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Plans New Name, SEC Filing Says : Disney Details Future Changes in Company

January 02, 1986|KATHRYN HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

Fifteen months after taking control of Walt Disney Productions, a new management team installed by the powerful Bass family of Texas detailed a number of upcoming changes in documents filed at a federal agency this week, including a change in the company's name.

In a letter to Disney shareholders to be mailed later this week, Chairman and Chief Executive Michael D. Eisner and President Frank G. Wells recommend renaming the 48-year-old company to reflect Disney's holdings in real estate and theme parks in addition to its original business of filmed entertainment.

"The Walt Disney Company" is the proposed name, which will be voted on by shareholders at an annual meeting scheduled for Feb. 6 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Eisner, formerly a Paramount Pictures and ABC network executive, and Wells, an entertainment lawyer and former Warner Bros. studio president, have overhauled the Burbank-based company since September, 1984, when they were endorsed for the job by a Bass-led investor group that effectively controls Disney with nearly 25% of its stock.

Theme Park Attendance

The Eisner-Wells letter to Disney shareholders was made public Tuesday at the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of the company's annual report to shareholders.

The report outlines the timing and extent of a number of changes announced or hinted at throughout the past year and provides previously unavailable information about the company's theme park operation.

After the Eisner-Wells team took over, the company stopped reporting attendance trends at individual parks because the figures received "undue emphasis," in the words of a company spokesman.

In the new annual report, however, Disney disclosed that, for the year ended Sept. 30, 1985, Walt Disney World's attendance increased just 3% from 1984, a year when attendance was adversely affected by the Olympic Games as many people stayed home to watch the event on television.

Disneyland enjoyed a 19% surge in attendance, stimulated by a highly promoted 30th anniversary for the Anaheim park.

Total theme park attendance was up 8%, and Disney reported "higher per-capita guest spending," but operating costs for the theme park division increased nearly 10% from the previous year, according to the documents filed at the SEC. Disney's royalty fees from Tokyo Disneyland, revenue from Walt Disney Travel Co. and other park-related fees increased nearly 9%.

According to the annual report, Disney will:

- Open in March its previously announced "Captain EO" space fantasy attraction, with a short 3-D film featuring rock star Michael Jackson, at both Disneyland and Epcot Center in Florida.

- Open in November a previously announced "Star Wars" ride at Disneyland, inspired by George Lucas' film and utilizing aircraft simulator technology.

- Begin construction on a Norway pavilion at Epcot and also on a 900-room hotel on the Disney World property to be called the Grand Floridian, "styled after a Victorian-era resort, with elaborate woodwork, broad porches and ceiling fans."

- Reissue the 25 Disney animated classics, such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," on a five-year cycle instead of every seven years, as the previous Disney management did.

- Produce eight prime-time television specials this year under a previously disclosed agreement with NBC.

- Receive as much as $170 million in non-interest-bearing loans from Silver Screen II, a limited partnership that raised money last year for Disney's film production costs.

More Than 60 New Executives

Among other disclosures, the report noted that "more than 60 highly regarded executives" have joined the filmed entertainment unit under the new regime, but Disney executives cautioned that "it will take at least two more years for Disney to emerge with a major studio-size release schedule" of 12 to 15 motion pictures a year. Six features commissioned by prior management were released last year.

Costs for the filmed entertainment unit were $286 million, up 18% from $242 million a year earlier.

The corporation's general and administrative expenses were $49.9 million, down 16% from a year earlier, when Disney recorded expenses of almost $20 million associated with its acquisition of the Bass-controlled Arvida Corp., a Florida-based real estate development company, management changeover costs and Disney's cancellation of its plan to buy a greeting card company.

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