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Over the course of two hours, an attorney for “Millionaire” creator Celador had Iger revisiting the success of the game show by reading emails, financial reports and Nielsen ratings, all from a decade ago.
Disney is defending itself against a lawsuit that claims Celador is owed as much as $270 million because ABC, Buena Vista Television and Valleycrest Prods. cut sweetheart deals favoring the three Disney-owned businesses at the expense of Celador.
With a couple of annual reports on hand to jog his memory, Iger testified that Disney’s TV broadcast unit grew its revenue 21% in 2000 over 1999, but Celador attorney Roman Silberfeld couldn’t get Iger to attribute the jump solely to “Millionaire,” which was on a ratings tear at the time.
“It was a factor,” Iger said. “There were other factors.”
Silberfeld read emails sent to Iger and others from Disney’s research department that raved about “Millionaire’s” early Nielsen ratings in August 1999. In one week the audience grew from 16 million to 22 million and the Alphabet was experiencing a ratings success it hadn’t seen in years.
Iger called it “a great performance for a summer program,” but Silberfeld kept at it, making Iger repeat several times and in various ways how huge the show was.
But while Iger was a top Disney executive and the main man at ABC back then, he wasn’t yet CEO. That title belonged to Michael Eisner. While he is out of the country and unable to testify so far, some emails from him were nevertheless read aloud in court on Wednesday.
“This program is going to turn around ABC, which was doing OK anyway,” one email said. “This kind of thing happens maybe once a decade,” said another. Eisner even predicted “Millionaire” would be a $1 billion franchise for the company.
“He often got excited about things,” Iger said of Eisner, while calling himself, on more than one occasion, “more measured” than his predecessor.
In one email Iger compared “Millionaire” to a deal with the NFL that cost Disney $9 billion over eight years. Silberfeld’s insinuation was clear: Why shouldn’t Disney also pay more than $1 billion a year for the rights to “Millionaire”?
It’s about risk, Iger explained, and “Millionaire” was an unknown entity back then. Besides, Disney’s code of business conduct — which Silberfeld went over in detail — requires executives to compete aggressively and fairly for content, “not to pay people more than they are owed,” Iger told Disney lead attorney Marty Katz during cross examination.
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