DISNEY MAY ACQUIRE JIM HENSON CO.
March 20, 2003 From The New York Times
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog may be joining
forces. Michael Eisner, chairman of The Walt Disney Co., hinted Wednesday that a Disney purchase of the
Jim Henson Co., whose cast of characters includes Miss Piggy, could happen soon.
``We have been talking to the Henson company for 15 years,'' Eisner
said, responding to a question at Disney's annual shareholders meeting in Denver, ``I would not be
surprised to hear that there would be an announcement soon. I wouldn't be surprised that The Walt Disney
Co. would be finally culminating years of romance.''
Eisner did not specify a possible purchase price but said it probably
would not be anywhere near the $100 million to $200 million mentioned as part of the question.
German media company EM.TV had announced last year a deal to sell 49.9
percent of the Henson company to a group led by former UPN president Dean Valentine and investment
company Europlay Capital Advisors. That deal fell through earlier this month.
Disney had been on the verge of buying the Jim Henson Co. more than a
decade ago, but that deal collapsed after the death of founder Jim Henson.
Also at the meeting, Disney trimmed its earnings estimate for 2003,
citing a sluggish retail environment and continuing declines in tourism.
Earlier, Disney had said revenue would grow between 25 percent and 30
percent for the full year. However, Disney chief financial officer Thomas Staggs said weakness in the
economy would result in ``more moderate growth'' for this year. He did not offer specifics.
Analysts have previously said Disney may have overestimated its
earnings outlook, given economic conditions.
Staggs, speaking to Disney shareholders at the company's annual meeting
in Denver, said war jitters have hurt attendance at Walt Disney World in Florida, although attendance
has improved at the Disneyland Resort in California.
Disney's Florida resort is more dependent on air travel while
Disneyland draws more of a local crowd.
Staggs also said that a decline in retail sales hurt the company's
Disney Stores. Still, he remained confident about the momentum of the company's merchandise licensing
At the meeting, shareholders elected a 13-member board of directors,
which is smaller than Disney's previous 17-member board.
The company has enacted several corporate governance reforms over the
past year, including strengthening the power of independent directors and appointing former U.S. Sen.
George Mitchell as a presiding director.
Mitchell will hold at least two meetings of the board each year without
company management present.
Shares in Disney rose 39 cents, more than 2 percent, to close at $16.97
each on the New York Stock Exchange.