January 24, 2006 2:19 PM PST
Steve Jobs' rise to movie mogul
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Apple computers had long been widely used inside the music and movie industries, but the company itself moved awkwardly into the entertainment business. It was slow to add CD burners to computers, and then launched its iTunes music software with a "Rip. Mix. Burn" advertising campaign that angered record executives fearful of music piracy.
In early 2002, Jobs brought his full charms to bear on a music industry that had resisted most advances from the high-tech world. In a series of face-to-face meetings with the industry's top executives, he showed off his idea for a new music store that would protect copyrights but be easier to use than previous music download services.
The full-court-press worked and Jobs launched the iTunes Music store in April 2003. Initially Mac-only, the store quickly expanded to Windows and emerged as the dominant force in the online music business.
That ambition has now been expanded to video, with TV shows, music videos and Pixar shorts. To launch that service, Jobs went first to Disney, which provided the Pixar chief with the first television content for iTunes from the Disney-owned ABC network.
"This is a first giant step," said Disney CEO Robert Iger, appearing on stage with Jobs to tout the new video offering late last year. "It is the future, as far as we are concerned."
That cordial appearance followed a near-catastrophic collapse of the relationship between Jobs' Pixar and Disney, however. Indeed, the appearance of Iger on the same stage with Jobs immediately loosed speculation that some new deal between the companies was close--or at least that Iger was hoping to mend bridges.
In early 2004, Pixar announced that it had broken off talks with Disney to renew their relationship, and would begin negotiating with other studios. Jobs himself savaged the older company in a conference call with analysts, saying that Disney had "very little creative input" on Pixar films.
"You can compare the creative quality of Pixar's last three films--for example--with the creative quality of Disney's last three films," Jobs said in that February 2004 conference call. "No amount of marketing will turn a dud into a hit. Not even Disney's marketing and brand could turn Disney's last two films--'Treasure Planet' and 'Brother Bear'--into successes."
The revelation that Disney was ultimately hoping to buy--not just distribute--Pixar was evidence to many in the industry of just how far the onetime pioneer of animated film had fallen from its original creative leadership.
"I've just been dismayed at the direction the company has gone in the last 10 years," UCLA's Ward said. "I thought if they lost Pixar, they should get out of the animation business and just stay in the hotel and theme park lines."
Now the future of Pixar--and Disney--may depend on just how well Jobs can retain the single-minded focus on detail that's led to successful Apple products and hit animated films. That in turn will likely depend on how much breathing space Jobs can lay claim to inside the massive Disney structure for his creative team.
Other Disney studio acquisitions, such as the 1996 purchase of the well-regarded Dreamquest special effects studio, haven't gone smoothly. But as with many of Jobs' previous sequels, it would probably be a mistake to expect anything less than a surprise ending.
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