a strong response, more than double when her previous show was at its strongest.

The syndicated show will have a new format that will feature celebrity interviews and a live audience of about 155 people.

While "Martha Stewart: The Apprentice" is a separate deal and primarily a "promotional vehicle," it will expose MSLO to an audience that might not otherwise watch Stewart, Lyne said.

Stewart has drawn much attention from the media recently, and Lyne said that is benefiting the company. "The buzz around Martha herself has made people more curious."

An upcoming DVD deal with Warner Home Video will help MSLO, too, Lyne said. The company will be releasing DVDs beginning in the fourth quarter.

Paul Bond reported from Los Angeles; Kathleen Anderson reported from New York.

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