The Marriott ballroom was packed to hear former Disney CEO Michael Eisner speak Thursday morning. It was standing room only, and there were people even saving spots against the wall. I had a little trouble getting through the door, but after I showed the guy my press badge, he begrudgingly let me in. Sometimes people are a little leary of the press.
There were times when I felt Eisner was speaking directly to me with references to ESPN and Topps baseball cards. More on that later, but he definitely had my attention throughout.
I don't think a lot of people realize how involved Eisner was at Paramount Pictures before he came to Disney, which was a "dying" company in the 1980s that was worth "only" $2.8 billion before Eisner's arrival. When Eisner left Disney a few years ago (he was basically forced out), Disney was worth $60 billion.
At Paramount, Eisner was involved with such hits as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Grease", "Saturday Night Fever" and "Terms of Endearment". Eisner kept most films at Paramount under a $10 million budget, one of the many examples of what was one of the main points of Eisner's speech: micromanagement.
Eisner talked about the expansion of the Disney brand to EuroDisney, Disney hotels and Disney cruise ships. He showed a highlight of when EuroDisney first opened in France, and it appeared there was tear gas thrown on the stage. "Not exactly the enthusiastic reception we anticipated," Eisner said. He went on to add that EuroDisney is now the most visited tourist attraction in all of Europe.
Disney later bought ABC/Capital Cities and ESPN. Eisner said part of the success of ESPN was its creativity in its promotional ads. Eisner showed one where Lance Armstrong is bicycling in a closet to keep the power going at ESPN. I'd bet 90 percent of the audience had never seen the commercial. But I had. Lots of times.
Eisner now runs a company called the Tornante Company, which recently acquired the Topps baseball card company. Tornante is also reaching out to the Internet, including a series of 90-second episodes called "Prom Queen" which will be launched on Sunday on a MySpace Web site. "The world has become a single dot," Eisner said, referring to a painting he showed earlier in the speech that was composed of millions of dots.
Whether it was better light bulbs and bigger type on shampoo bottles in hotel rooms, or making sure not to show 4,000 Arabic people "The Lion King" in Hebrew, Eisner stressed how important it is to micromanage. He encouraged people to think inside the box and put creativity in it.
Toward the end of his speech, Eisner even praised the "American Idol" model and talked about Simon, Randy and "a sometimes sober Paula ..."
"I shouldn't have said that," Eisner said. "I think the press is in here somewhere."
Yes we were, Mike. Yes we were.