As the co-founder and CEO of both Apple Computer Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios Inc., Steve Jobs has long bridged the sometimes wide gap between content creators in Hollywood and Silicon Valley technology companies.
With Walt Disney Co.’s $7.4 billion plan to purchase Pixar, Jobs will not only become a major Hollywood player but a bigger force in determining how content is distributed. Under the deal, Jobs will take a seat on Disney’s board and become its biggest individual shareholder.
The computer pioneer is already credited with shaking up Hollywood with his landmark record licensing deals for music downloads and his more recent breakthrough deals to sell television content online, including shows from Disney’s ABC network.
For a decade, Pixar has also dominated the world of animation with blockbuster films like “Finding Nemo,” partnering with Disney to distribute its computer-generated movies.
His technology roots, reputed power of persuasion and an uncanny ability to forecast consumer trends will be handy for the Magic Kingdom as it sheds old trappings and tries to reach tech-savvy customers and a new generation of connected youth.
“His biggest impact will be to help guide Disney into the digital age and be the mediator of this major media company’s content to the world of next-generation digital content delivery,” said Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin.
The love-hate relationship between Silicon Valley and Hollywood has only recently become a flirtatious courtship.
Jobs’ influence in bridging technology with all types of media is already evident.
Youngsters exclaim, “There’s Nemo!” when they spot a clown fish at aquariums. Apple’s sleek iPod players are on most-wanted lists for music lovers and have spawned audio and car accessories, clothing, and the audio genre of podcasts.
For Disney, analysts say, Jobs’ Apple connection will almost certainly mean the Mouse House will be guaranteed distribution via Apple’s iTunes store and iPod players.
As it is, Pixar’s partnership with Disney helped Jobs win the landmark deal last October to sell hit shows from Disney’s ABC on iTunes for $1.99 apiece.
And many expect Apple to further expand into the consumer electronics arena, pushing its computers and gadgets as the hubs of digital media and entertainment, both at home and on-the-go gadgets, including wireless phones.
Despite his newest position in Hollywood, many longtime observers think Jobs’ heart and focus will remain in Silicon Valley, where the 50-year-old Northern California native has imbued Apple with his deep conviction that technology will change the world.
Still, Jobs’ dedication to Apple will not necessarily mean he will sit quietly at Disney.
“I see him more as a king maker at Disney than a king,” said analyst Rob Enderle of The Enderle Group. “However, he could easily become the power behind the throne, and I doubt he will let anyone forget that.”
Jobs’ legendary career started with his co-founding of Apple 30 years ago, but his reputation as a computer visionary and media mogul has as much to do with two risky ventures he started in the aftermath of his departure from Apple in 1985.
One of those businesses, NeXT Computer Inc., bled red ink, but its technology eventually was sold to Apple and led to his triumphant return in 1997.
The other firm, started in 1986 from the purchase of Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division, was named Pixar.