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Eisner Reflects

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By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)
June 4, 2003

It was a time to reflect as yesterday's Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. 19th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference hosted Disney (NYSE: DIS) CEO Michael Eisner for an hour of Q&A action (listened to via webcast by this Fool). The Bernstein analysts didn't hold back, kicking off the questions by asking Eisner if he would like to have done anything differently over the past five years.

For those keeping score at home, Disney's stock has been cut in half over the past five years. It was more spitball than softball, but Eisner chose not to swing for a called first strike. Beyond admitting to a few programming blunders at ABC, Eisner sidestepped the question, but he proved to be much more forthcoming as the session moved on.

When asked about new home-video delivery options that the company is in the process of trying out, he praised the Web-casting promise of Movies.com but was quick to tag the self-destructing DVD that the company will be testing in August as a concept "which I think probably won't work." 

He shrugged off the suggestion that expanding the parks overseas has hurt attendance stateside. It was a fair question. For instance, with Japan offering more popular and arguably superior parks than can be found in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, why would a Japanese citizen settle for the half-day entertainment of Animal Kingdom or Disney's California Adventure? He argued that it was a big world out there with little overlap in each park's audience, but maybe humming a few bars of "It's a Small World" would have been more appropriate.

Naturally, he also addressed the Pixar (Nasdaq: PIXR) situation, given the record-breaking success of Finding Nemo over the weekend. He realizes that the nature of the relationship will change in the future but thinks that the two studios will find a way to keep working together.

He also sees the Disney Stores repositioned as a higher-end concept under new ownership. But who would be willing to buy? One could ask why Eisner would want to sell off the retail shops if he thought they could work under any format.

At session's end, with those in attendance applauding, one was left wondering how things might play out at Bernstein's 24th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference. One thing is for certain: If Eisner watches shares of Disney get cut in half again over the next five years, he won't be back. Bernstein will have to invite the current Disney CEO then

OK, here are Eisner's shoes. If you could have done anything differently over the past five years at Disney, what would you have done? Is the company well-positioned for an economic recovery? Will Disney command a seller's premium if the Anaheim Mighty Ducks win the Stanley Cup? All this and more -- in the Disney discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

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