Comcast vs. Disney
Disney, and the business of hostile takeoversPart 2
February 17, 2004
by Alex Stroup, editor
In Part 2 of this series,
Alex continues his look at Comcast's bid to buy the Walt Disney Company. [Part
1 was published last week, and is available here.]
Q: Is this a hostile takeover?
A: In my lengthy explanation
last week of what hostile takeovers are and how they work, I forgot to answer
the more fundamental question, Is this a hostile takeover?
answer to that is not yet, but it is pretty clear that it is a road
Comcast is willing to travel. What we have at this point is an unsolicited offer,
which will be considered by Disney's Board of Directors. When the board rejects
the offer, Comcast will either sweeten itgetting further consideration from
the boardor it will begin taking more aggressive measures to circumvent
After this story was filed, it was released that the Disney board
was officially rejecting Comcast's first offer. With the offer less than the current
value of Disney, it was a no-brainer. Now the ball is back in Comcast's court.
We'll likely see a quick reaction.
Q: Does this impact the situation with
A: From now until Pixar officially signs a new distribution
deal with someone, this is going to be one of the side questions to every Disney
Yes, this could impact the situation with Pixar. There are a lot
of hints that the problems between Pixar and Disney are mostly personal issues
between Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs. If that is the case, removing one of those
people from the picture certainly changes things. Pixar still has two years before
they have to sign a new deal with someone, and that is plenty of time for
everything about the Disney/Pixar relationship to change.
it comes to a deal between Disney and Pixar, Eisner and Comcast have to look at
it in fundamentally different ways. As part of a new deal, Jobs is asking Disney
to give up several valuable things it already has (including certain rights to
the existing movies, giving up the existing lucrative terms for The Incredibles
and Cars). Michael Eisner has to look at that and say, You're asking
us to give up things we know to be worth millions of dollars for reduced rights
to movies that may be worthless. When you're an executive trying to turn
performance around, it must be pretty hard to give away known assets in favor
of potential ones.
For Comcast, it is much easier to promise away things
they wouldn't otherwise have. Also, nobody on the Comcast team has any real experience
in the movie business. They don't know much about making them, marketing them,
or leveraging them. From this group of people, one would have to think it would
be easier to get a sweeter deal than from Eisner (who has been making movies for
almost 30 years now, going back to his days at Paramount).
Q: What about
X part of the company?
A: At this stage of events, it is
certainly impossible to say anything with certainty. So far, Comcast has not indicated
there is any part of the Disney Company it's not interested in, that it would
sell or spin off various divisions should its bid succeed.
It is obvious,
though, that it is ABC and the cable networks that are of most interest to Comcast's
current business. If it weren't for the presence of former Disney executive Steve
Burke in all of this, it would be much more cut and dry that such things as Hyperion
Books, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club would be way out on the fringe
of a new Comcast-Disney company.
But Steve Burke and his past experience
at Disney does raise the possibility that Disney might continue pretty much as
is. That Burke would be put in charge of Disney operations and continue running
it pretty much intact (minus the networks) as almost a subsidiary of Comcast would
probably be the best outcome for the fan of Disney magic.
at this point in time, it is impossible to say how the future would change for
specific divisions of Disney.
Q: Who is Steve Burke?
A: If the merger
happens, Steve Burke is the Comcast executive likely to be the guy who will end
up running all things Disney. And let's face it, if someone is going to buy Disney,
it probably isn't a bad thing if the guy in charge is already listed in Dave Smith's
encyclopedic Disney A to Z.
Stephen Burke has very long ties to the
current Disney company that go all the way back to childhood. Steve's father spent
30 years working for Thomas Murphy at Capital Cities and then ABC/Capital Cities.
Murphy, a personal friend of Burke's, is now one of the members of the Disney
board of directors that will be charged with accepting or rejecting Comcast's
offer (until his forced retirement as of the next board elections).
to Disney A to Z, Burke joined Disney in 1985 and by 1987 was a vice president
of The Disney Store, where he played key roles in its phenomenal growth. In 1992,
he went to Paris to join the staff of Euro Disney, and by 1995, was the President
and Chief Operating Officer of Euro Disney, having helped turn the company around
to profit, refinanced its significant debt, and changed its name to Disneyland
In 1996, he moved over to ABC after it was purchased by Walt Disney,
and continued to rise in the ranks.
Not included in Disney A to Z
are the frequent mentions from that time of Burke as a possible successor to Eisner.
But as with so many other possible successors who left, he eventually left the
company to run Comcast's cable operations (where he received high credit for a
smooth merger of AT&T Broadband into the company). When he left, many had the
impression that not working for Eisner was a plus in Burke's book.
else, Burke certainly knows the right things to say to mollify the Disney fans.
