Disney announced that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the first big-eared star to issue from the studio’s light boxes, is coming home via a deal with NBC/Universal, which has held rights to the property since its theatrical debut in 1927. In exchange, Disney will allow popular ABC sportscaster Al Michaels to contract with NBC.
“As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney’s creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself,” says Disney CEO Robert Iger. Upon taking the office, the new studio chief told Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s daughter, that bringing Oswald back into the fold was one of his priorities
After spending four years with the famous Alice live-action/animated comedy shorts, Walt Disney produced 26 silent Oswald cartoons between 1927 and 1928 for Charles Mintz, who contracted with Universal for the distribution. On a trip to New York to renew his contract for Oswald, Walt discovered a clause that gave Universal ownership of his popular new character. Devastated, Walt resolved to come up with a new character that he would own completely and on the train ride back to Hollywood he came up with Mickey Mouse. Incidentally, Oswald was the first Disney character to launch a merchandising campaign’the Lucky Rabbit’s fans could enjoy an Oswald candy bar, a stencil set and a pin-backed button!
In addition to the Al Michaels move, the transaction grants ESPN significant programming and promotional rights, including telecasts of the live Friday coverage of four Ryder Cup golf championships through 2014, expanded video highlights of the Olympics through 2012, video promotion for ESPN’s Monday Night Football during NBC’s Sunday night football through 2011, and expanded highlight rights to other NBC Sports properties through 2011.