Disney Buys Pixar

The Walt Disney Company made a bold move toward reclaiming leadership of the movie animation market on Tuesday.

Disney bought Pixar Animation Studios , the high-profile production company headed by Steve Jobs. Pixar pioneered the creation of full-length digital animation movies. The all-stock transaction, expected to be completed this summer, has a cash value of about $7.4 billion.

In a conference call with analysts, Jobs declined to discuss what he said were ongoing discussions with Disney regarding its distribution of Pixar films.

“Disney is our first choice,” said Jobs, but he left open the possibility that he could pick another distributor during the months leading up to the completion of the acquisition. “It’s worth investing a few months to decide if we go with Disney,” he said.

Disney is under contract to distribute the next Pixar movie, “Cars,” but there is no agreement for future films that are already in development.

Jobs is well known as the co-founder and current CEO of Apple Computer, where he’s made deals to market certain ABC TV shows owned by Disney at Apple’s iTunes shopping site.

With the addition of Jobs, 11 of Disney’s 14 directors will be independent. Both the Disney and Pixar animation units will retain their current operations and locations in southern and northern California, respectively. John Lasseter, Pixar’s executive vice president and the creative force behind such Pixar hits as “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters Inc.,” will be chief creative officer of the animation studios. Lasseter will also gain new responsibilities as the principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering. where the company said he will provide his expertise in the design of new attractions for Disney theme parks around the world.

“With this transaction, we welcome and embrace Pixar’s unique culture, which for two decades has fostered some of the most innovative and successful films in history,” Robert A. Iger, president and CEO of Disney, said in a statement. “The addition of Pixar significantly enhances Disney animation, which is a critical creative engine for driving growth across our businesses.”

Pixar President Ed Catmull will serve as president of the new Pixar and Disney animation studios, reporting to Iger and Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

“Disney and Pixar can now collaborate without the barriers that come from two different companies with two different sets of shareholders,” Jobs’ statement said. “Now, everyone can focus on what is most important, creating innovative stories, characters and films that delight millions of people around the world.”

In response to an analyst’s question, Jobs weighed in on the competition between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD as the new storage format for movies sold directly to consumers. “We’d like to be wherever the most volume and the most popular players are,” said Jobs. “Right now, it looks like Blu-Ray is taking the lead, with the majority of the computer industry supporting it and major studios. But nothing is over till it’s over.”

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