With Disney In Play, Some Media Biggies Emerge As Potential Cast Members

The dust hasn't settled on Comcast Corp.'s hostile bid to acquire Walt Disney Co., but speculation has already begun on other players who might emerge now that Disney has gone into play. Potential suitors, or white knights, depending on your perspective, range from long-time Disney rival Time Warner to one-time animation supplier Pixar to Microsoft Corp., a big investor in Comcast.

One thing is clear: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. won't be among them. Just a few hours after Comcast's surprise bid was announced, Murdoch told Wall Street analysts he isn't interested in buying Disney, even though a combined Comcast-Disney would be a big competitor to News Corp.

"We certainly wouldn't make a run at Disney," Murdoch said.

But few other media conglomerates made such statements. The biggest -- Time Warner -- was reportedly trying to decide whether it should try to snatch Disney.

Time Warner executives were scheduled to discuss with investment bankers a bid of their own for Disney, The New York Post reported in Wednesday's editions. A Time Warner spokesman denied the company had talked with bankers but declined to comment on whether it was interested. On the other hand, Time Warner is still reeling from the effects of its 2000 merger with AOL and it isn't clear whether Time Warner or its shareholders would be interested in another go at a media mergers.



Two weeks ago, well before Comcast's takeover bid became public, CEO Dick Parsons said Time Warner could be in the market for acquisitions.

The Post also said Pixar Animation Studios chief Steve Jobs could be assembling a group that would include cable operators to perhaps thwart Comcast and buy Disney. Pixar's animation partnership with Disney was one of the few consistently great headlines over the past decade, leading to such hits as "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo." But Pixar and Disney couldn't come to an agreement recently about a new deal, which in turn further wounded Disney.

Rumors were also swirling during Thursday's session of the American Association of Advertising Agencies Media Conference in Orlando, where Comcast chief Brian Roberts canceled a long-standing keynote at the last minute, ostensibly because he had bigger fish to fry. Agency sources said the buzz centered on Microsoft stepping forward as a possible white knight.

Microsoft has had significant dealings with both Disney and Comcast. The software giant made a $1 billion investment in Comcast in the late 1990s, a move, which at the time sent observers speculating that Microsoft might be seeking greater control over broadband pipelines into the home.

On Monday, Microsoft and Disney announced a multiyear agreement for digital content and rights management.

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