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The Disney CEO on mending fences with Steve Jobs, getting him to part with Pixar, and the prospects for the House of Mouse in the developing world
You've got one of the world's great brands. What have you learned about it? What's best about it? The best part of the brand is that it touches people's hearts, enters people's lives all over the world from a very early age. So whether you speak to a great-grandparent, a parent, or a child, Disney (DIS) has some part in their lives, has played some role. They remember when they first saw Snow White or when they took their daughter to see Little Mermaid or when they took their grandson to see Toy Story.
Is this the best time to have content, now that there are so many places to distribute it? It's always been a good time to have great content—always. But today media is a combination of content and technology. And today we're seeing content meeting technology like never before. It's turbocharged technology, and it's developing not only very rapidly but in very compelling ways because not only can you use technology to make content better—to make the experience more compelling, pictures, brighter sound, better 3-D, you name it—but it's enabling people to access media in so many more places and so many more ways. Mobile devices are obviously a great example of that, the tablet, the new iPad. It's unlike what we saw a year ago, two years ago.
The iPad and apps are transformative? Absolutely, yes. I remember when Steve [Jobs] first showed me the iPad. I was breathless. I couldn't wait to send e-mails—and I did very quickly—to as many people at Disney as possible. "Let's get ready for this. This is a game changer. Let's make an application for news, let's make games, let's make sure the books we publish are digitized and we can put them on an iPad in ways that take advantage of what that technology can do. Let's move our TV product there, our movie product there." I think we're just seeing the beginning of the beginning when it comes to this great technology.
I want to talk about Jobs because when you took over as CEO, one of the questions was the relationship with Pixar. It wasn't great, and you wanted to buy it. I don't know how well you knew him at that time ... Very little. He controlled Pixar, he owned about 50 percent of it. He announced publicly that a very successful and mutually beneficial relationship with Disney was ending. I was named CEO in March 2005 ... and I called him the morning after the decision was made but before it was announced. I said: "We should talk." I was aware that there were strains. At the same time, I had become very interested in moving video onto new devices, namely the iPod. This was before there was a video iPod. And discussing it with Steve, he confessed that there was going to be one. At the same time we were kicking ideas around about Pixar, we were kicking around ideas about moving ABC and Disney content to what would be the first video iPod in late '05. And so our relationship started to blossom because I had shown an interest in his technology. Then it hit me that we really needed to fix Disney Animation. And I realized that the best way to do it was to buy Pixar. It didn't really have a for-sale sign on it, but we started throwing up crazy ideas. And he thought it was a big idea too, but he had to get buy-in from the people at Pixar, John Lasseter, an animation genius, and Ed Catmull, the technology genius. He pretty much said, "It's up to them."
So where does Disney go next? Where do you want to take it? We don't have to necessarily get bigger in terms of more brands, more content. We just have to continue to get better about the content we create. And two things are occurring that are wind at our backs. It's not easy wind to catch but it exists. One is this technological wave, which is very, very helpful and attractive and exciting. The second is what's happening in the world. You look at the growth of the middle class in China and India, for instance. They know Disney, they love Disney. In India there are 750 million cell phones. That was a market that did not have the infrastructure to distribute media on a mass basis. Suddenly—when you think about the smartphone in the hands of hundreds of millions of people—there's the infrastructure, meaning you can charge people money directly for it. That's very exciting.
How long do you want to do this job? I love this job. I think, in many respects, Disney's a national treasure. And also I love the feeling you get when you walk down "Main Street" in Paris or Tokyo or Anaheim or Orlando and you see families, the children, the grandparents, the excitement—that is just an amazing thing. I don't know, I'm enjoying this a lot.
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