The Motley Fool Discussion Boards

Previous Page

Stocks D / Disney


Subject:  A Comcast Insider's View Date:  2/12/2004  7:42 AM
Author:  ParrotheadFool Number:  28674 of 52176

The message below was sent to a Disney-related mailing list I operate. It was written by a long-time member of the list who is extremely knowledgeable about Disney's history. It just so happens that he also works for Comcast.

It's long, but I hope you'll at least glance over it. It's an interesting read.

"If the list will indulge me I will share my thoughts. Before I begin I should give a
little bit of personal disclaimer in that I happen to work for Comcast.
The comments which follow are MY own personal opinions and do not
represent or speak for Comcast.

I find myself in a very interesting position. As many of you know on
this list I am a Disney historian, and I care very much about the Walt
Disney Company, and Walt's legacy. Yet I also have a very clear view
and understanding of Comcast. Talk about being in the right place at
the right time.

A number of years ago I was attracted to go to work for Comcast because
there were several ex-Disney execs who happened to have gone to work
for them. The most high profile of which is Steve Burke, who went to
Comcast after starting the Disney stores, working at ABC, and bailing
out Euro Disneyland. Burke is currently head of the Cable division of
the Company. The rumors have always been that Burke and Eisner had some
sort of falling out, which drove Steve to go elsewhere to pursue his
career. I do not know for sure.

I happen to know Steve Burke as a casual acquaintance, been in quite a
few meetings with him, and I have also had the opportunity to watch
him actively manage a crisis within the company at the corporate
headquarters. Steve is incredibly intelligent and one of the best
managers that I have ever known. A lot of the growth that Comcast has
enjoyed has been due in very large part to Steve. I can't think of a
person who is more opposite Eisner than Steve. (Indeed Steve's office
is really small. He has a small desk and a couch and that's it - heck my
office is larger!!.) The guy is not on an ego trip, I can tell you
that!! One of the things which really impress me about Steve is that
he really gets what's important. He has the ability to focus on a
problem and not get distracted by other things. He has a great style of
leadership which I really admire. His thinking is very logical. He has
a great vision, and is an excellent public speaker. Additionally Steve
has a very deep understanding of how Disney works.(He was head at one
time or another of 3 of Disney's 4 operating divisions) From my own
personal experience I would feel very comfortable with Steve having a
senior leadership role in the combined Company. (should that happen).

Now I am not going to defend Comcast here, or wave the Comcast flag.
Depending on who you talk to there are varying opinions of the company.
Some people think it is wonderful, some hate it, and some are neutral.
I don't want to debate how good or bad the cable service is. Everyone
hates paying for cable. What I can tell you is that Comcast is
absolutely the best company that I have ever worked for, and they do
treat their employees very well, from what I have seen.

One of the things that I would like to share with everyone is the
Comcast management philosophy. For those who don't know Comcast was
founded by Ralph J. Roberts, Daniel Aaron and Julian A. Brodsky with a
purchase of a 1,200-subscriber cable system in Tupelo, MS in 1963. From
that start Comcast began buying other cable systems across the country
and even in the UK. The largest purchase was the ATT Broadband one
which made Comcast the number one cable company in the US in terms of
subscribers. Most importantly, Comcast's philosophy has always been
Local de-centralized control. Another words when a new property was
purchased by Comcast leadership was not moved to some far off
headquarters office. Leadership was kept right in the system, close to
the customer and the community which is served by the cable system.
True, they do look for results, but it is the least centrally controlled
company that I have ever worked for. Its a system that works. Currently
there are about 60,000 employees in the company. The Philadelphia HQ
has only 1000 people. It is not top heavy at all. Indeed when the
company merged with ATT the HQ staff was not increased by very much
even though the company doubled in size.

Is a Comcast run Disney any worse than an Eisner run Disney? - My
feeling is no.. I think on the whole Eisner being gone is positive. My
take on this is that if Comcast were to be successful with Disney I
don't see them shutting down the Disney we all know and love. A lot of
people kind of have this fear that they are going to gut Disney and
turn it into something other than a creative, vibrant company. I can
tell you that they are too smart to do that. Steve and Brian Roberts
understand just what makes Disney special, and I really feel that they
would work to improve it, not tear it apart. In addition Comcast has
some ex-Disney execs who left because they could not stand what was
going on.. they have experience that can come back to the company
should the merger happen.

