Disney Throws Media in Review

Unlike most blue-chip media reviews, The Walt Disney Co.’s buying and planning search is expected to be conducted at a blistering pace. Agency executives and observers agreed that price is likely to be the most important factor.

“They’re using all the strategies they can to maximize their dollars,” said one executive. Last year, Disney spent just under $600 million on measured media, according to CMR.

Although the source said the review “is not driven by the economy,” the decision follows a period in which the sluggish economy and business dropoff from last month’s terrorist attacks took a toll on Disney’s performance. Even before Sept. 11, Disney reported third-quarter net income down 3 percent from last year. After the attacks, many analysts predicted bleak earnings for the next few quarters.

“Disney is clearly looking at the performance of its overall business,” said David Doft, managing director of ABN Amro, New York. Said an agency executive, “The decision is going to be on buying clout.”

Contenders include incumbent Initiative Media, Los Angeles; Starcom, Chicago; Zenith Media and The Media Edge in New York; and TBWA\Chiat\Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., sources said. It is unclear how TBWA\C\D would work the account, given its relationship with Omnicom media sister OMD, which handles Universal Studios with DDB.

Disney has said it wants to conclude the review “very quickly, perhaps within a month,” said a source. The shops will present this week at Disney headquarters in Burbank, Calif., to a committee that includes Matt Ryan, Disney svp/corporate brand management; Kristy Frudenfeld, head of media for Walt Disney Studios; Lauren Heller, Walt Disney Attractions; and Barbara Isham from Disney World, sources said.

Duties in play include the vast majority of planning and buying for Disney movies, theme parks, home video, interactive and Internet operations, most of which is handled by Initiative. (Starcom does planning for the two theme parks.)

Carat handles Disney abroad, but in the U.S. has a conflict with its New Line Studios client.

None of the incumbents would comment. Disney representatives were unavailable.

On the line is one of the most enduring relationships in Southern California. When Western International Media (now Initiative) won the Disney business in 1986, it put the world’s first media buying company on the national map.