Oil traded as high as $49 a barrel today, despite signs that the government may release crude from the U.S.'s strategic reserves. Hurricane Ivan had disrupted supply, prompting two refiners to ask the Feds for relief. And just when you thought the skies were turning sunny again and we'd gotten past this ridiculous hurricane nonsense, Ivan resurfaced as a tropical storm threatening Texas.

Don't mess with Texas, Ivan. Stay out of Florida, Hurricane Jeanne. We don't need to see these storms doing the two-step across our southern borders. Enough is enough.

If only The Motley Fool had control over our global climate -- then we'd really be dangerous.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Give 'Em Mel, Disney


Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

Do you want to be Disney's(NYSE: DIS) next CEO? If so, you better hurry. This week the company's board announced that it would identify Michael Eisner's successor by no later than June. That may not seem like much of a rush job until you consider that Disney's next chieftain will be waiting for another 15 months after that to try the throne on for size.

The early application deadline seems to indicate that the board is leaning toward sticking with Eisner's suggested choice in COO Bob Iger. Some of the bigger names that have been tossed around as possible replacements such as eBay's(Nasdaq: EBAY) Meg Whitman and Yahoo!'s(Nasdaq: YHOO) Terry Semel are now likely to be crossed off the wish list given the rather unflattering notion of having to swing away in the on-deck circle for the next two years.

The June deadline may also knock out former Disney studio whiz Jeffrey Katzenberg as a candidate given his current workload trying to take DreamWorks Animation public. Paul Pressler, who oversaw Disney's theme parks before being named CEO at Gap(NYSE: GPS) last year, is also an unlikely applicant now given the recent hiccups at the specialty retailer that he was helping to turn around. My personal favorite, Apple Computer's(Nasdaq: AAPL) Steve Jobs, may also be falling behind with the June deadline, as Jobs taking over would probably be part of much larger negotiations -- if not an outright buyout -- of Jobs' majority-owned Pixar(Nasdaq: PIXR).

So who is left? Is Iger a lock? Don't bet on it. I tagged him as a 2-to-1 front-runner last week, but he still has some things working against him. While Disney has stressed that Iger will be the only internal name considered, the fact that under his watch ABC has gone from first to last place (and the June deadline mandates a turnaround now in the fall instead of giving Iger another crack in fall 2005) finds the Disney board practically forcing itself into a regime change.

That leaves Mel Karmazin closing in for a great shot at leading Disney if he wants to. The broadcasting wunderkind left Viacom(NYSE: VIA) back in June, and he is the anti-Iger. He left Viacom with its CBS network on top, and Viacom operates in many of the same businesses as Disney given its own Paramount movie studio and theme parks. The fact that Karmazin is enjoying the flexibility of elective unemployment makes him the most likely outsider to accept a job that will start out as a temp job for an extended period of time.

But will the same board that turned a blind eye to the overwhelming vote of no confidence for Eisner earlier this year make the mistake of promoting from the inside? Disney has a chance to wipe away the skeptics and show a commitment to quality and financial perseverance. All it has to do now is crack open a window and see what's out there.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wants to know whether he needs a passport to ride It's a Small World. He owns shares in Disney, Viacom, and Pixar.

Discussion Boards of the Day: IBM, Oracle, and PeopleSoft

What do you think? Should IBM try to bail out PeopleSoft with its own bid? Or will doing so wreck a perfectly good and profitable business? Should Oracle be worried about the prospect of an IBM takeover? Debate all this and more at the IBM, Oracle, and PeopleSoft discussion boards. Only at Fool.com.

Watching Wal-Mart


Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Are you ready for the Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) TV Network? According to The Wall Street Journal, the retail behemoth plans to step up its efforts to advertise to shoppers through state-of-the-art TV monitors seeded throughout its stores. And if you think that could never work, think again.

Wal-Mart has teamed up with Premier Retail Networks Inc., and the companies share the spoils from the endeavor. Spots cost advertisers $50,000 to $300,000 for four weeks, depending on frequency, and reach 133 million viewers every four weeks. According to the article, data shows that average brand recall through Wal-Mart TV viewership is 66%, compared with 24% from in-home TV advertising.

Wal-Mart stores, many of which already have monitors, will be tricked out with plasma and LCD TVs. And theoretically, no longer will picking out the best head of lettuce be quite so dull. The article mentions that monitors will be installed at eye level in spots such as the produce aisle, where shoppers tend to tarry a little longer.

Even though consumers are fairly adept at tuning out advertising, it seems such an initiative has the power to convince shoppers to try out the newest gee-whiz product from consumer giants such as Procter & Gamble(NYSE: PG), Kellogg(NYSE: K), and Coke(NYSE: KO), especially considering that when you see the ad, you're in the store with less chance of forgetting what you've just been pitched.

It's another sign that traditional advertising is losing potency. The Internet raised the bar, allowing for annoying but effective personalized pitches. Then, TiVo(Nasdaq: TIVO) and other digital video recorders (DVRs) have greatly lessened the impact of TV advertising. Forrester Research recently reported that consumers with DVRs spend 60% of their time watching shows they've recorded, and while doing so, they skip a whopping 92% of the ads.

For now, it seems pretty likely that TiVo and its brethren will enter most households, too. Forrester forecasts that in five years, DVR households will increase to 41% from 5% at present, in large part because cable companies have grown wise to the technology's promise and are offering DVR products as part of their services.

