A news report earlier this week rocked the entertainment biz by revealing that Disney recently had serious talks with 20th Century Fox to purchase its television and film production divisions. Marvel fans, in particular, were intrigued at the thought of the X-Men joining the Avengers on the big screen. But before hopes got too high, reports quickly noted that the talks had already ended before any of this was made public, and – as it currently stands – it wasn’t going to work out. So what happened?
Precise details – such as the specifics of the purchase and the prices being discussed – are unknown, but it has been revealed by CNBC that Disney made the first move. It’s not known how long the talks between Disney and Fox went on, though it’s probably safe to assume this has been on the table for several weeks if not months. Industry consensus seems to be that aside from the boon to Marvel and the rest of their big screen output, the real reason Disney was interested in Fox was to boost the content offerings on the streaming service Mickey is prepping to rival Netflix.
Per reports, Fox entertained the idea because it likes the idea of downsizing its business model to focus solely on news and sports — both of which are cheaper to produce and bring in higher profit margins than original TV and film productions. As such, three major components of Fox were withheld from the deal. Fox News was never up for grabs, as it’s a key part of Fox’s strategy focus going forward. Likewise, Fox Sports was considered but Disney decided against pursuing it in favor of its own ESPN. Lastly, the Fox broadcast network is ineligible for Disney to own, as it already owns ABC and can’t own two networks. Cable networks, however, such as FX and NatGeo, would have landed in Disney’s lap had the deal gone through. And any shows produced by Fox Television — whether they air on Fox or not — would become Disney’s responsibility, too.
Disney and Fox Have A Complicated History
The potential deal was surprising for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets that there’s bad blood between Disney and Fox. Why? Marvel.
The comic producer signed over the rights to all X-Men related film and television to Fox about two decades ago. When Disney bought the House of Ideas in 2009, intending to make the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe one of the biggest jewels in its crown, it didn’t go unnoticed that one of Marvel’s most loved franchises was off limits. Naturally, friction ensued. Disney would of course love to have the X-Men under its umbrella, but Fox is in no hurry to let go of the rights to one of its most lucrative film franchises. So Marvel retaliated by diminishing the focus on the X-Men in comic books, instead turning the spotlight on the lesser-known Inhumans (that hasn’t gone so well for them).
Likewise, Fox’s ownership of the Fantastic Four rights — and the studio’s shattering failure to produce a decent FF movie, despite no less than three attempts — led to Marvel outright canceling the Fantastic Four comic book for the first time in its 50+ year run (fans believe that Marvel diminished the X-Men and Fantastic Four at Disney’s command, but both parties deny it.)
A Deal Would Change The Industry
Disney owning Fox would change the game radically. Several games, in fact. For starters, there are the aforementioned X-Men and Fantastic Four movie rights, which also include the likes of Deadpool and Logan. It’s probably safe to assume that Marvel would want to reboot both franchises when ushering them into the MCU, just as it did with Spider-Man: Homecoming. It also gives them the full rights to Star Wars (Disney currently can’t distribute the original six movies). And, of course, Avatar; they’d be in control of James Cameron’s four sequels, which would be no bad thing considering Animal Kingdom already houses a major Avatar-themed land.
That’s nothing on the TV impact though. Disney has ABC, ESPN and a myriad of self-branded channels, but FX and co., as well as Fox’s back catalogue boosts their content library massively. Considering streaming is their next step towards world domination, this could really reshape the entertainment sphere.
The problem with this kind of dominance is that it would raise some honking big red flags at the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates fair practices and would certainly have seen Disney’s increasing control over movie studios as a growing monopoly. It doesn’t help that public goodwill toward Disney is on the verge of tumbling thanks to a number of changes in policy, such as its new stipulations that lower profit margins for theaters wishing to carry films like Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
What Happens Next?
Of course, talks have stalled, but that doesn’t mean it will never happen. Business deals take time, and as evidenced by their deal with Sony for Spider-Man, Disney is fine waiting. With that in mind, the timing around this pause in the conversation and the subsequent leak to the press are almost certainly linked. Is it possible that Disney or Fox (or both) leaked the news intentionally to gauge public interest?
We may never know why the talks stopped when they did. So far there’s been no industry scuttlebutt to suggest that one party or the other decided to walk away, or engaged in some other hardball negotiation tactic. As with all things, it probably came down to money. Both companies would want to make sure that they get the best possible deal that they can for themselves and their people; that’s how the business world works. Sometimes they come together, sometimes they don’t.
But we’re still left with the tantalizing notion of what a combined Disney/Fox juggernaut in Hollywood could be like. Disney’s ownership of so many major pop culture franchises is promising considering no one leverages the popularity of its characters as they do, but it may be at the expense of the industry.
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