How could you not like quotes like these:
And one of
the first things that we would like to do isif we're fortunate enough to
put these two companies togetheris do everything we can to empower the existing
animation group to make sure that they feel like they're right in the heart of
area where we think that there's room for revitalization and improvement are the
Disney theme parks. It's hard to think of a product or service in the United States
that families love more than the Disney theme parks. And we believe that there
are ways to revitalize those businesses, restore some of the creative spark to
the attractions and hotel and concessions side of those businesses.
if you believe that Eisner is actually harming the Disney image, this merger may
not be such a bad thing. This guy knows Disney and knows the history of the company.
There is every reason to hope that he'd be a great candidate for marshaling the
magic that many feel has gone missing.
However, he is a businessman. He
has never been directly responsible for creative content, and all of his greatest
achievements at Disney were financial. Just a cautionary note.
Q: Why is
Comcast a bigger company than Disney?
A: Market capitalization.
It essentially boils down the fact that something is worth as much as people will
pay for it. For a publicly traded company, it is the stock market that demonstrates
what someone will pay for a company.
Let's keep the math simple and say
that Disney is owned by 10 people, each of whom owns one share of Disney stock,
for which they paid $1,000. That means that Disney is worth $10,000 (its market
Owner #1 decides he wants to retire to an island in the
Caribbean and needs cash to bribe a local government official into selling it.
So he announces his share is for sale, and nine people come forward to buy it.
A bidding war happens and eventually the share is sold for $1,000,000.
something is worth what people will pay for it, not only is that share now worth
$1,000,000, but the nine other identical shares also become worth $1,000,000 each.
So, based on the sale of that one share, the market capitalization of the whole
company has gone from $10,000 to $10,000,000.
Based on this, the nine other
shareholders all realize they're rich and want to own islands as well. So they
sell theirs. But it turns out the remaining eight buyers were the only ones in
the whole world particularly interested in owning Disney. Owners #2 through #9
are all able to sell their shares for close to $1,000,000 but owner #10 has nobody
to sell to. So she starts dropping her price, and finally finds a buyer when she
gets down to $50,000.
So, at that moment in time, a share that was once
worth only $1,000, and then $1,000,000, is now worth only $50,000, and the whole
company is valued at only $500,000.
And that is how the stock market works.
It is constantly resetting the value for a single share of company stock and therefore
can wildly increase or decrease the total market capitalization of companies that
have millions of shares.
On the day that Comcast announced the offer, Disney
had about 2 billion shares worth $23.85 each. Comcast had about 2.25 billion shares
worth $33.40 each. In other words, as far as the stock market was concerned, Disney
was worth about $49 billion and Comcast was worth about $75 billion, or 50 percent
more than Disney.
I'm certainly not going to get into why those are the
stock prices, but that is why, in the world of business, Comcast is clearly the
larger company, while to the minds of most people Disney appears much bigger.
in mind, though, that much bigger (as measured by market capitalization) doesn't
necessarily mean everything. It is entirely possible that if Disney's stock continues
to rise and Comcast's to fall, they'd end up with similar market capitalization.
That doesn't necessarily kill the deal. Market capitalization is most important
for all-stock deals of the type Comcast has offered. We already know that isn't
going to be enough, and Comcast may look to pile cash on top. And a smaller company
with lots of cash can be just as dangerous as a huge company with valuable stock.
See the answer to What is a white knight?
below for more on this.
Q: How has the market reacted to the offer?
When Comcast made its initial offer to buy all outstanding shares of Disney stock,
the offer was 0.78 shares of Comcast for each share of Disney. At that moment,
this was a premium of about 10 percent (that is, the value of 78 percent of one
Comcast share was 10 percent higher than the value of a full share of Disney).
Disney shares rose and Comcast's fell. By the end of the day, the change was such
that 78 percent of a Comcast share was worth less than that of a Disney share.
On Friday, the trend continued. What this indicates is that investors expect a
takeover to have a good chance of success, but that Comcast will have to significantly
increase its offer, or a third party will enter the fray with an even better bid.
the market also made some speculative predictions on ways that Disney might defend
against a takeover. One of the things a company can do is try to make itself too
big to swallow. In addition to the greenmail mentioned in Part 1 of this series
(Disney repurchased shares from raiders at a significant premium), this tactic
was also taken by Disney back in 1984. To puff itself up, Disney quickly purchased
Arvida, a Florida real estate developer, which it then sold in 1987 after the
crisis passed (Disney, however, is still embroiled in ongoing lawsuits resulting
from 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which showed many Arvida projects to have been poorly
Analysts seem to agree that it will be difficult for Disney
to buy itself out of this one, but should it try, the common name mentioned is
Echostar, a provider of satellite television. Such an acquisition would make Disney
a bigger pill to swallowabout $11 billionand would also throw a significant
antitrust wrench into a Comcast/Disney purchase, since it is unclear if government
regulators would allow a company to own both cable and satellite delivery channels.
are many aspects that make it unlikely, but on news of the Comcast offer, Echostar
shares rose more than $2, and the price remains up more than a dollar.
a side story, investors in Disneyland Paris were excited by the Comcast announcement.
