Disney trades announcer for ... rabbit?
MarketWatch 2/9/06

Disney trades announcer for ... rabbit?
LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- A 61-year-old sportscaster for a 79-year-old animated rabbit?

Such are the deals being made these days in Hollywood as new Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger indicated that his company would be extending another olive branch within the entertainment community.

This time, Iger is trading "Monday Night Football" sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC Universal for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character that was the predecessor to Mickey Mouse.

It doesn't stop there, though, as Disney's ESPN gets the rights to broadcast Ryder Cup golf, extended Olympics highlights and various cross-promotion deals.

The rabbit was a creation of company founder Walt Disney's in 1927, and the source of 26 cartoons that he produced for Universal Studios. Disney discovered, however, that Universal wanted ownership of Oswald, so he set out to create a new character. That gave birth to Mickey Mouse.

Disney did not spell out what it planned to do with Oswald -- whether the character will be revived and marketed in some fashion.

But the deal does suggest that Iger's early tenure will be marked by détente. After taking over from the mercurial Michael Eisner last year, Iger has mended fences with dissident shareholders Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, and patched up relations with animation partner Pixar enough to forge a merger pact between the two companies.

This latest deal returns a long-lost character that some in the Disney family had cherished.

"When Bob was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word," said Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's daughter, in a statement. "Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun."

In addition to the Olympics and Ryder Cup rights, ESPN will be able to promote its Monday-night games on NBC's Sunday games through 2011. It also gets expanded video-highlight rights from NBC Sports properties through 2011.
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