NEW YORK -- The Walt Disney Co. is in serious talks to buy Pixar Animation Studios Inc., the maker of the hit movies "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo" among others, following months of exploring how to continue their profitable film distribution partnership, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Citing unnamed people familiar with the plan, the Journal said Disney would pay a nominal premium to Pixar's current market value of $6.7 billion under the deal being discussed in a stock transaction that would make Pixar chief executive Steve Jobs the largest individual shareholder in Disney.
The Journal said the outcome of the talks isn't certain, and that other options are possible. Telephone messages left Thursday morning for Disney spokeswoman Michelle Bergman in Burbank, Calif., and Pixar's Michele Clarke in New York were not immediately returned.
Pixar shares were up $3.24, or 5.7 percent, to $60.50 in premarket trading while Disney shares were down 22 cents at $25. Jobs is the largest shareholder in Pixar, with more than 60 million shares, or 50.6 percent, according to Pixar's filings with securities regulators last year. At its current share price, his stake is worth about $3.44 billion.
Jobs is already a force in the media business as he also heads Apple Computer Inc., which reported Wednesday that first-quarter income nearly doubled on record revenue and big demand for its iPod music players.
Disney and Pixar have been partners for more than 12 years, allowing Disney to distribute and co-finance popular and profitable Pixar movies that have also included "The Incredibles." But Jobs said two years ago, amid squabbles with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, that he would end that relationship when it expires later this year and seek a new distribution partner.
Disney's current CEO Robert Iger, who took over last October, has reportedly made continuing the companies' relationship a priority. Iger last fall allowed Disney TV shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" to be made available in a format that could be downloaded and played on iPods.
There has been weeks of speculation that Disney might try to take a stake in Pixar or buy it outright.
The Journal said the companies are still haggling over a price, and any major moves in Pixar's stock price could disrupt negotiations. The newspaper said the two sides could decide on a less-ambitious plan, including an agreement for Disney to distribute movies that Pixar finances and makes.