New Internationalist


Issue 308

t h e    f a c t s
The House of the Mouse

From its humble beginnings in Kansas City,
the Walt Disney Company has become one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates,
with interests from book publishing and feature films to sports and real estate.
Here we take a close look inside the House of the Mouse.

The Disney Company is in a neck-and-neck race with Time-Warner to be the top player in the global media system.

disney company revenue

Overseas markets will receive more attention as Disney attempts to expand its overseas (non-US) sales. The company hopes to build foreign earnings from 23% of total revenues in 1995 to 50% by the year 2000.

  • In 1997 the Disney Channel was launched bringing 24hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week programming to North Africa and the Middle East. In addition the Disney Channel broadcasts in France, Taiwan, the UK, Australia and Malaysia.3

  • International sales of Disney-branded products now outstrip US sales. Recently a Mickey and Friends store opened in Indonesia and a second outlet will open soon in Poland.4

  • Disney’s sports channel ESPN International broadcasts on a 24-hour basis in 165 countries in 21 languages.5

  • Disney has a 20-33% ownership in five European commercial TV companies including Tesauro SA (Spain), RTL2 and cable TM3 (Germany) and the Scandinavian Broadcasting System. It also has a 20% share in the Brazilian pay-TV company TVA.5


Disney's corporate holdings and joint ventures with other corporations are immense and complex.  Here is a partial list of the company's holdings.

corporate holdings


US films as percentage of total film imports (1997)

reels.gif (80491 bytes)

The US movie and TV industry is the single most powerful vehicle for the spread of an American-dominated global corporate culture.  Disney films, both animated and live-action adult fare, are a key part of it.

Disney was the first company to combine successfully the notion of entertainment with shopping.

  • In 1930 Walt’s brother Roy signed the first international licensing contract with Borgfeldt and Co for production and sale of Mickey Mouse merchandise.7

  • The first Mickey Mouse watch was sold by the Ingersoll Watch Company in June 1933.2

  • By 1954, 700 companies were making more than 3,000 Disney items from pyjamas and underwear to toys, games and school supplies.8

  • The first official Disney Store opened in Glendale, California in March 1984 and the first store outside the US in London in November 1990.

(at 30/9/97)

graph of store growth

The most spectacular example of multi-media ownership and the leading example of acquiring control of every step in the mass media process, from creation to content to delivery into the home
Ben Bagdikian from The Media Monopoly.1


The Boss
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner’s current 10-year contract gives him a yearly salary of $750,000, plus bonus up to a maximum of $15 million a year according to financial performance, plus shares worth approximately $550-$600 million.9

Theme Park Worker
At Walt Disney World (Orlando, Florida)
Starting salary: $5.95 an hour.
After 3 years: $13,541 a year
At Disneyland (Paris, France).
Average yearly salary: $13,000 to $15,000.
Disney’s total theme park income (1997): $1.13 billion 10

Third World Worker
Contractors producing Disney-branded clothing in Haiti
Average hourly wage: 28 cents
Number of years it would take the average Haitian garment worker to earn what Michael Eisner earns in one hour: 156.11

MICKEY MAO(S)disney channel

  • Disney is anxious to break into the potentially lucrative 1.2 billion Chinese market and is doing all it can to build bridges with Beijing’s aging Maoists, including basing its latest animated film, Mulan, on a Chinese legend.
  • The company launched a Chinese-language radio broadcast from Hong Kong in 1996 which it claims already reaches more than 400 million Chinese.5
  • Disney’s Toy Story broke records in Shanghai attracting a million viewers out of a 13 million population and there are reportedly plans afoot to open a Sino Disneyland.12
  • The Chinese state TV company uses Disney’s sports network, ESPN, to provide nearly half the programming on its all-sports channel.5

1 Ben H Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly (Beacon Press, 1977). 
2 Walt Disney Company 1997 Fact Book (Walt Disney Company, 1998). 
3 The Media Nation: TV (Nation Institute Investigative Fund, 1998). 
4 1997 Annual Report (Walt Disney Company, 1998).
5 Edward S Herman and Robert W McChesney, The Global Media (Casell, 1997).
6 UNESCO Statistical Yearbook (UNESCO, 1997).
7 Richard de Cordova, ‘The Mickey in Macey’s Window’ from Disney Discourse, ed Eric Smoodin, (Routledge, 1994). 
8 Douglas Gomery, ‘Disney’s Business History’ from Disney Discourse, ibid.
9 Business Week (Feb 24 1997). 
10 What the ... : A Newspaper for Central Florida’s Tourism Workers, (SEIU Local 362, May 1998). 
11 National Labor Committee, 1997. 
12 The Nation (Dec 23 1996).

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This article was originally published in issue 308

New Internationalist Magazine issue 308
Issue 308

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