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Walt Disney Studios buys 20th Century Fox

The Disney/Fox merger is the largest film-related business deal in history.
Illustration: Phong Nguyen · The Sentry

What do film and television students think?

“Welcome Home” captioned many posts on Instagram to a picture of the Fantastic Four and X-Men walking through the gates of Disney, when the deal between 21st Century Fox and Disney became complete.

After more than a year of working on a consensus, two minutes after midnight on March 20, 2019, Walt Disney Productions acquired most of Fox’s film and television production and distribution business for $71.3 billion in cash and stock. Disney now not only owns the rights to Marvel’s X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and many other characters, but also intellectual properties such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Horror Story.

“I think it’s a good thing,” CU Denver first-year undergraduate Emma Peterson commented on the Fox buyout. “As a part of the film program, it’s interesting to see what Disney has in store for audiences now that they own 27 percent of the US cinema, which is a nasty, nasty monopoly.”

With the buying of Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012, Fox is the third production studio to fall under the belt of Walt Disney in 10 years.

“They’ve established themselves as a powerhouse,” CU Denver film undergraduate Seth Dunham stated. “Bigger budget movies, improved visual effects, acting budget, etc. There’s a lot benefitting from this deal.”

Granted, with so much content now in the hands of those at Walt Disney, one of the biggest takeaways from the merger are crossovers that can now be incorporated, especially between superheroes.

The existing comic book crossovers between The Avengers and X-Men has yet to reach the big screen since both were owned by different enterprises. However, now that the deal is struck, only time will tell when they’re incorporated together in a movie.

“I think it’ll make the film industry much more saturated with more movies with superheroes,” Joey Bramer, an undergraduate film student at CU Denver, noted. Since Disney will be able to include the X-Men in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and develop stories around these characters, “It’ll have Disney as the biggest producing company in the world.”

According to Boxofficemojo.com’s market share reports of 2018, Disney held the top spot with a share of 26 percent, equaling about $3.1 billion. Warner Bros. and Universal held second and third respectfully, each generating less than 20 percent of the box office (less than $2 billion each). Even in 2019, Disney reigns at number one, holding just over 20 percent of the market in less than six months.

Yet, with all this excitement, there are still many questions and fears about Disney’s handling of their newly acquired properties. 

Walt Disney is getting its hands onto much adult-oriented animation: Family Guy, The Simpsons, and American Dad, which are all known for their sometimes explicit comedic relief in an age of abrupt problematic issues and politics. Even Deadpool, an R-rated anti-superhero film, is now under their control. 

This brings up the question, where does Disney draw the line with its newly acquired “adult brands”?

“I think Fox is going to get their reins tightened up by Disney,” CU Denver undergraduate Thomas Poelhman explained. “Disney has stayed true to their moral ideology and I think they continue to go down the trend of being safe on the side of many disagreements.

“When was the last time anyone heard of a Disney controversy? Hardly ever because they are mainly kept quiet,” Poelhman continued. Yet Disney has had controversies in the past about racial stereotyping, sexism, feminism, and their unfair portrayal of women.

“They have a responsibility to the viewers of the companies they are buying to produce content for those viewers,” Dunham argued, regarding whether Disney should loosen the reins on their newly acquired content.

However, there are some who seek a different answer to the question.

“I think they’ll keep a tight leash on the Fox’s IP,” Bramer said. “Disney is a machine that will not give up their cold, steel grip on the industry.”

Fans were concerned with the fact that Deadpool, Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth” anti-hero, would be converted into a less provocative figure once the merger was completed. In recent reports though, Marvel producer Kevin Feige stated that they would keep him as an R-rated character. In an interview with Variety, he said, “When we were purchased, Bob [Iger] said to us, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ There’s no question that Deadpool isn’t working, so why would we change it?”

Since Walt Disney is known for such Disney-fying of properties, what does this mean for the people whose jobs are at stake? With the acquisition of a major Hollywood production company, are jobs going to increase in the future, or will there be a steep drop in employment?

According to chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Program, Bob Iger, there is going to be a necessary amount of job cuts in order to incorporate new assets in which Disney will build upon.

“We’re just beginning a consolidation process across the world,” Iger said in an interview with CNBC’s David Faber in which he also stated that the job cuts would benefit synergies, which in business terms refers to the impact that a business can have on profit/revenues.

In the near month since the deal has been finalized, much of Fox’s subsidiary production studios have come to a winding close.

Fox 2000, a label expected to be carried over as part of the deal, is no longer in the mix. With box offices hits such as The Fault in Our Stars, Hidden Figures, and The Devil Wears Prada, the decision came days after the merger due to the material being niche and not consisting of the same commercial success as 20th Century Fox. However, Disney is still committed to releasing and completing the films still in production under the Fox label.

“I wholeheartedly believe they’ll shut down Fox Searchlight Pictures,” Peterson stated. “They don’t make enough money, but it’s produced some of the best movies of the past decades, which is sad.”

On the contrary, Fox Searchlight Pictures, home to Oscar-winning films like The Shape of Water and Black Swan, will remain intact, along with 20th Century Fox as subsidiaries of Walt Disney Studios.

On April 11, in a three-hour investor day showcasing event, Disney shed light on its new streaming service, Disney Plus. One of their biggest priorities of 2019, according to Iger, Disney Plus will feature many spinoffs of Marvel characters, fan-favorite Star Wars characters, and much more.

Compared to other streaming services, such as HBO NOW and Netflix, Disney Plus is an affordable $7/month (HBO NOW costs $14.99/month while Netflix charges $8.99/month as a basic starting plan). With Hulu, a service now a part of Disney, and Disney Plus, it pushes the question on what other streaming services will do to compete against them.

The Disney-Fox merger will go down as one of the biggest company signings in the history books. It establishes Walt Disney as a powerhouse in commercial television and cinema. Only time will tell what is in store for audiences now.

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