Disney CEO Bob Iger indirectly addresses speculation about game industry acquistions
Even as the Walt Disney Co. moves to complete its $4-billion acquisition of comic-book giant Marvel Entertainment, Wall Street is wondering whether Chief Executive Bob Iger is shopping for bargains in the video-game aisle.
Formerly high-flying game publishers -- such as Electronic Arts, creator of Madden football, and Take-Two Interactive, known for its Grand Theft Auto franchise -- have seen their shares plunge 70% from recent highs. THQ, maker of the Warhammer series, is off 90%. That has fueled speculation on Wall Street that these entertainment companies could be vulnerable to a takeover -- possibly by one of the Hollywood media conglomerates.
Iger was asked pointedly during today's UBS 37th annual Global Media and Communications Conference whether he was contemplating any "sizable acquisitions" in the games space to round out its interactive unit.
"I'm not going to suggest that we're making a business acquisition in that area," Iger said.
That doesn't mean Iger isn't watching the interactive-media space. He noted the rise in what the industry calls "casual gaming" -- that is, digital diversions that don't require a commitment of hours to become proficient -- at the expense of the high-profile and high-cost console business. As with other forms of entertainment, distribution is shifting online and away from packages sold in stores, he said.
Console games can still be lucrative, Iger said, if it's the right title and done well. He offered by way of example the forthcoming Toy Story 3 game, based on the popular Pixar Animation films and developed in house.
But that doesn't mean every title needs to be developed in house, Iger said. Disney needs to make sure it has games for every platform -- the Nintendo Wii game console as well as smart phones.
"I'm suggesting this is a business that is varied in nature and has gotten broader, in terms of variety, than a number of people expected," Iger said. "We need to make sure we are structured ... to take advantage of all elements of the games business."
-- Dawn C. Chmielewski
Photo: Bob Iger at the Nov. 15, 2009, premiere of Disney's "The Princess and the Frog." Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times