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Key to Comcast Deal: Trip to Disney World Secure

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As I said yesterday, my main concern regrding Comcast’s bid for Disney is that our May vacation to Disney World might somehow be interrupted, thereby causing my 4 year-old daughter Lily to interfere with my right to personal happiness. Selfish? All politics is local.

I am happy to report that all analysts are certain Comcast would keep the theme parks, and possibly spruce them up, which would be fine, but don’t do it on my time:

    Mickey Mouse will stay on the Walt Disney payroll welcoming children to the Magic Kingdom if Comcast Corp.’s offer for the company succeeds, and the bidders said they would be all ears when it comes to sprucing up the Disney theme parks.

    ….”We believe the theme parks could be revitalized. It’s a great business,” Stephen Burke, executive vice president at Comcast, told Reuters in an interview. Burke is a former Disney executive and former president of Euro Disney.

    Comcast said it plans to drive attendance at the parks through advertising and cross-promotion at attractions, hotels and concessions.

    That view makes sense, according to analysts who called the parks a key to the Disney brand.

    “The theme parks’ value is not in the rides. It’s the Disney brand. Kids go there to see the characters they know from the movies,” said Barry Ritholtz, chief market strategist at Maxim Group, a global money management firm whose clients own Comcast and Disney shares.

    ….While many theme parks around the globe continue to suffer from decreased visitors, attendance at Disney parks has been improving.

    In December Walt Disney said its California Adventure saw a 13 percent rise in 2003 visitors and Disney’s Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland were No. 1 and 2, respectively, worldwide in visitors for the second year in a row.

    Industry sources say Comcast would never sell the parks and risk alienating the children drawn to the parks by Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the other characters.

    “The Disney theme parks, unlike Universal or SixFlags, are a Disney product, and have that cache. It’s the perfect family fare and the parks have no value without the Disney characters,” said Ritholtz. [Reuters]

Okay then.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Michael Eisner will get grilled like a salmon today:

    Eisner will face a barrage of questions about the offer and the future of the company, as senior management takes the stage on the second day of Disney’s annual investors conference, held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

    The 61-year-old Eisner, who faces accusations of mismanaging the company’s fortunes by Roy Disney, the nephew of company founder Walt Disney and the man who recruited Eisner 20 years ago when the company was battling corporate raiders, faces new threats to his board seat.

    On Wednesday, Institutional Shareholder Services recommended Disney shareholders withhold their vote to re-elect Eisner to the board, in a gesture to display its disapproval with Eisner and broader issues about Disney’s corporate governance. Sander Morris Harris analyst David Miller, who was at the meeting, said he believed it was unlikely a white knight would emerge to rescue Disney from Comcast

    ….”This opens the whole field up,” Paul Kim, an analyst at Tradition Asiel, said.

    “Although the Comcast-Disney thing is big, the more interesting question is what comes after and how will this have a ripple effect on the industry,” Kim said. “Every institutional investor here is thinking about what’s the next M&A deal down the pike.” [Reuters]

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