Comcast Glad-Hands Investors as Disney Fights Back

16 February 2004

The Comcast Corporation roadshow hit Wall Street last week as ceo Brian Roberts and his cohorts toured institutional investors to hype the merits of their hostile takeover bid for the Walt Disney Company.

Meantime, in the appropriately Disneyesque environs of Orlando, Florida, embattled chairman/ceo Michael Eisner delivered a paean to Disney's growth prospects and strategic direction while its leading independent director, former senator George Mitchell, trumpeted recent corporate governance reforms.

"We have been listening to the concerns that have been expressed about us and about all of corporate America," assured Mitchell. "As often happens, it is taking some time for perception to catch up with reality but it will."

Eisner made no direct comment on the Comcast bid, focusing instead on the golden tomorrow awaiting loyal Disney shareholders. He vowed the group was in good shape for growth after several disappointing years, and referred obliquely to Disney's defence strategy as he questioned the need for vertical integration between content groups and pay-TV providers.

"Distribution is a very good business but it's not essential to a company like Disney," he insisted. "It's never a problem getting quality product on the most monopolistic of platforms."

Some critics, however, believe it typical of Eisner's autocratic management style to have dismissed Comcast's offer out of hand when approached informally last Monday by Roberts [WAMN: 12-Feb-04]. "He should at least have taken the offer to the board," complained one investor.

But an unnamed Disney director said Eisner had the board's full support, adding that Comcast's bid was trying to exploit an impression of the company's vulnerability.

Disney shares rose $0.40 on Thursday to close at $28, their highest point in the past eighteen months. By Friday's close, however, they slipped back to $26.92.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff