It’s official: The Walt Disney Company have now acquired Fox. This deal has been many months in the making, with Disney putting down a rumoured $71.3 billion for the assets. The merger now means that Disney own the 20th Century Fox film and television studios, Fox TV Group and their assorted cable networks like FX, a 73 percent stake in National Geographic Partners, 30 percent stake in Hulu (thus giving them controlling vote over the streaming service), animation studio Blue Sky, Star India, and much more. Many headlines have been written over the legendary pop culture properties that now fall under the banner of the House of Mouse. Disney now have the full deck of Marvel to play around with, plus Avatar, The Simpsons, the Alien franchise, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, and too many others to count. Their film library is an indomitable titan of Hollywood history. Everyone is a Disney Princess now, including the Predator.
Reporting around this acquisition has varied, but what has proven surprising and pretty disheartening over these past few months is how utterly unconcerned many people are about the all too real ramifications of this deal. I never need to see another headline about how awesome it is that Deadpool can now be part of The Avengers. It’s understandable that, for arguably the majority of casual moviegoers, the expanded universe possibilities are more directly impactful to their lives than the consequences of a media monopoly. Why would we care about the latter when we’re not seeing it unfold and haven’t been given the tools to understand it? Still, when I cynically tweeted this week about how this merger represented a dark day in media and deserved more thought beyond crossover potential, I was perplexed to see so many people reply with pro-Disney attitudes. Many were convinced that the reported job losses wouldn’t be all that bad and that the studio would keep everyone on board so they could continue to make lots of new content. Some thought that this was the lesser of two evils since Comcast had also put in a bid for Fox’s assets. The most mind-boggling response came in the form of an insistence that Disney were too dependent on their squeaky clean public image to do anything really bad.
The Disney acquisition of Fox is a very bad thing and it will negatively impact the entire landscape of entertainment and media. Thousands of people are set to lose their jobs and opportunities in the business set to diminish given the lack of competition and variety. This deal reduces the number of major film studios in Hollywood from six to five and gives Disney around a 40 percent share of the entire market. We’re already seeing this in action with how Disney’s work utterly dominates the international box office. Last year, Disney had three of the highest grossing films of 2018 while Fox had two. In 2017, they had four. The year before that, 50 percent of the top ten was Disney properties. How do you compete with the people who own princesses and superheroes and Jedi? You just wait for them to buy you out, I suppose.
Many creators and film-makers have already expressed their dismay with the merger and what it means for artistic growth as a whole. Ryan Murphy cited the acquisition as one of the reasons he decided to jump ship from Fox and FX, who have made millions from his work, to Netflix. Director James Mangold, who made Logan under Fox, echoed fears that Disney would be less inclined to invest in movies like his since they’re a studio defined by their safeness and family-friendly image. It seems unlikely that Disney will eliminate all the R-rated properties they’ve acquired from Fox, although this is the studio that has gone decades without straying beyond PG-13, but they may not prioritize said projects. It seems unlikely that the merger will mean more movies and T.V. shows overall. When you own that much of the market, why would you produce more stuff that will just lead to you competing with yourself for people’s money?
This is one of the reasons I don’t think Marvel fans should get too excited about the post-merger possibilities. Sure, it’s helpful for Disney and Marvel Studios to have the full set of toys to play with, but don’t expect the X-Men to show up any time soon. The MCU’s next phase is already planned out in painstaking detail and it seems doubtful their team will be all that eager to shoehorn in such immense lore so late in the game. As for the Fox Marvel films that have yet to be released? Don’t expect them to get the red carpet treatment. The New Mutants is already being touted as a potential streaming exclusive.
Disney’s image is polished and welcoming but that was built on decades of less than delightful business practices. Uncle Walt was a capitalist first and foremost (one who really hated unions), and that ruthless approach to profit has driven them for decades. It affects every aspect of the filmmaking process, right down to theatrical distribution. Disney have a much tougher reputation in terms of their distribution deals, with strict conditions imposed on theatres that have proven hurtful to smaller chains and independent venues.
Typically, a studio takes around 55 percent of the domestic ticket sales, with some pushing that up to 60 percent. For Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Disney took 65 percent, then they demanded a four week hold on each venue. Anyone who broke those rules faced financial penalties and risked losing the chance to distribute future Disney titles. Imagine you’re a two-screen independent cinema in a town of a few thousand people. In order to show the new Marvel movie, you have to commit to a certain number of screenings a day for a certain period of time. You’ll probably have to show it in the larger of your two screens, and you’ll never make a profit from it. Everyone in your town has already seen the film by the time you’re halfway through your contracted run, so the rest of the time you’re essentially running near empty screenings. As you can imagine, this gives Disney near unprecedented control over the box office, and people who want to oppose that have very few alternatives when Disney buys up the competition and are free to impose even stricter measures.
For people in my line of work, the acquisition feels especially insidious. Disney aren’t great when it comes to journalists, to put it mildly. In November 2017, they briefly banned the Los Angeles Times from attending press screenings of its films in retaliation for the paper’s reporting on Disney’s political influence in the city of Anaheim, where Disneyland wields immense power. They quickly reversed that decision but only after major protests and threats of boycott from other significant publications. One critic told Buzzfeed, ‘I’ve had Disney tell me they don’t want to invite me to a film because I didn’t like the last one. It really scares me to watch them get even more power.’ Another reason the decrease in competition has proven scary: For every critic or journalist who doesn’t want to play free PR to a powerful studio, their employment opportunities could dramatically decrease.
Barton Crockett, a media analyst at B. Riley FBR, said, ‘Disney is becoming the Wal-Mart of Hollywood: huge and dominant. That’s going to have a big influence up and down the supply chain.’ It makes you wonder if any of them watched their own movie, Wall-E, and thought Buy N Large was something to aspire to. Of course, Disney aren’t the only ones benefitting from this age of media consolidation. AT&T acquired Time Warner last year after overcoming an attempt by the Department of Justice to stop it. CBS and Viacom have toyed with re-merging over the past couple of years to keep up with the big boys. Currently, media analysts are predicting whether Apple will enter the acquisition game as it gears up its much-hyped streaming service. So many smaller networks and channels are sending their shows off to Netflix, giving the king of the streaming services further power.
It’s all too easy to imagine a world where all of our major entertainment, news and media providers are owned by even less than five companies. I’ve joked before that we’re heading towards a world where our only options will be Disney or Netflix but that future doesn’t feel all that fantastical. It’s not good for customers, it’s not good for art, it’s certainly not good for politics. Besides, it’s not as if you were ever going to see Deadpool in an Avengers movie anyway.
Header Image Source: Disney // Fox