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Disney chief defends TV bid

COMBINING Pocahontas with international sporting events would give a Disney/ABC conglomerate the punch to fight its way into satellite and cable markets in developing countries, argues studio boss Michael Eisner in defence of his $19bn (pounds 12.3bn) bid for the television network.

"The combination of ESPN [ABC's satellite sports channel] and the Disney Channel in Third World countries is very attractive," Mr Eisner tells tonight's edition of BBC 2's Money Programme.

He dismisses criticism that he is following a popular, but not necessarily wise, trend by seeking to create one of the world's largest media groups. "We're not looking really to be fashionable. We're looking to enhance our position in the entertainment world," he says.

Opponents of the Disney-Capital Cities/ABC deal - and other mega-mergers between content suppliers, such as studios, and distributors, such as broadcasters - complain that there are few synergies from which benefits can be milked.

Disney will still have to distribute its films through other channels or face ruin, while ABC cannot afford to be limited to a single supplier of films, if for no other reason than that one studio cannot fill the network's movie slots.

There are also examples - such as Sony - of organisations becoming anti- creative when they grow too large, argues Peter Bart, editor of Variety, the entertainment industry trade magazine. "There's absolutely no evidence that huge mega-companies can effectively manage movies, television and creative products of that sort."

But Mr Eisner insists that being big is critical for successful media companies heading into the next century.

"Size is essential if you are to compete on a worldwide basis. Without size you cannot spend $1m an episode on a television series. You cannot afford to make motion pictures that cost anywhere from $20m-$80m," he said.

The Disney mogul kicked off the current spate of mergers earlier in the summer with his bid for ABC, backed in part by a consortium of Japanese banks, which have reportedly put up 30 per cent of the purchase price.