Disney buying 20th Century Fox? The potential impacts to pop culture

A month ago there was a very interesting report that The Walt Disney Company had been in discussions to buy 20th Century Fox’s entertainment assets… But that the talks had ended with no deal. This week, news is breaking that the negotiation is back on, and a potential deal may be announced as early as next week.

Such a deal would give Disney all the entertainment “intellectual property” Fox owns, as well as a 50% share of Sky TV in the UK, while Fox will retain the Fox News and Sports channels. The deal would be upwards of 50 BILLION dollars, in a combination of stock and cash.

And I think it’s definitely going to happen.

To repeat something I posted on Twitter, intellectual property is the only real fiat currency in the 21st century – both in entertainment and technology. The more IP owned by an organization, the more “wealth” it has because IP can be applied, remixed, repurposed and sold in different ways in different markets. Disney has made three “big bets” on acquiring entertainment IP the past two decades (buying Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm), and each one has proven to be incredibly fruitful.

Just look at Marvel. I remember when people were shocked at the amount that Disney paid – $4 billion. Marvel movies ALONE year to date has made $25 billion (not all to Disney, because other studios have released Marvel films… though more than half of that total is Disney money).

What would Disney get?

A LOT. Disney would own the Fox Network, all the shows Fox has produced, including (but not limited to):

  • The Simpsons
  • Family Guy
  • 24
  • Lost in Space
  • MASH
  • Bob’s Burgers

Let’s look at some of the movies in the Fox library:

  • Planet of the Apes
  • Independence Day
  • Die Hard
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Avatar (more on this below)
  • The Omen
  • Big
  • The Abyss
  • Office Space
  • Patton
  • The Fly
  • Romancing the Stone
  • Our Man Flint
  • Hundreds of classic films, including the bulk of movies made by Marilyn Monroe
  • And most important, Megaforce.

Fox also owns a chunk of:

  • Alien
  • The X-Files
  • Predator
  • True Lies
  • Ice Age

And many more… Not to mention Fox owns a lot of real estate in Southern California and a 60% stake in Hulu.

Look for the Fox movie back catalog to be a HUGE part of the new Disney streaming service, which will make the new service a real competitor to Netflix. Or Hulu will BECOME the new Disney streaming service.

What is the impact to Marvel?

Marvel movies aren’t always “Marvel movies”, because other studios have the rights to many of their characters. The most notable has been Spider-Man, The X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Sony and Disney cut a deal to let Disney make future Spider-Man movies, and that deal has benefitted both companies. The studio that has X-Men and The FF? Yup, it’s Fox.

Want to see a rebooted Fantastic Four in the Marvel movies? I sure do. Same goes for the X-Men. This deal happens, it’s as good as done. What happens to Deadpool, the “edgy” take on superhero movies that Fox has produced? I can see them doing a third film and then have him cameo in future Marvel movies in a completely random fashion.

Would Disney retain ABC and ESPN if this deal took place?

Maybe, maybe not. I can actually see ESPN being “traded” to Fox as part of the deal, as the ESPN costs are becoming unsustainable (primarily the licensing they pay to play NFL games). There have been rumors that Disney was looking to sell ABC for a while, but I think that ABC is safe (unless keeping ABC would gum up the deal with regulators).

Is Avatar a future cash cow?

I’m skeptical about James Cameron’s plans to make multiple sequels to Avatar, as I don’t think there is much demand for it. I also remember when people were saying Titanic and the original Avatar were both going to be box office bombs, and… well, you should never bet against the man’s ability to make game-changing blockbusters.

So let’s say they are going to be AMAZING, “money-in-the -bank” good. What if Disney already knows this? They worked very closely with Cameron to design and develop the World of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park… an addition that has increased ticket sales to that park by a significant amount (I know personally, because I had to fight through the crowds last month).

If Disney knows that new Avatar films are worth billions in revenue, then getting all of Fox PLUS Avatar – well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Would Disney kill The Simpsons-land and attractions at Universal?

One would assume that all existing contracts with licensees are still valid if the acquisition takes place, but… what if they don’t? What if Disney/Fox goes to Universal and says they are pulling their Simpsons characters from Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood? This would be a big hit on a competitor, and Disney would probably pull the trigger if they could.

I can see a potential deal, especially with the Orlando parks (that has a contract to use Marvel characters in Universal Florida that existed before Disney bought Marvel). Disney says you can keep The Simpsons “land” if they get the rights back to have Marvel characters and attractions in Walt Disney World.

Will we see the original non-specialized Star Wars?

The only way you can buy or watch the original Star Wars films is the Special Editions that Lucas produced. They are… well, let’s just say fans have some issues with some of the creative decisions Lucas made.

The original Star Wars was financed and released by 20th Century Fox, and they still hold distribution rights (and get a cut of every re-release, especially theatrically). If Disney buys Fox, they will own Star Wars completely – and I think this will result in not only the release of the original films “non-specialized” to home video, but a theatrical re-release as well.

Will this be blocked by the government?

Maybe. But it will eventually happen, by hook or by crook.

What IP would Disney start to exploit?

I think Planet of the Apes will be tapped (again), either on the small or large screen. We’ll probably see another Simpsons movie, possibly from Pixar. Expect at least one major beloved franchise to be rebooted (I’m thinking X-Files). I’d love to see Derek Flint return.

And you’ll definitely see more Avatar in the Disney parks, as well as some licensing that will be totally unexpected (like Ice Age).

Now if Disney will just buy Star Trek and James Bond, they’ll own everything worth having in Hollywood…

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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