An Apple-Disney merger? Here’s how Bob Iger says it could have happened

Apple Inc. and the Walt Disney Co. could have merged had Steve Jobs not died, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger believes.

Vanity Fair on Wednesday published an excerpt from Iger’s upcoming autobiography, in which he detailed his close relationship with Jobs, who died of cancer in 2011. It was that bond that helped pave the way to Disney’s $7.4 billion purchase of Jobs’s other company, Pixar Animation, in 2006.

That deal — which had many doubters — saved both companies, Iger wrote, by giving Pixar vastly more resources and re-energizing a then-foundering Disney animation unit.

Iger wrote that Jobs appreciated boldness, and gave him a sneak peek at Apple’s new video iPod before it had been announced after Iger one day mentioned to Jobs the idea of “an iTunes platform for TV shows” — the exact thing Jobs had been secretly working on. That led to Disney’s ABC signing on to provide content for the fledgling Apple iTunes video streaming service.

Iger also said Jobs vouched for him to the CEO of Marvel Studios during a key point in acquisition negotiations in 2009 that helped smooth that deal, which, like Pixar, has proved lucrative for Disney.

While Jobs was Disney’s largest shareholder, Iger said Jobs told him: “You can’t think of me as that. That’s insulting. I’m just a good friend.”

Iger said that about an hour before the announcement of the Disney-Pixar deal, Jobs took him aside and revealed his cancer diagnosis. “I think I owe you the right, given this knowledge, to back out of the deal,” Jobs told him. Iger said he quickly rejected the offer to back out.

“I had no idea if I was doing the right thing, but I’d quickly calculated that Steve was not material to the deal itself, although he certainly was material to me.” Iger said that night he told his wife, who had known Jobs for years, and “instead of toasting what had been a momentous day in my early tenure as CEO, we cried together over the news.”

“With every success the company has had since Steve’s death, there’s always a moment in the midst of my excitement when I think, I wish Steve could be here for this,” Iger wrote. “It’s impossible not to have the conversation with him in my head that I wish I could be having in real life. More than that, I believe that if Steve were still alive, we would have combined our companies, or at least discussed the possibility very seriously.”

Rumors of a merger between Apple and Disney have been floated over the years, most recently in 2017, when analysts speculated Apple could make a $200 billion-plus megadeal to create a tech and entertainment giant as it repatriated its hoard of overseas cash.

That never happened, of course, and any deal now would likely be the largest acquisition ever. As of the close of trading Wednesday, Apple AAPL, +0.94%  has a market cap of just under $1 trillion, while Disney DIS, +0.36%  is valued at about $245 billion.

Last week, Iger resigned from Apple’s board of directors, which he had served on since 2012, now that Apple and Disney are about to launch competing streaming services.

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