Disney Buys Lucasfilm for $4.05 Billion

Seventh 'Star Wars' Planned for 2015

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Walt Disney Co. agreed to buy George Lucas's Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4.05 billion in cash and stock, adding "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" to a roster of film hits including "The Avengers" and "Finding Nemo."

Mr. Lucas, 68, the sole owner, will receive half in cash and the balance in stock, becoming a major investor in the film, theme-park and TV company, according to a statement today from Burbank, California-based Disney. The first of a new trilogy of "Star Wars" films will be released in 2015, Disney said.

The deal brings Disney, which paid a combined $11 billion for Pixar and Marvel in the past decade, two of Hollywood's most lucrative franchises. The "Star Wars" films have generated $4.54 billionin worldwide ticket sales, second to Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter," according to Box Office Mojo. "Indiana Jones" pictures have collected $1.95 billion.

"Dating all the way back to Walt Disney's day, we learned the value of great content, characters, storytelling and great imaginary worlds," CEO Robert Iger said in an interview.

The acquisition complements Iger's focus on sequels and film franchises, fitting the same profile as the Marvel purchase three years ago.

"If Disney is really trying to focus on the tent-pole, event pictures, and given that this is something that has huge carryover value in the parks and merchandise business, it certainly makes sense," said Matthew Harrigan, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities in Denver. "This is just the paradigm of the sustainable Hollywood franchise."

Talks between Disney and Lucas began a year and a half ago, Mr. Iger said today on a conference call. "It's his intent to retire," Mr. Iger said.

Kathleen Kennedy, co-chairman of Lucasfilm with its founder, will become president of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, according to the statement. Disney has no plans to develop Lucas films other than "Star Wars," executives said on a conference call.

Reinventing Disney
"It's now time for me to pass 'Star Wars' on to a new generation of filmmakers," Mr. Lucas said in the statement. "I've always believed that 'Star Wars' could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime." Lucasfilm was advised by the law firm Latham & Watkins.

With the acquisition, Disney also obtains Mr. Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, the pioneering shop that gave "Star Wars" its dramatic visual appeal and made advanced special effects a must-have feature in adventure films. On the call, Mr. Iger said he intends to keep the business.

The purchase may boost Disney's money-losing interactive unit by adding LucasArts, home to video-game titles including "Lego Star Wars," "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" and "Star Wars: Battlefront." The company recently announced a collaboration on an "Angry Birds: Star Wars" game with Rovio Entertainment Oy.

Mr. Iger, 61, is reinventing Disney's film business through acquisitions of popular animated and live-action characters, starting with the May 2006 purchase of Mr. Jobs's Pixar for $7 billion and Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4.2 billion.

"Marvel's The Avengers," the first film from that acquisition to be marketed by Disney, is the top movie of the year worldwide, with $1.51 billion in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. The picture,Disney's biggest ever, led to a 24% jump in profit in the quarter ended June 30.

Mr. Iger is also using Pixar and Marvel characters as fodder for theme-park improvements, such as the Cars Land attraction that opened this year at the company's California Adventure park in Anaheim, California. Disney parks also feature "Star Tours" and "Indiana Jones" rides.

"The question is , could Lucafilm have the same earnings power as Marvel," said Brett Harriss, an analyst with Gabelli & Co., in Rye, New York, who has a hold rating on the stock. "It's not a stretch to think that Lucasfilm could be as productive as Marvel."

Licensing giant
Lucasfilm will generate 25% of its revenue this year from its film library and a slightly higher percentage from consumer-products licensing, Jay Rasulo, Disney's chief financial officer, said on the conference call. The balance comes from the company's games and technology businesses.

In 2005, when Lucasfilm released the last "Star Wars" picture, the company generated $550 million in operating income, Mr. Rasulo said.

Lucasfilm's consumer-products revenue this year will be comparable to the $215 million Marvel generated in 2009, when Disney acquired it, Mr. Rasulo said, suggesting 2012 sales of about $860 million for all of Lucasfilm. Disney seeks to expand "Star Wars" merchandise beyond toys and sees international markets, now 40% of consumer-product revenue, as a growth opportunity, he said.

Hasbro Inc. which holds the main license for "Star Wars" toys, sells about $140 million a year in related products, according to Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co. in New York. A hit film in 2015 could triple that , he said.

"The 'Star Wars' universe is immense," Mr. McGowan said in an e-mail. "And the franchise has the potential be the biggest ever."

~Bloomberg News~

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