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Will Nemo find an iPod?
Pixar is splitting up with Disney. Does that open the door for Steve Jobs to fold Pixar into Apple?
January 30, 2004: 2:10 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Now that Pixar and Walt Disney have gone their separate ways, does it make sense for Apple to buy Pixar?

After all, both companies are run by Steve Jobs. And Apple, with its huge success in the online music arena, is beginning to look more and more like a content company, as opposed to a pure hardware firm. Plus, Apple is one of the best marketers around.

"It's an interesting idea," said Dennis McAlpine, an analyst with McAlpine Associates, an independent media research firm. "The basis of Pixar's success is computer animation and Jobs is trying to get more into music and entertainment. It's a little convoluted but stranger things have happened."

Hey Nemo, Buzz and Sully! Want to check out my new PowerBook G4?  
Hey Nemo, Buzz and Sully! Want to check out my new PowerBook G4?

An Apple deal for Pixar (PIXR: Research, Estimates) is certainly doable from a financial standpoint. Apple (AAPL: Research, Estimates) has $4.8 billion in cash on its balance sheet. Pixar's market value, as of Thursday's market close, was $3.6 billion.

One person on Yahoo! Finance's Apple message board seemed to embrace the possibility, titling a post "Apple + Pixar= iCartoons."

Just think of the cross-marketing opportunities.

Those surfer dude sea turtles from "Finding Nemo" listening to the Beach Boys on their iPods. "Toy Story"'s Woody using Apple's new GarageBand software to compose a love song for his girlfriend Bo Peep. And how about Sully from "Monsters Inc." editing "How to Scare Kids" videos with iMovie on his Power Mac G5?

Selling content, not creating it, is king

Still, as fun as it is to speculate about an Apple and Pixar merger, the odds of it actually happening are fairly remote.

In an age when investors take corporate governance issues seriously, an Apple takeover of Pixar could be viewed as just a tad self-serving. Steve Jobs owns approximately 55 percent of Pixar's shares, according to the company's latest proxy statement, so he'd be basically paying himself if there's a big premium in a deal.

"It might make sense for Jobs to run one company under the same roof, but it's probably easier to keep them separate," said Barry Ritholtz, market strategist with Maxim Group, a New York-based asset management firm.

Apple declined to comment for this story. But with both Apple and Pixar doing quite well on their own, there's really no need to combine them. From Apple's perspective, it appears that the future is in selling content, not necessarily creating it.

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Sweet music for Apple

Remember all those rumors about Apple buying Universal Music last year? That never panned out. Apple went ahead and launched its iTunes music store instead and gained access to songs from all the major record labels.

Henry Hewitt, manager of the Light Revolution fund, which owns shares of Apple and Pixar (he jokes that his fund is "overweight Steve Jobs"), said he expects Apple's next entertainment move will be to create a service similar to iTunes for legal movie downloads. The Apple Web site is already a leading source of movie trailers that can be viewed with Apple's QuickTime media player.

Computing and Information Technology

Bandwidth constraints will remain a big stumbling block though. It's one thing to view a 90 second movie trailer or download Outkast's "Hey Ya!", a song that lasts about four minutes, on to your home computer with a DSL or cable modem. Downloading all three and a half hours of "The Return of the King" is another story.

So Hewitt doesn't think we'll see a legal movie download store from Apple until next year at the earliest. But he does think it will be another big success for Apple. "iPods are the razor and the content is the blade." Hewitt said. "If Jobs can figure out how to do the same thing with Hollywood, that's a great place to make money."

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Pixar says it is ending talks with The Walt Disney Company to extend their existing five-picture deal. CNNfn's Fred Katayama reports.

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As for Pixar, a deal could still very well be in the cards. But don't bet on it happening anytime soon.

"Apple is a tech company that is morphing somewhat into an entertainment company but it's still such a small part of the game for them," said Robert Routh, an analyst with Natexis Bleichroeder. "In the future, five or ten years down the road, a merger with Pixar might make more sense."  Top of page

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