UPDATE: Disney's purchase of Fox has been made official. The original article follows.
The Walt Disney Company are close to finalizing their purchase of 20th Century Fox - a move that could spell a very bad future for Hollywood. Disney are a unique commodity in 21st century business. Over the better part of a century, they have managed to accumulate vast amounts of power, money and industry clout, all while retaining that cuddly exterior as the happiest place on earth that inspires millions of people to dedicate themselves to the House of Mouse.
That's a feeling that's only grown in the past three decades, as the company purchased major ownership stakes in the ABC network, sports coverage behemoth ESPN, The Muppets Studio, YouTube multi-channel network Maker Studios, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm. That doesn't even take into account their major holdings in the myriad of Disney properties, off-shoots, brands and industries, which stretch from film to TV, music, radio, property, their iconic theme parks and cruise lines, and so on.
That roster may soon grow to even bigger proportions. Last month, it was reported that Disney had been in talks with 21st Century Fox to acquire its film and TV divisions (with focus on 20th Century Fox, the FX Networks, National Geographic, and international divisions, but excluding their news and sports divisions). Little has been revealed about these talks. Speculation can only take us so far, and there will inevitably be many issues and business elements that need to be hammered out before anything is confirmed. Still, it's hard to ignore what this potential purchase would mean in terms of the distribution and film rights for certain properties Disney have been keen to get their hands on.
Fox still own distribution rights to the first Star Wars film, and the Marvel rights for Fantastic Four, X-Men and Deadpool belong to them. If Disney buy Fox's coveted assets, this multi-billion dollar deal would give them control over the entire Star Wars and Marvel universes. That’s obviously a delight to many fans – who hasn’t thought about the prospect of seeing the X-Men alongside the Avengers – but the ramifications of such a deal have been discussed less. The future of our media and the way Hollywood conducts business could radically change if Disney are allowed to accumulate more control over its competition. A media monopoly is bad news for everyone.
The Downsides of Disney Buying Fox
Consider this: As noted by Forbes, "Last year, Walt Disney had a jaw-dropping 26% of the domestic box office while Fox had 13%. With Fox and Disney combined into one entity, it’s plausible to see Walt Disney’s theatrical output controlling close to 40% of the theatrical business." If that were to happen, Disney could have the clout to reconfigure the business of film distribution and the theatrical experience. That could mean higher ticket prices, bigger cuts of the grosses going back to the guys at the top, tougher deals for theatres, and so on. When the biggest share of the market is going to one company, who’s going to stop them?
Fox’s work tends to skew older than Disney – think Logan, FX’s Legion, and of course Deadpool – and it’s in this willingness to eschew the formulas of the big boys at Marvel where they’ve succeeded the most. There’s no guarantee Disney will let that stick if they own the nest. Sure, getting all the Marvel ensemble under one roof has its advantages, but something’s got to give. It may be the number of films we get, as output could potentially decrease so that Disney can favor one big money-spinning franchise over another.
Creators and film-makers will have less choice in where to pitch new projects too, and if there’s no competition then that will affect wages and labor rights. It’s not like Disney don’t have a history here: Disney, along with various other animations studios including Fox's Blue Sky, were caught up in a wage fixing scandal to keep salaries shockingly low for animators. Eliminate your competitors – or just buy them out – and you don’t have to worry about your workers fighting for better pay.
The Fox Purchase Could Greatly Affect The Press
Really, issues of what franchise goes where pale in comparison to the smothering realities of not only a potential media monopoly at the hands of Disney but the ramifications that massive cash injection would give Fox’s broadcasting division.
The way we even report on stuff like this could be massively affected. Disney have already faced major criticisms from the media after they tried to blacklist the Los Angeles Times from press screenings of Thor: Ragnarok in retaliation for reporting they did on how Disneyland's tax-related partnership with the city of Anaheim had come into question. They eventually relented after pushback from other publications, but there's no guarantee they won't try that again.
Look at the state of media right now: The LA Weekly was recently bought by shady investors who sacked everyone and may be in the process of turning a once-prestigious paper into a mouthpiece for a right-wing political agenda; sites left and right are laying off swaths of writers; and the elephant in the room that is the shutting down of Gawker remains potent in the minds of many a journalist. The free press exists for a reason, and it shouldn't be part of our jobs to fear a backlash from billionaires and their corporations because we were critical about their business practices. If you own enough of the media, what’s to stop you from deciding who gets to say what and why?
Ultimately, this issue is one that hammers home how we as consumers and lovers of pop culture should keep a consistent and aware distance from the corporations that make the stuff we love. Disney are not our friends, and as cool as the prospect of an all-star Avengers movie is, we must consider what the cost of that is, and how we are all affected by a growing media monopoly. The deal may very well fall through, but it’s key that we always understand how this industry actually works and how we talk about it.