Would they sell some under performing assets?? They might. Will they
sell the movie library, the studio, Imagineering, the theme parks?? I
don't think so. Those things are key to what makes Disney “Disney”
and these guys know that its the core of the company. They are very
good at focusing on what's important and what drives growth. I think
everything that we know and love would be fine if this merger happened.

Steve and Brian did a presentation early this morning about the deal,
and I would like to quote from it a little bit. One of the things they
said was "to reignite the World's Greatest Entertainment Businesses "
they want to "Empower Disney Animation team to build on the legacy of
success... Animation success drives consumer products and theme parks."
Clearly they understand that Animation and the theme parks are core to
Disney. They want to strengthen them not tear them apart. Continuing to
quote "The Disney theme parks are America's favorite vacation
destinations ... restore energy and creativity in attractions, hotels
and concessions.." Clearly theme parks are key in their vision of the
company. Additionally they would plan to "eliminating duplicate
corporate and divisional functions".. which to me means that all those
suits, and endless layers of Disney management, will be thinned and
streamlined. These guys understand what Disney needs to get it back on
the right track again. I can tell you that they are not fans of bloated

All of this being said, I have always been a fan of Disney being
independent. It does tug on my heart string a little that the company
wont be going it alone as it has done since Walt started it. But as I
honestly look at Disney today I think it is going to get bought by
someone anyway. Sure the official Disney corporate line is that
"everything's great, and we have never been doing better".. but come on..
Theme parks not being kept to Walt's standards, endless direct to video
cheap animation, so-so storylines, the death of traditional animation,
the brain drain of creative people leaving the company, the loss of the
Pixar relationship, Off the shelf rides for the theme parks, no new
E-ticket attractions for years, shutting down of classic attractions,
and on, and on.. How long before Disney is ran totally into the ground.
There is a reason why Comcast has decided to go after Disney at this
time.. they know that Disney is hurting, and is vulnerable. With the
way things are going it is only a matter of time unless the upper
management of Disney is changed. I would much rather that Comcast get
Disney now, while we can still save it, then someone else get it later
and sell off each division of the company, and sell off the remaining
undeveloped Florida land which is extremely valuable to the highest
bidder, totally destroying that special feeling that WDW gives us. Now
that this process has started its not going to end until something
major happens. If Comcast fails in its attempt I am sure that there
will be others wanting the company. It will be never ending, further
distracting the Disney Company's board of directors, and senior
management, just like what happened to Ron Miller back when Eisner got
control of the company all those years ago. It is only a matter of time
for Eisner now.

From a Historical perspective - did Walt ever consider a merger with
another company? Yes he did.. he always turned the offers down. Which
made perfect sense because Disney didn't need any help at that time.
After Walt died, Roy Sr. was approached with an offer from Gulf and
Western corporation. I understand that the offer was taken very
seriously by Roy - but he decided against it in the end, preferring to
focus on building Walt Disney World. Would Roy have accepted the offer
from Gulf & Western if Roy had lived much past the opening of WDW?? I
don't know, but I suspect that he would have looked hard at it.

I think that Comcast would be very sensitive to the Traditions and
culture of the Company. I can't see them coming in and making all these
changes to that stuff.. What would be the reason for them to?? What I
can see is them coming in and getting the operations back on track.

The one thing that I can't get my mind around just yet is Roy Jr. and
Stanley's reaction to this. They really have not said where they stand
on this yet and it makes me a little uneasy. I suspect that in the end
they may try to join forces with Comcast, because it is going to be
their best shot. Comcast has the clout and money that Roy and Stanley
need to effect change. I could definitely see Comcast offering them a
seat on the board. Has Roy and Comcast talked?? No, according to Brain
Roberts in this mornings news conference. Will they?? Who knows. I
suspect they will. I would like to see Roy's support, but that remains
to be seen.

I can add another insight. This whole merger thing is not a flash in
the pan. The guys from Comcast are dead serious about pursuing this. I
like to say that when these guys go after something they do it 110%. It
is not something that Eisner is going to brush off easily. It is not
going away quietly. They will keep at it. The whole ATT thing that they
did was hostile, and in the end they won.

I know that someone else buying Disney is a hard thing to swallow. But
I honestly believe that it is the best shot that Disney is going to
get. Luckily I have watched these guys work, and I feel that they will
do well running the Disney Company. They can't do any worse than Eisner
that's for sure."
Copyright 1996-2018 trademark and the "Fool" logo is a trademark of The Motley Fool, Inc. Contact Us