Of Apple, Disney, Pixar, and Jobs
If you gloss over business or entertainment news regularly. You may have noticed repeated talk about Pixar and Disney over the last few months. If you haven't, let me give you a quick rundown of the situation. For the last 12 years, Disney and Pixar have been in a partnership whereby Disney will market and distribute Pixar films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and the incredible The Incredibles. That partnership expires with the release of the upcoming Cars.
Apparently, the relationship has not been so warm as of late. Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney, didn't get along to well with Pixar's CEO. In case you don't know, Pixar's CEO is Steve Jobs, who is also CEO of Apple Computer. Steve Jobs is also the majority shareholder of Pixar, owning 50.6% of shares. Yes, this does make him some kind of super-genius. Anyway, Steve said that after Cars Pixar would end its partnership with Disney and seek a new distribution partner.
Given recent events, you need to throw some new variables into the equation. Michael Eisner has been replaced as CEO by the more malleable Robert Iger, who has made it a priority to continue the relationship between Disney and Pixar. However, like any corporation, they play hardball too. The release of Chicken Little in 2005 by Disney was seen as a test of how well Disney could fare on its own without Pixar's help. The film did well enough, apparently.
More variables: word has it that Steve Jobs is tired of managing two major companies (who wouldn't be?) and is interested in selling off his majority shareholding and stepping down as CEO of Pixar. Of course, that would give someone else complete control of the company, so it's not a decision made hastily for a venture you care about.
So all this brings us to the latest word on the street, which is that Disney wants to buy Pixar outright. The deal would apparently make Steve Jobs the largest individual shareholder in the Disney corporation (an interesting bit of corporate politics, to be sure). But can Jobs trust Disney to take care of his baby?
What is Pixar? What is it worth? Many of you are probably familiar with Pixar exclusively as an animation studio. But Pixar is so much more than that. Pixar pioneered 3D animation. They were making 3D short films back in the 1980's, man. Now, I don't know how much you people who about 3D animation technology, but when I think about creating characters with organic, believable motion using 1980's software, then spending days, if not weeks rendering it to video using 1980's hardware, I SHUDDER. They were there at the beginning, they KNOW 3D. In fact, they developed their own software to do it: Pixar Renderman. Renderman has been in development since 1985: it's had 20 years to evolve. Think of a major movie you've seen that used computer-generated 3D effects. Chances are, it used Renderman. It's an industry-standard piece of software.
Now, when one starts thinking about Pixar as a software company, one which produces the leading 3D animation software on the market, I start thinking about Apple. Let's have a look at Apple's lineup of creative software:
Pixar's Renderman: it's like the last piece of the digital-production puzzle. All Apple's pro applications are fully-integrated for extra compatibility. Like Renderman, Shake and Final Cut Pro support farming processor tasks to dedicated servers. Apple doesn't own Renderman, but Steve Jobs controls who does. So the question burns in my mind: Why has Jobs not yet suggested that Apple purchase Pixar? Apple's got enough cash. Being the majority shareholder of Pixar and the undisputed CEO of both companies gives Steve a fair amount of say in the situation. Picture a fully-integrated suite of Apple creative tools that covers all aspects of digital film production. Plus, Steve gets to keep all his beloved chicks under one roof. It seems like providence to me.
So, no matter what Steve Jobs is doing or thinking right now in regard to Pixar, I hope that he's at least considered the option that I've put forth here. It's good for Apple, it's good for Pixar, and perhaps most pertinent for the decision, it's good for Steve.
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