Shares in the holding company that owns Disneyland Paris (Euro Disney S.C.A.,
of which Disney owns about 40 percent) rose about 15 percent on the day of the
announcement. It is somewhat perplexing to figure, though, as it is expected that
a Comcast/Disney merger would have little effect on the financial standing of
Disneyland Paris, which is well separated from the actual Walt Disney Company.
What is a white knight?
A: A white knight is an investor
brought in by a company to fend off an unwanted takeover. The white knight could
either be a different purchaser who would buy the company on preferable terms,
or someone who simply makes it much more difficult for the takeover to happen.
name bandied about freely the last few days is Microsoft. Not only is Microsoft
one of the top five largest companies traded in the United Stateswith a
value over $280 billion, the combined Comcast/Disney company would still be less
than half as large as Microsoftbut Microsoft has something not many companies
have: Over $50 billion in cash. You know that fantasy we've all had of
walking on to a car lot and saying, How much if I just pay cash? Well,
Microsoft could just about do that with Disney; just show up at a board meeting
and write a check.
If Disney could negotiate a deal on its terms with Microsoft,
Comcast wouldn't be able to do anything about it. Disney would be offering something
to Microsoft that it used to want. For a while, Microsoft was investing
heavily in media networks (MSNBC, for example), but that is a position it has
moved away from in recent years.
After much initial speculation, the analysts
seem to have agreed that Microsoft isn't likely to be Disney's white knight. In
fact, they've now flipped and wonder if Microsoft will be Comcast's white
It is clear that Comcast will have to improve its offer. The current
offer is stock only, but if it gets much more expensive, Comcast is going to have
to start using cash, and Microsoft has both a lot of cash and an interest in seeing
Comcast succeedMicrosoft is one of Comcast's largest stakeholders, owning
about 7 percent of the company. If Microsoft has an interest, it could significantly
increase its ownership of Comcast, providing the company with a hefty bankroll
for an improved offer.
Other than that, there aren't a lot of candidates
out there for friendly takeovers. There just aren't many companies that have both
the ability and the desire to purchase a company the size of Disney. So, if it
isn't going to find someone bigger to be a white knight, what are its options?
could find someone smaller to take up a significant ownership interest in Disney
and help block the shareholder vote on a takeover. If 10 percent of Disney stock
is in one person's hands and that individual opposes the deal, that means that
Comcast would have to muster the support of 56 percent of the remaining shares.
If 20 percent, then 63 percent.
And this is just another way that Disney
has exposed itself to a takeover. Disney let its poison pill expire, it has full
slate board elections, and it has no large stakeholders. So it could try to get
some large shareholders. There has been some mention of Warren Buffett, who has
previously been quite invested in Disney. It is unlikely, however, that he'd return
while Eisner is still around, since it was a large part of why he divested in
the first place.
Disney could also purchase a large company with a large
shareholder who would be friendly to Disney's interests. In the Echostar scenario
mentioned previously, for example, founder Charles Ergen might end up with voting
control of as much as 10 percent of a combined Disney-Echostar company. If he
were opposed to a Comcast-Disney merger, it would create a significant hurdle.
But as mentioned, there are many reasons this is unlikely (Ergen is apparently
unlikely to sell the company he founded, and Eisner remains firm that Disney has
no interest in distribution; just content).
As many watchers have pointed
out, Disney's best hopes for a white knight may be Disney itself. Most stock analysts
already consider Disney an undervalued stock, and continued numbers like those
just announced for the last quarter could do a lot to naturally raise the price
Comcast would have to pay for Disney, and Comcast has shown itself willing to
walk away from deals that get too expensive.
Q: What say does the government
have in this?
A: In the United States, this deal is going to be reviewed
by two agencies: the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice.
FCC is responsible for regulating the broadcast airwaves and certain areas of
the cable industry. The Department of Justice is tasked with enforcing antitrust
FCC Chairman Michael Powell immediately indicated that a Comcast/Disney
merger would be reviewed through the agencies' finest filter. However,
there may not be much he can do. The FCC used to have regulations that prohibited
companies from owning cable and broadcast outlets in the same markets. If still
in effect, this would have required that the combined company sell many of its
radio and television stations (including one in Philadelphia). That rule, however,
was ruled was struck down in 2002 because the FCC failed to adequately justify
The deregulation-friendly FCC and Bush administration let the rule lapse
rather than pressing the case. Several consumer advocacy groups are pressing for
legislation that would reinstate the rule. If that happens before a deal is finalized
and approved, it would create a hurdle.
Under the new regulatory environment,
a similar deal between News Corp. (owner of the Fox family of networks and several
television stations) and DirecTV (a satellite TV provider) was approved. There
were stipulations intended to guarantee that the new company would continue to
provide access to Fox channels and content without giving too much advantage to
its own distribution network. If a Comcast-Disney merger happens, experts expect
that similar approval and requirements would be forthcoming.
experts see little trouble from the Department of Justice. While the DOJ is very
concerned about horizontal monopolies (one company dominating a single market)
it has shown less interest in inhibiting vertical monopolies (one company owning
the entire development and distribution process). And again, there is recent precedent
of the DOJ allowing similar mergers that make regulatory trouble unlikely.
with each of these mega-media mergers, it seems that the public concern over consolidation
increases, and politicians are eventually going to try to find new ways to hamper
It is always possible that Powell will face a political reality of needing
to find a creative way to stop the deal. Disney is a name that everyone knows
and most have some emotional reaction to (though not always good).
unlikely that this will make a good case for the consumer groups and friendly
politicians (many of whom are still upset about other recent FCC rule changes
that allowed more consolidated media ownership) to fight on. If they are sufficiently
successful, Congress can find all kinds of ways to hamper a deal. But if so, it
can't be predicted at this point.
Internationally, the deal may also face
review in any country where both Comcast and Disney do business. The European
Union reviews all mergers and acquisitions involving companies that do more than
€250 million per year within Europe.
While Disney readily meets this
requirement (about $3.2 billion last year), Comcast's numbers are unclear and
will have to be reviewed. Comcast used to do significant business in Germany and
the United Kingdom through its ownership of the QVC shopping network. However,
they sold that business last year.
If there are regions other than Europe
where both companies have done significant business, I haven't been able to find
them (Australia, possibly).
Q: What will happen to the employees?
From the perspective of the employee, the worst-case scenario for a merger is
one with high overlaphow much of the existing businesses of
the separate companies overlap.
Looking yet again to the ongoing Oracle/PeopleSoft
battle, that is a true worst-case for PeopleSoft employees. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison
has already said that the purpose of the takeover is to convert PeopleSoft customers
to Oracle products and that almost no existing PeopleSoft employees would be needed.
for the employees of Comcast and Disney, their merger would be on almost the opposite
end of the spectrum. The two companies have almost nothing in common, except that
both run some cable networks and both own a sports team (or several, in Comcast's
Comcast's primary business is delivering cable and broadband Internet
services. Disney produces entertainment content, runs entertainment destinations,
and has a huge consumer products business. Comcast is not going to be able to
use many on the current staff to continue any of those businesses.
press conference last Wednesday announcing details of the offer, Comcast's Steve
Burke was asked about redundancies, and he responded, What we mentioned
was that there were about $300 to $400 million worth of cost reductions due to
overlap. That representsI thinkless than one percent of the combined
company and that overlap would be in very specific areas. [Thanks to Jim
Hill for getting a transcript posted at his Web site (link)
so that I didn't have to navigate the press conference again looking for this
Those specific areas are almost entirely within the cable networks
(but even then, not so much) and within the corporate management part of the companies.
A lead cast member at Disneyland or a departmental IT tech will not have to worry
about losing their job to someone at Comcast. A middle manager in human resources
or a compliance lawyer in the legal department, however, may have some reasons
Q: What will happen to the Disney name?
one can say for sure at this point. There are only a half dozen broad possibilities.
the Disney brand is one of the most valuable brands in the world, it is already
unlikely that Comcast would try to rename everything under a Comcast brand. Add
to that Comcast having absolutely no name recognition in most of Disney's marketplaces,
and it is even more unlikely.
At this point, is seems pretty safe to say
that should a takeover happen, most of the Disney products will remain Disney
products, even if they are just part of a different company.
As for what
the new combined company would be called, there are four options: It could remain
Comcast; Comcast could take Disney as the name for the whole company; some kind
of blended name could be fashioned; or a completely new name could be picked.
received one e-mail wondering if Newco was really going to be the
new company's name. At its press conference last week, the Comcast team used this
to refer to the blended company several times. But it is just a placeholder common
to such deals; it is not a serious proposal for a new name.
