Ovitz rumours rife at Disney

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The Independent Online
Speculation was raging yesterday over the future of Michael Ovitz, the hard-driving second-in-command at the Walt Disney Company, who is reported to have long been unhappy at the entertainment giant and in search of an escape hatch.

It is less than 18 months since Mr Ovitz, widely dubbed "the most powerful man in Hollywood", walked away from the Creative Artists Agency and became president of Disney. Talk was almost instantaneous, however, about a clash of style with his old friend, Michael Eisner, the Disney chairman.

Were Mr Ovitz to walk from Disney it would not be without considerable compensation. It is thought that under his contract his pay-off would be $10m (pounds 6m) alone. He would, however, sacrifice his Disney stock options. Disney shares have risen about $20 to $72 a share since Mr Ovitz arrived.

A possible bolt-hole for Mr Ovitz is Sony, which has been looking to revive its ailing Hollywood operations. Rumours abound that Nobuyuki Idei, president of Sony, may be about to instal Mr Ovitz as president of Sony's US subsidiary, the Sony Corporation of America. That position was held by Michael Schulhof until he was forced to resign in 1995.

Mr Ovitz apparently had dinner with Mr Idei this week and held other meetings with top Sony executives. The company, however, is refusing to confirm the speculation. "There are no plans to hire Mr Ovitz," a Sony spokesman said, while adding that there had been "definitely serious conversations" about the possibility.

Mr Ovitz was also reported to have held talks with executives from Viacom, including its chairman, Sumner Redstone, on a visit to New York.

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