Walt Disney (DIS) CEO Michael Eisner may have thought he had troubles with Steve Jobs's Pixar Animation Studios (PIXR), which wants out of its deal with Disney. Now, just as Disney's animation unit is trying to stage a comeback, former Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg is arming his DreamWorks SKG to pump out more animated films. Katzenberg, who launched DreamWorks in 1994 with fellow moguls David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, will be CEO of a publicly traded DreamWorks animation unit that plans a $650 million initial public offering. The unit, which will be separate from DreamWorks' live-action division, will release two computer-generated animation films annually, the most in Hollywood. DreamWorks' current release Shrek 2 is the highest-grossing animated film ever, with sales of more than $410 million. Next up: Shark Tale, with the voices of Will Smith and Robert DeNiro, in October. Long gone are the days when no one could rival Disney's animated films.
With turmoil in the Middle East and intrigue in Russia, you would think gas prices would be shooting through the roof. Not so. Even though oil has recently flirted with near-record highs -- closing at $40.58 a barrel in New York futures trading on July 21 -- gasoline at the pump has just inched upward. The Energy Dept. says the national average price for regular was just under $1.93 on July 19. That's well below the $2.06 average just before Memorial Day. The reason? Fears that the U.S. would run short of gasoline during the summer driving season are receding. On July 21, the Energy Dept. announced that U.S. gasoline inventories rose by 2.5 million barrels in the week ended July 17, even though they usually fall at this time of year. With Labor Day in sight, futures traders are starting to dump gasoline.
Judy McGrath became one of the highest-ranking women execs in media on July 20, when she was promoted to chairman and CEO of Viacom's (VIA) MTV Networks from group president. McGrath, 51, succeeds Tom Freston, who was earlier named co-president and co-chief operating officer at Viacom. In her new job, the Scranton (Pa.) native will oversee not only MTV but Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Spike TV, and other channels. Her promotion prompted the resignation of MTV COO Mark Rosenthal. Known for developing cutting-edge programming, McGrath must keep audiences glued to MTV Networks at a time when they have more entertainment choices than ever.
The global club of beer brewers keeps getting cozier. To keep up with Anheuser-Busch (BUD) and SABMiller (RKY), which have grown through acquisitions, Adolph Coors and Canada's Molson confirmed on July 19 that they were in "advanced negotiations" to merge. The combined company would have $6 billion in annual sales, closing in on SABMiller, the world's No. 2 brewer with $8 billion in revenue. Anheuser is No. 1 with $14 billion. But analysts are questioning whether the deal would be much of a boost for Coors or Molson. The two already market each other's brands, so they're unlikely to see any market-share gains in the U.S. or Canada.
It has been a topsy-turvy year in J.D. Power Associates auto surveys. In April, upstart Hyundai bested Toyota (TM) in initial vehicle quality. Then on July 20, Ford Motor's (F) Lincoln nabbed top honors in Power's annual survey of customer satisfaction with dealer service, followed by General Motors' (GM) Buick. The two left perennial leaders Infiniti and Lexus in the dust. Lincoln, whose higher quality has cut repair work, nabbed a record satisfaction score -- 912 out of a possible 1,000 points -- to top Power's list for the first time in 23 years. Now, Lincoln and Buick dealers need to win back buyers who have defected to imports.
-- Former NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso sued the Big Board for breach of contract, seeking $50 million.
-- Fiber-optic equipment maker Corning (GLW) returned to profitability.
-- Eight states sued five U.S. power companies, demanding emission cuts.
Will there ever be joy in Disk-Drive Land? After posting a $33 million second-quarter loss, Seagate Technology (STX) shares skidded 16.4%, to $11.96, on July 21. Its plans to register 60 million new shares also has investors worried about dilution.