The Donald Trump Justice Department is embroiled in a suit concerning the potential merger of AT&T and Time-Warner. Meanwhile, as this Tatooine-level legal dust-up is sending Tusken Raiders tittering in the cantinas, a Death Star-sized media conglomerate is about to overshadow it. (Side note; “The Last Jedi” opens this weekend.)
Following rampant speculation that Comcast was the primary suitor, the announcement has been finalized that Disney will instead be purchasing 21st Century Fox (well, most of it). The deal is priced just over $52 Billion, plus the assumption of billions more in debt. The deal, once finalized, will make “Mouse-schwitz” (what some friends in Orlando refer to Disney) the gargantuan force to reckon with in Hollywood, across numerous platforms. The massive Family Studio already has its hands in most sectors of media, but the acquisition of a competing major in Dream Land is a definitive look to the future.
One of the interesting specifics of this deal is Disney CEO Robert Iger is bidden to remain through the transition, at least to 2021. This is notable because he had been indicating his intentions of retiring and entering into politics. Given the melding of two major Hollywood entities has a seismic effect on the industry if/when the merger is approved here are the various entertainment segments that will see significant change as a result of this media marriage.
This was the primary directive behind Disney dropping tens of millions on the deal. The digital wave is something Disney has been watching from the outside so far. The studio already has some plans for its own digital outlets. It is set to launch ESPN Plus in the coming spring, which will greatly expand services to viewers of the network that has been bleeding ratings for at least five years now. Following that, the next year will see Disney’s own version of NetFlix, where the company can leverage extensive libraries for digital delivery.
While Netflix and Amazon have a huge head start Disney is poised to be an instant competitor. It will be in possession of a large treasury of films from both studios’ vaults to start, but then consider that titles from the Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and other controlled production companies will be pulled from those competitors. In addition, they have extensive catalogs of television programming to draw from and rescind from existing providers.
Existing outlet Hulu will also be directly impacted. That multi-studio partnership currently sees Disney with a 30% ownership, but the Fox stake means that Disney will have controlling interest in that streaming service.
The obvious focus here has been on the outstanding Marvel character rights Fox has long retained. (In the 80s a struggling Marvel was selling broadcast rights to individual characters to a range of studios, with retention based upon ongoing production.) Marvel-Disney has long looked with disdain how Fox controlled a lucrative “X-Men” franchise and the explosive “Deadpool” — and how it has completely mismanaged the “Fantastic Four” repeatedly. These franchises will now be under the guidance of the can’t-miss movie division.
There is a bit of an impact on the Star Wars side as well. Although The studio purchased Lucasfilm and has been delivering the newer sequel releases, the original “Star Wars” was not included. George Lucas independently produced all his films beginning with “The Empire Strikes Back” however, the original was a co-production with Fox, which has retained those rights. Future packaging and compilations can now include the entirety of the series.
It is suspected Fox’s ongoing movie productions will diminish, but Disney indicated Fox films – including the indie-driven Fox Searchlight – will continue, and it would be wise to keep those vibrant. This will give Disney a way to segregate adult films from its family fare, as it has done previously with its Buena Vista, and Touchstone Pictures divisions.
There is some segregation taking place. 21st Century Fox will be retaining the Fox Network, Fox News, Fox Business, and FS-1 Network. Disney will acquire the regional sports networks across the country, as well as a very extensive international network of sports channels
While many fans are focused on the theatrical releases the TV segment will be vital going forward, as this is from where much of the future streaming content will emanate. While there is a significant library in the Disney-owned ABC Network it has languished in recent years with new productions. By comparison, the Fox television division has had heavier development, both for its network as well as independent productions for syndication and cable.
The Marvel comic book division may experience some alterations in it approach to content, specifically to its treatment of characters. Over the years the fact that The Fantastic Four and X-Men rested cinematically with Fox resulted in a severe depreciation in those characters within the comic universe. The company loathed to enhance those properties in any fashion, probably wishing that depleted theatrical returns may lead to rights reverting back to Marvel. For example The Fantastic Four — one of the flagship character brands at Marvel — saw the halt of its comic in print form.
Marvel was also steadily pulling back on promotions and various licensing agreements involving those characters. (The company went so far as to not include the characters in 75th Anniversary graphics, and even ret-conned a t-shirt reprinting a classic comic book cover art.) Once the purchase is approved by the government it will be interesting to see how soon The Fantastic Four returns to print form.
While deemphasizing the X-Men Marvel had been set to expand and develop the universe of The Inhumans characters. While it may yet come to light, coming into possession of an already vibrant cinematic brand will certainly be the focus. And the books and other licensing should follow suit.
Of course caution is to be applied to all speculation. The merger needs to first clear regulatory approval, and that process may take anywhere from one to two years. It may be that long to see how the family-friendly House Of Mouse deals with a vulgar Deadpool sequel!