The Mouse and the Fox: Some Thoughts on the New Disney Deal

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After weeks of swirling rumors, the news has finally been confirmed: Disney is buying 20th Century Fox.

The mouse-eared media giant announced its plans yesterday to buy out one of its chief cinematic rivals, acquiring the rights to the X-Men, Avatar, The Simpsons,, and a slew of other TV and film properties in the process. The cost for this maneuver? A little over $52 billion.

Make no mistake: This is a big deal, in all definitions of the term. We’re now witnessing one of the largest and most game-changing media shake-ups in Hollywood history. Sure, Disney has acquired popular media franchises before (Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe spring to mind), but they’ve never gotten their hands on an entire global studio before. Lots of shows and movies are going to be affected – some in better ways than others.

I’ll spare you most of the technical details (you can find those with some quick Googling) and focus on the more pressing question: Which of our favorite shows and movies will be affected by this deal – and how?

There’s a lot to cover, and I doubt a single article can touch on all of it. But I’ll focus on three of the biggest factors:

The Avengers and the X-Men are now under one roof

Disney acquired the rights to Marvel back in 2009, and has since released hit after hit under the banner of the MCU. But as popular as The Avengers and its affiliated films have been, there are still a few Marvel characters who have never been a part of that Universe. For years, properties like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Deadpool have all belonged to 20th Century Fox, and have all received their own franchises unrelated to the MCU. While some of the X-Men films have been quite good, my inner fanboy can’t help wondering what it would be like if Cyclops and Phoenix could share screentime with Iron Man and Thor. (Okay, I don’t really “wonder,” since I know it would be awesome.)

That’s no longer an issue, now that Disney has scooped up the rights to all of Fox’s superhero franchises. Now there are no copyright issues preventing an Avengers/X-Men crossover, or keeping the Thing from clobbering the Hulk. Suddenly, the barriers have been raised, and Marvel is reunited. Excelsior!

Does this mean there will be crossover? That’s up to the Marvel studio heads to decide. I expect that Disney has already seen dollar signs in the idea, but it will likely require a lot of intra-company negotiations – especially since the continuity of the MCU doesn’t really line up with that of the X-Men series. (They each had their own Quicksilver! Someone will need to explain that.)

Post-Infinity War, it seems probable that Marvel will need some new blood in their films. Whether they’ll jump at the idea of combining their franchise with another (or even rebooting the X-Men franchise outright) remains to be seen.

Disney is now essentially running Hulu

Unlike streaming rivals Netflix and Amazon, Hulu is not a singularly-controlled corporation. Its ownership is split four ways: Disney, Fox, and Universal each own 30% of its voting stock (they control ABC, FOX, and NBC, respectively), while Time Warner (a partner of CBS) owns the remaining 10%. This is largely why Hulu has a wider and deeper TV library than those other streaming services (and why it’s able to stream episodes the day after they air) – it’s more directly affiliated with the major networks.

But by taking Fox under its wing, Disney has also acquired all of Fox’s voting shares of Hulu. This gives Disney a 60% share of Hulu, giving it majority control of the service.

What does this mean? It’s tough to say at this point. Disney has already announced that it will unveil its own streaming service in 2019, intended to serve as a rival to streaming king Netflix. It’s unclear how (or even if) Hulu will factor into the development this service. There’s a chance that Disney will transfer some of Hulu’s programming for its own streaming site, or possibly even fold Hulu into their other site.

I don’t know if they’ll go that far, especially since some of Hulu’s original programming (including the acclaimed and award-winning Handmaid’s Take) isn’t what you’d call “Disney-friendly.” But given how little patience the Mouse has for niche programming, it’s at the very least possible that Hulu will begin making a push for more broadly-appealing programs, the better to court a wider audience and help lift it up from its perpetual third-place slump.

The FOX Network will no longer be the same

This is likely the biggest news, but it’s also the one which involves the most speculation. But here are the basics:

Disney has bought the cable networks which Fox owns (including FX and NatGeo), but they haven’t purchased the FOX network itself. (Legally, they aren’t allowed to – they already own the ABC network, and FCC guidelines prevent a single company from owning two different broadcast networks.) That means that FOX – along with sister networks Fox Sports and Fox News – will continue unaffiliated with 20th Century, and will eventually spin off into their own independent production company.

But what about the shows on FOX? Most of them are produced by 20th Century, which means that once this deal goes through, FOX will essentially be running shows that are owned by a rival corporation. This is not unheard of in the TV business, but it puts FOX at a financial disadvantage – they can make money from showing new episodes of The Simpsons and Empire, but they will no longer make money from those shows through streaming or syndication deals.

Now, don’t expect that Homer or Lucious Lyon will suddenly get the axe – their shows are too popular to be abruptly cancelled. (Indeed The Simpsons has already been renewed for the 2018-19 season.) Ditto the shows of Seth MacFarlane – though now owned by Disney, shows like Family Guy and The Orville are too popular to be yanked from the schedule.

Still, some of these shows (especially the only modestly-successful ones, such as Last Man on Earth or Star) may be moved from FOX to Disney’s other networks, like Lifetime or Freeform. And yes, some will be outright cancelled.

What will happen to the FOX network itself? Well, they do air a few shows not owned by 20th Century (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Gotham, Lucifer, and Lethal Weapon), and those series are probably safe. But they’ll still find themselves with a few gaping holes in their schedule within a couple of years, holes that a now-shrunken corporation can’t afford to fill with big-budget dramas and comedies.

That means FOX will probably start producing more reality shows, which are cheaper and easier to maintain. Other primetime slots may be filled with news programming. Basically, FOX is poised to become a shell of its former self.

Again, a lot of the details are still up in the air. The deal likely won’t be finalized and go into effect until 2019. But change is coming, both for good and ill.

Overall, I’m not thrilled about this development – more media consolidation means less competition, which means less incentive to turn out daring or inventive films and Tv shows. Variety is important in the entertainment industry, and it would be a shame if more and more of our entertainment options are encompassed by the merchandise-driven umbrella of the Mouse House. I do hope that’s not the end result.

But hey. If this leads to someone making a “Spider-Man Meets Deadpool” film, maybe it’ll be worth it.

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