The option of
Comcast taking Disney's name isn't so far-fetched as many might think. In 1998
when NationsBank purchased Bank of America and Norwest purchased Wells Fargo,
both decided that the purchased names were more valuable. Thus, today, most people
think Bank of America purchased NationsBank and Wells Fargo purchased Norwest,
though the opposite is true.
As I said earlier, the Disney name is one of
the most powerful marketing brands in the world. Most people are not going to
switch their cable company (in fact, most people can't switch their cable
company) because of the name on the bill. But there is an immediate boost to a
movie when it has the Disney name on it, and it is the same for hundreds of other
Joint names are pretty common in some industries (ExxonMobil,
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter), but the recent example of AOL Time Warner (which
recently decided to drop the AOL and just be Time Warner) will probably be the
prevailing precedent here.
Q: Where would the company be headquartered?
Disney is headquartered in Burbank, California, and Comcast in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
A top Comcast executive indicated last Friday that the headquarters would remain
in Philadelphia, where the company has deep roots.
The Disney headquarters
in Burbank may not have the same deep roots as Comcast, but it has pretty significant
business roots. It would be pretty hard to run major film and television divisions
from Philadelphia, and even if they tried to move all the top management out there,
the people spending the money would still be in Hollywood.
Either the company
will end up with a split personality (if Philadelphia management tries to maintain
tight control from 2,700 miles away) or they will just give the Hollywood-centric
portions of the company loose reins. Or they might eventually decide to that it
is easier to run cable operations from Burbank (or nearby) than running Hollywood
In other words, I have no idea what would happen. The
executives at Comcast have said one thing, but it seems it would be difficult
to pull off.
Q: Would Michael Eisner have a role in the new company?
It is unlikely, and almost certainly not a management position. The top management
tier of takeover targets rarely does very well in the new company, especially
if that management had actively resisted the takeover.
To convert this into
a friendly merger, it is possible Eisner might be assured a position on the board
of the new company, but it seems unlikely. In the investment community, Eisner
would be more of a hindrance than an asset, and after 20 years in charge, nobody
is likely to trust that he can just sit and offer advice at quarterly board meetings.
I think that if he had the financial responsibility removed from his shoulders
and was given the movie studios (not that either side would ever go for this),
it might rekindle the shrewdly creative role he played at Paramount and his first
decade at Disney.
Q: How do we contact the Disney board and let them know
they shouldn't consider this offer?
A: Any time you want to communicate
directly to the Disney board of directors, you can send your mail to:
The Walt Disney Company
500 S. Buena Vista St.
I've received a couple e-mail comments
from people asking how they can contact the board, and who to protest that they
are even considering this offer. And therein lies the maneuvering in Comcast going
public with an offer to purchase.
Ideally, Comcast would prefer to have
discussed this behind closed doors with Michael Eisner and the board. Then some
equitable agreement would be found and Comcast and Disney management would provide
a united front in selling the deal to the shareholders.
didn't even want to start discussions. So Comcast developed terms on its own and
presented them, thus triggering one of the fiduciary responsibilities of a board
of directors. The board is required to seriously consider any offer of
purchase. Comcast offered, and the board immediately said, All right, we'll
look at it. They had no choice in the matter; after consideration, they
can then say no. Doing so without consideration, however, would open the Disney
board to all kinds of trouble.
Q: What about the sports teams?
The Walt Disney Company owns the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Comcast owns the
Philadelphia Flyers, both in the National Hockey League.
prevent a single owner from owning more than one team, so one of the two teams
would have to be sold.
According to audit numbers released last week, NHL
teams lost a combined $273 million last season, with only two out of 30 teams
making a profit in the $10 million range. A breakdown by individual teams was
not released, but the Philadelphia Flyers are considered a more financially stable
team than the Mighty Ducks. Also, the NHL is facing a possible strike or lockout
of players next season over contract negotiations, which could further weaken
Anaheim's interest in hockey, where the Ducks already play second fiddle to the
nearby Los Angeles Kings.
According to Forbes annual list of NHL team valuations,
the Flyers are currently the fourth most valuable hockey team, worth $252 million
while the Mighty Ducks are not so mighty. Despite a good season last year, they're
worth only $112 million, 24th in a league of 30 teams. The Flyers had 2002-2003
revenues 66 percent over those of the Ducks ($101 million vs. $59 million).
Add to all that arena ownership in Philadelphia and the tight integration
between the Flyers and several regional sports networks owned by Comcast,
and it is pretty obvious which of the teams would be cut.
Send your comments, questions and feedback to Alex here.