So, Wal-Mart's foray into TV-style advertising is another spin on a recurring theme. More examples of experiments in advertising shift include Oprah's product placement, Coke's island retreat on Survivor, and Sears'(NYSE: S)reality show.

A guest spot on Wal-Mart TV could be an advertiser's dream come true, judging by the data thus far, and if it catches on, it might provide a boost to Wal-Mart's own top line. However, too much of this sort of advertising could easily result in a spectacular mass tune-out on the part of consumers. Time will tell.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

Quote of Note

"It doesn't make a difference what temperature a room is, it's always room temperature." -- Steven Wright

PeopleSoft Plays Defense


Tim Beyers

I admire PeopleSoft's(Nasdaq: PSFT) fight. Tuesday, the business software maker announced a broad partnership with IBM(NYSE: IBM) in which Big Blue's popular WebSphere middleware will be bundled, free, with PeopleSoft's software for managing human resources, finance, customer relationships, and other business functions. At least $1 billion will be invested over the next five years for marketing and development.

It is the massive cash flows generated by PeopleSoft's applications that suitor and IBM rival Oracle(Nasdaq: ORCL) wants. The IBM deal, then, would be an especially bitter pill for the database king to swallow. Why? Because Oracle supplies its own middleware to its database customers -- software that competes with WebSphere directly. Moreover, WebSphere is designed to work well with IBM's DB2, a competitor to the Oracle database.

If you're thinking that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison probably doesn't relish the idea of inheriting a contract where he has to ship a rival's software alongside his own, you're right. But this agreement also isn't just about sticking it to Ellison, even if PeopleSoft CEO and former Ellison protege Craig Conway would probably like nothing better.

Published reports also suggest that the deal, announced to the 10,000-plus in attendance at PeopleSoft's annual customer conference, is designed to assuage users who have come to question the long-term viability of PeopleSoft. Indeed, according to a report in The New York Times, PeopleSoft claims that many customers have deferred their purchases of its software because of the Oracle bid, resulting in at least $1 billion in lost sales. (Recent financial results bear some witness to this testimony.)

So is the IBM agreement an attempt to engineer a rescue from Oracle's $7.7 billion hostile takeover by offering friendlier acquisition terms to Big Blue? Maybe from PeopleSoft's view, but I doubt it is so from IBM's perspective. After all, IBM has made most of its money lately by powering and servicing others' applications. Indeed, the global services unit generated nearly 50% of revenue for the first half of 2004. Why change an obviously successful business model now?

That said, the bundling deal makes sense for customers. They need assurances that their bet on PeopleSoft is safe, whether OracleSoft comes to pass or no. IBM gives them that, for its infrastructure software is easily on par with Oracle and Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT). But Big Blue is no white knight, and a rescue probably isn't forthcoming.

For more Foolish coverage of Oracle's bid for PeopleSoft:

  • OracleSoft could be on the way.
  • At least it should be. The database king's earnings made another strong case for an acquisition of PeopleSoft.
  • But it's not all flowers and chocolate for Oracle. A PeopleSoft takeover could give it a $7.7 billion migraine.
  • And you might think that's just desserts for Larry, especially if you believe the acquisition is just part of a plot to kill PeopleSoft.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares in Oracle, and he thinks Larry should keep going after PeopleSoft. You can view Tim's Fool profile here.

Martha on the Tube


Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)

Mark Burnett's mastery of reality television is undeniable. From the hit "Survivor" series on Viacom's(NYSE: VIA) CBS to Donald Trump's pop culture renaissance in "The Apprentice" on General Electric's(NYSE: GE) NBC, Burnett seems to have his finger on the pulse of the fact that television viewers are favoring reality over fiction.

So maybe it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see the popular producer team up with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(NYSE: MSO) to help beef up the company's daily syndicated show as well as develop a weekly primetime series starring Martha herself. Martha knows how to draw a crowd. Burnett knows how to keep them there.

You can't underscore the power of Burnett. During the first few weeks of "The Apprentice"'s original run, Trump's struggling Trump Hotels & Casino(NYSE: DJT) saw its penny stock shares nearly double. Sure, the market eventually realized that if a truckload of hype meets a truckload of debt, the money woes have the right of way.

Thankfully Martha's company is a far more feasible and solvent entity. This doesn't mean that Martha has been tapped to replace Trump in the next installment of "The Apprentice." The last thing that Martha's image would need is to be cast as fiery boss, viciously booting off crafty job applicants.

Burnett indicates that the new network show will play into Martha's strengths. He will also be consulting on the company's new wedding and food shows -- content that was designed to ease the company's reliance on one personality -- and that is great news.

Naturally you can't pick Burnett's brain for free, and his compensation includes 2.5 million warrants to acquire shares of the suddenly buoyant company at $12.59 a share. It will be well worth it as Burnett's reputation coupled with Martha's media magnetism should have networks bidding high for the series. Will this be Disney's(NYSE: DIS) chance to make amends for letting "The Apprentice" and "American Idol" slip through its legs? Will Fox(NYSE: FOX) come on strong in an attempt to cement its third-place standing?

This will ultimately create more exposure than Martha received during the halcyon days of cable television and annual network holiday specials. So let the prospects shine through. This winning Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick is about to get even more popular. And, yes, that is a good thing.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz won't be making a cameo in Martha's new show but he may eat a Cameo cookie while watching it. He owns shares in Disney and Viacom.

More on Fool.com Today

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