Auction Talk: Online at Disney, in the Papers at Chris-Craft

Plus, what's the Mouse going to do about a second-in-command to Eisner?
Publish date:


(DIS) - Get Report

is readying an online-auction push to get some traction for its lagging Internet efforts.

The company announced last week that it had launched auctions on

, its portal site, mirroring auctions at



and other Web portals. Web sites love auctions because they're both revenue boosters and "sticky content," encouraging people to spend more time on a site and return more often. But


(EBAY) - Get Report

, the early leader in the online-auction business, retains a crushing lead in the segment, with far more buyers and sellers than any other auction site.

eBay's lead is especially annoying to Disney because Disney's collectibles are some of the most popular auction items on the Internet, with more than 20,000 Disney-related auctions now taking place on eBay alone. At a

J.P. Morgan

media conference yesterday, Disney Chief Financial Officer Thomas Staggs said collectors regularly ask the Mouse to authenticate Disney merchandise they've bought at other sites. Now Disney may have figured out a way to use that popularity to its advantage. In August, the company registered


. The new sites will offer some special bait: authentic Disney merchandise.

Disney won't discuss exactly what items the sites will sell, but obvious categories include limited-edition branded collectibles as well as "cels," the drawings created for Disney's animated movies, which can be extremely pricey. In addition to merchandise offered by the company, the Disney auctions will include some "person-to-person" sales, a Disney spokeswoman says. She declined to discuss details of the Disney-branded auctions, but says they will have a different "look and feel" than the Go auction site, though the two will be connected.

The auctions have lots of potential benefits for Disney. In addition to pulling traffic to Go, they'll give the company information about consumer demand it can use to set prices at its Disney stores, which have lately been suffering. And they're one more way for Disney to take advantage of its brand, offering the company a new (albeit minor) revenue stream.

More on the Mouse

In other Disney news: Don't expect the Mouse to appoint a new president anytime soon. Upset with the company's weak earnings and sagging stock price, as well as missteps like Disney Chairman

Michael Eisner's


celebrity death match (a.k.a. trial) with Jeffrey Katzenberg, investors have been hoping Eisner will bring in a strong No. 2.

But the affable CFO Staggs, whose title is now executive vice president, nimbly dodged a question about his own prospects for a promotion by telling


that Eisner has no plans to hire a president anytime soon. Ever the company man, Staggs insisted that the company's structure is fine as is.

Arts and Crafts



is up big this week on talk that the television company could be ready to sell itself, most likely to


(CBS) - Get Report



(VIA) - Get Report

. Since a report Wednesday in

The Wall Street Journal

, the company's stock has risen about 10% to 64. The gains cap a 50% rise for Chris-Craft over the last six months, since a March


story highlighted the company's prospects as a value play.

But two of the company's biggest institutional investors say Chris-Craft, which owns half of the


television network as well as television stations nationwide, still could have further to run. Bruce Sherman of

Private Capital Management

, which owns more than 2 million shares of Chris-Craft and its two publicly traded subsidiaries, says he thinks the total value of the company could be more than $4 billion, not the $3.5 billion estimated in the



What price that translates into for Chris-Craft depends on how the takeover premium is distributed among Chris-Craft,

United Television



BHC Communications

(BHC) - Get Report

, the three companies that make up Chris-Craft's burgeoning empire. But a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests minimum prices of 130 for United Television, 160 for BHC and 70 for Chris-Craft are well within reason. (United Television now trades at 120, while BHC is around 152.)

And Sherman notes that the secretive Herb Siegel, who controls Chris-Craft, is an extraordinary negotiator, one of the few executives ever to get the better of the late

Warner Communications


Steve Ross

in a deal. Siegel's unwillingness to build Chris-Craft more aggressively has frustrated investors, but "no one should ever criticize him as a deal-maker," Sherman says.

At these prices, "I'm not a seller, that's for sure," Sherman says.

Laura Linehan, of

Gabelli & Co.

, another big Chris-Craft shareholder, says Chris-Craft's stations in New York and Los Angeles are the crown jewels among independent stations now that the

Federal Communications Commission

has loosened its station ownership rules.

"There's still upside," Linehan says.

Among other potential takeover candidates, Linehan likes

Granite Broadcasting


, which owns stations in Detroit and San Francisco as well as several smaller markets. "That stock is worth 20-plus, and it's at 12," she says. Gabelli owned 63,000 shares of Granite as of June 30.