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US Cable TV Giant Seeks to Buy Walt Disney Company


The largest cable television operator in the United States, Comcast, has launched an aggressive bid to buy the Walt Disney Company. The Disney board of directors says it will "carefully evaluate" the offer, despite an initial rebuff from Disney's chairman, Michael Eisner, earlier this week

The company's stock is valued at about $54 billion. But Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts says the company will continue its efforts to purchase Disney by wooing the company's board members and shareholders.

Disney board members, including Roy Disney, the nephew of founder Walt Disney, have raised questions about the company's performance recently. They have also criticized Mr. Eisner for not preparing a successor.

The Comcast deal would give Disney shareholders a premium and assume Disney's almost $12-billion debt. Mr. Roberts says shareholders may find the offer more attractive than Mr. Eisner.

"We do believe that this is a very compelling offer to the shareholders of Disney," he said. "This is a fair offer for both sides. We are going to pay a big premium, $5 billion. Their stock has had some run-up. It was as low as $15, as high as $25 in the last year. We offered more than that."

The head of Comcast's cable division, Steve Burke, spent many years in leadership roles at Disney. In a conference call with investors and market analysts, Mr. Burke said Comcast wants to reignite several of Disney's key businesses, including its theme parks and animation studio.

"Our feeling is that the Disney animation business is absolutely central to heart of what the Walt Disney Company is," he said. "One of the first things that we would like to do is do everything we can to empower the existing animation group, to try to make sure that over time the Walt Disney Company regains its position as the place for great children's animation.

The second area where we think there is room for revitalization and improvement are the Disney theme parks. It is hard to think of a product or service in the United States that families love more than the Disney theme parks."

Comcast officials say the next step is up to Disney. Philadelphia-based Comcast has 21 million cable television subscribers in 35 states, more than five million high-speed Internet customers, and owns a number of cable sports and entertainment properties.

But some Wall Street analysts suggest that the cable giant may be overreaching by trying to run a creative media empire like Disney.