Pixar Profits Hardens Bottom Line, Toughens Disney Talks

Journalists may be running out of fish jokes or aquatic puns but Pixar Animation Studio’s mega-hit Finding Nemo hasn’t run out of steam. In fact, its performance has been so stellar that it’s largely being credited with boosting Pixar’s profits to an all-time high. For the quarter just ended, the studio’s bottom line is up 87% over the same quarter last year. And the stock price is up almost 50% from where it was last September. In its third month of release, Nemo was still among the top-ten box office earners last weekend.

Currently in the middle of intense negotiations with the Walt Disney Company over the future of their co-production pact, the news significantly bolsters CEO Steve Jobs’ negotiating position with Disney head Michael Eisner. It’s no secret in the biz that Jobs doesn’t like Eisner much, so it was more than just reporting the facts yesterday when Jobs pointed out that Nemo has now surpassed Disney’s The Lion King as the most successful animated film ever released in North America. “We are very clear on what a new deal for Pixar will look like,” Jobs said. “If we can’t reach a deal with Disney, (we have) several other viable options.” The current deal has Pixar and Disney splitting production costs, ownership and profits. Jobs wants a new deal that mirrors the one George Lucas has with Fox, where the studio receives a flat distribution fee for all Lucas product and no share of the profits. Pixar owes Disney two more films under the terms of the old deal. There has been a lot of bad blood between the two companies because the old deal doesn’t count sequels such as Toy Story II as a new title. Jobs yesterday floated Warner Bros., Fox and Sony Pictures as viable potential new partners.

To date, Finding Nemo has grossed $374 million worldwide. It still hasn’t opened in 33 of the 68 countries it’s planned for, including the U.K. and Japan. Pixar has two future films in the pipeline: The Incredibles, the first Pixar film with humans as main characters (due for release in 2004), and a yet-to-be-named project for sometime in 2005. Shares of Pixar dropped $1.94 to $65.56 yesterday. The animation studio released its latest financial results after the market had closed.