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Disney's on Deck

Investors want to see what Bob Iger has up his sleeve next.

Disney (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report investors are ready to see Bob Iger work some more of his magic.

Though he won't officially take over for Michael Eisner at the head of the Burbank, Calif., media company till this fall, CEO-elect Iger already has managed to pull a number of rabbits out of his hat. Between a revival at the company's theme parks, the rebound of the ABC-TV network, a peace pact with dissident board members Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, a realigned strategic division and some new media and gaming ventures, Iger can't seem to put a foot wrong.

His next turn at bat will come after the market closes Tuesday, when Disney is due to post third-quarter numbers. Analysts polled by Thomson will be looking for earnings of 38 cents per share on $7.92 billion in revenue.

Yet as glowing as Iger's track record is, investors have resumed their arm's-length relationship with Disney's stock. This year it's down 8%, making last year's sharp rise just a memory. On Monday, Disney slipped a dime to $25.38.

In part, Wall Street has cooled again on Disney, because two big tests still await the company and its new leader: the sale of radio assets and a renewed distribution deal with animation partner




The status of the radio sale will be on everyone's mind on Tuesday's earnings call. The company has been largely mum on the subject, apart from reiterating what wonderful assets they are. Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns are managing the process of selling the ABC News and ESPN radio network and stations, in a deal that could fetch upwards of $3 billion. The assets are all the more valuable given their location in cities such as Los Angeles and New York.

Last month Disney reportedly fielded bids from three or more big players in the radio space:


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But the most eagerly anticipated event would involve a new partnership with Pixar and Chief Executive Steve Jobs, which just a few short months ago seemed next to impossible, given the fractious relationship between Jobs and Eisner.

It might be a little early to expect good news on the Pixar front, as Jobs has said that he would like to wrap up the process of finding a new distribution partner by year's end. On Pixar's call last week, Jobs discussed how the Dinsey/Pixar marketing machine is in the process of gearing up for the most comprehensive marketing push for a Pixar film so far. The film is the last to be distributed under the current arrangement.


will be released in theaters next June.

On Pixar's call, Jobs said, "As far as a future distribution deal is concerned, we are now engaged with Disney trying to figure out if


will be our last movie together or the beginning of a new, longer-term partnership between our studios." Jobs categorized the talks as "productive and professional" and said that he likes the two principal players, Iger and Disney studio chief Dick Cook, a lot. Jobs was "cautiously optimistic" but said that there were "still several hurdles to cross before they will know if a deal will happen or not." Jobs then said that he hopes to have a deal in place "with our chosen studio" by year's end.

If that chosen partner turns out to be Disney, as seems increasingly likely, 2005 will indeed be a year to remember for Bob Iger.