"Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse, Donald
Duck. Mickey Mouse ... Holy (rhymes with) Duck."
That may have been the tune being hummed around
the very prolific hallways of the Disney empire.
Imagine the quiet confidence you might feel riding
along in your boat as it passes the many Pirates
of the Caribbean for the umpteenth time. Then
suddenly, from within one of the familiar galleys,
out pops a pirate who happens to have the backing
of about $66 billion (and brother that buys a
whole lot of cannonballs). That may have been the
way Disney's head man Michael Eisner felt Wednesday
morning when he and the rest of the business and
media worlds awoke to a very public offer from
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts that read in part, "It
is unfortunate that you are not willing to
[discuss a merger]. Given this, the only way for
us to proceed is to make a public proposal
directly to you and your board."
As discomforting as that correspondence may have
been for Michael Eisner (under whose watch
Disney's progress has recently been about as
smooth as ride on the Big Thunder Mountain
Railroad), what are the broader implications for
the viewing public if the deal goes through? First,
one must absorb the enormity of the prospect that
a cable company might be about to pick up one
America's most popular and long-lasting content
brands. Have we entered into an age where the pipe
owners are truly kings? And what happens to
content when it's controlled by parent companies
more familiar with building infrastructure than a
decent prime time line-up? Perhaps more
importantly, are we really willing to cede control
of Mickey, Minnie and the gang (not to mention
ESPN, ABC, E! Network, Movie and animation
studios, theme parks, and several other well-known
brands) to the cable guys?
How scary would a cable-guy owned Disney be? Well
just to start, the Disney theme parks would now
inform customers only that they would be open for
business during a window sometime between 10am and 5pm.
And from now on, anytime Goofy bends over, we can expect to
his pants slide at least halfway down his JLo.
It's too early to know whether this will become a
done deal. First, Disney executives would have to
be sufficiently convinced or pressured to take the
offer. Second, the union would need to get
regulatory approval. The FCC's Michael Powell
(during a split second departure from his
obsession with Janet's frontage) explained: I
don't know if Comcast will get Disney or not ...
If it does, a merger of that magnitude will
unquestionably go through the finest filter at the
commission, I can assure you, as possible." Of
course that's the same fine filter that let
microscopic particles such as News Corp and
AOL-TimeWarner slip through.