September 13, 2010 | last updated May 29, 2012 10:08 pm

Eisner: ESPN buy was deal of the century

In hindsight, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner calls his decision in 1995 to buy CapCities/ABC, and with it, its crown jewel ESPN, ''one of the best acquisitions maybe of that whole century," The Associated Press reports.

Eisner, who has been rumored as a potential successor to run bankrupt media giant Tribune Co. - owner of The Hartford Courant, Fox 61, the Los Angeles Times and others, says he was certain even back then that the sports network based in Bristol would take off, although it's easy to say so now that ESPN accounts for about half of Walt Disney Co.'s profits.

''We spent the $19 billion because we wanted ESPN,'' he said in a recent interview centered on Tuesday's release of his book, ''Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed.'' ''It wasn't an accident, no.''

According to Eisner, 68, he met then-CBS Corp. CEO Larry Tisch, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and CapCities/ABC CEO Tom Murphy in rapid succession at an annual get-together of media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho. The men discussed a possible acquisition, and Eisner was faced with deciding which broadcaster to buy.

CBS, he recalled in the interview, ''would have been half as expensive'' as CapCities/ABC, but ESPN's growth rate was explosive and becoming more important.

''It wasn't even a question,'' he said recently.

Every time he had checked up on ESPN with Murphy, actual results blew past expectations, Eisner said.

He jumped on ESPN, which continues to notch impressive growth each year. The market research firm SNL Kagan expects the channel to pull in $6.9 billion in revenue this year, up from $5 billion in 2006.

CBS, which owns multiple channels, is bigger but has nowhere near the trajectory. Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect revenue this year of $14.1 billion, down slightly from four years ago.

Eisner resigned as Disney CEO in 2005 after leading the media and theme park company for 21 years. He led Disney to huge success in the 1980s but in his final years clashed with dissident stockholders including the founder's family.

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