Walt Disney chief executiveMichael Eisner is willing to consider selling its Miramax division back tofounders and co-chairmen, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, according to a report yesterday in The New York Times.
Quoting "close associates"and "friends and executives who have discussed the issue" with Eisner, thepaper says that the Disney chief is considering the move after "accumulatedaggravation with the Weinstein brothers" most recently the dispute over whetherMiramax could distribute Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
The New York Times says Miramax's future came up at a recent two-dayretreat of Disney directors where, as part of a review of the variousdivisions, the board discussed several alternatives, which included selling orkeeping the unit.
It also says that on arecent trip to New York, Eisner discussed the idea over dinner with friends,saying he might be willing to sell Miramax but did not think the Weinsteinscould raise the money.
A senior Disney executivetold the paper: "The business is not for sale. We own 100 percent of it.At the same time, we do have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest ofshareholders and to consider bona fide, credible proposals."
Disneymaintains that Miramax has not been as profitable as in the past. In a recent earningscall, Eisner said Miramax had been profitable in two of the last five years. Asenior Disney executive, without disclosing specific figures, told The NewYork Times that Miramax showed a profit in 2003, but would lose money in2004. But Miramax disagreed, saying it had a $211m profit in 2003. Miramaxspokesman Matthew Hiltzik told the paper: "Bob and Harvey only receivetheir bonuses if the company is profitable. They have received those bonusesevery single year." He added: "If the company thinksMiramax is so unprofitable, Bob and Harvey would be happy to buy it back ifDisney names the price."