Eisner merges left and right brain at MIPCOM

Says 'creativity can flourish' within financing constraints

CANNES -- An amazingly mellowed and reinvigorated Michael Eisner regaled several hundred MIPCOM-goers Tuesday afternoon with his recipe for creativity in the new digital age.

The former chairman and CEO of Disney argued in a keynote address at the TV trade show that creativity was "a misunderstood subject," suggesting that financial rigor was part and parcel of the process and essentially helped, rather than hindered, the outcome.

"Creativity can flourish," he told the 500 attendees gathered in the convention hall to hear one of Hollywood's best-known executives, "within sensible financial limitations." Micro-management throughout the creative process, he added, is the best way to ensure you end up with a hit.

To drive home his point, he showed a couple of clips of films he had been intimately involved with -- "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Lion King" -- and pointed to particular "creative" choices, which were in fact ones in which financial considerations had worked to the advantage of the creative process.

But Eisner is hardly stuck in the past. He described the current media landscape as "a level playing field for international commerce," which technology had helped hasten. "Time, money and language are no longer barriers," he said. "We're all on the same point."

More relaxed since he exited Disney three years ago and set up his own company, Eisner said he was, despite the ongoing economic turmoil in the markets, "bullish" on the big media companies -- both the obvious Hollywood studios including Disney and a few big international players -- and that they would manage quite handily through this rough period.

When looking at the current multiples and stock price/earnings ratios, he said: "Disney is a steal."

He did concur that there likely wouldn't be "a lot of money around for media in the next year" but as a friend told him recently, the three sectors that would muddle through decently enough would be "liquor, candy -- and entertainment."

Eisner also opined that other companies in the broader media or Internet space could eventually flourish but only if they got involved with "creative content." It's just not enough to be a distribution system, he said.

In his new incarnation, Eisner is coming to grips with the digital world, having set up a company called Tornante and having produced microbudgeted series for the Internet ("Prom Queen") and for more traditional media ("Glen Martin DDS"). He believes that all media have a place, and doesn't discriminate.

"I have faith in all the media: The message trumps the medium."

Interviewed onstage after his prepared remarks by journalist Anna Carugati, Eisner reflected on why, wealthy and in his 60s, he still does what he does: "There's golf, there's working and there's death: I chose the best."