Monthly Archives: April 2019

Disney and Fox: What’s the Deal Part 2

So, it has been a while since I wrote my first article about the Disney/Fox deal. Partly because those last six months really kept me from writing all that much for the blog at all, I couldn’t even use the Christmas break for writing since I hurt my hand shortly beforehand. Though originally I waited so long to continue this because of Comcast’s bid. Less because I though that they would succeed in stopping the deal altogether, but I knew that it might influence how it would look like in the end. And they did, not just in terms of cost. But that is a topic for another article, in which I will take a closer look at the international assets Disney now acquired. Today I want to talk about the TV assets specifically regarding the US markets and the various TV shows which now fall under Disney’s umbrella.

But first a little update. It seems like I have been pretty close with my predictions regarding the Fox movie studios so far. Bob Iger has already confirmed that they will leave Searchlight untouched, so I was right that they would stick to the usual MO to not change a working system. Searchlight’s academy award track record is just too good for Disney to do a big overhaul.

The take-over of 20th Century Fox on the other hand ended up being quite a blood-bath, the biggest surprise being the decision to dissolve the Fox 2000 brand. Well, it was mostly a surprise because there was no noise about this possibly happening beforehand. But, let’s be honest here, Fox 2000 doesn’t have the same level of brand awareness Searchlight has, so little, that I didn’t even address it separately in my last article but just lumped it in with 20th Century Fox proper. And the kind of movies they produce – middle budget book adaptations – is nothing Disney Picture can’t cover, too. Not that Disney Picture couldn’t use some creative talent to give it a few impulses, but that is another story.

20th Century Fox is currently undergoing a lot of changes. In: every project will be examined and judged. Disney has said that the movies which have started filming would be released, but there are still a lot of projects which haven’t made it to this stage yet. One project which has already been cancelled is an adaptation of Mouse Guard , a comic which is apparently Game of Thrones but with mice. Haha, some of you might think, naturally Disney wouldn’t allow anything Game of Thrones like to go through. Well, not quite. There were a lot of reasons why Disney decided to stop the project (though they’ll allow the creators to shop it around), one of it allegedly being the overblown budget for an unknown property. But apparently one reason was that Disney wants Fox to focus more on PG-13 and R-rated properties, and lower budget family friendly movies. Which, frankly, makes a lot of sense. Now, I am not quite sure why an adaptation of Mouse Guard would be considered as skewing too young – meaning, I am not sure if Fox originally pushed the concept in this direction or if Disney erroneously thought that a story involving mice had to be cutesy – but the reasoning given shows that the fears Disney might turn Fox into a clone of itself were completely unfounded.

Another thing which is now know about the future of Fox are some details regarding the future leadership. Vice chair Emma Watts is the senior most member of 20th Century Fox who will make the transition to Disney. Emma Watts is a seasoned production executive known for having a great relationship with a lot of strong talents and might be the perfect choice to take the various Fox franchises in hand.

On April 3 she joined Alan Horn during a representation at CinemaCon, and everything which has been said so far sounds like Disney intends to run 20th Century Fox like another of their brands. Give it a few years and what comes out of 20th Century Fox might be quite distinctive in their own right, mostly offering a mix of r-rated movies, horror franchises and edgy movies with franchise potential.

You might remember that I was unsure about the fate of Blue Sky and it turns out if there might be a place for it at Disney after all. At least for now Disney has put the studio on its website, alongside with Disney Pictures, Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Searchlight. Those seem to be the future pillars of Disney’s movie business.

While I originally wondered why Disney should need a third animation studio (not counting the entities responsible for their TV shows) when it already owns the two most successful ones out there, there is a future use I can imagine for Blue Sky.

Above all, doing movies which fit neither into the Disney Animation Studios nor the Pixar brand. To clarify, Disney is known for making family friendly movies based on fairy tales or well known childhood classics. They have dabbled in original movies once a while, and more recently with a lot of success, but taking pre-existing properties and disneyfying them is their bread and butter. Pixar on the other hand is mostly known for original, off-the-wall ideas which they develop in successful movies and then into franchises.

Those two approaches cover a lot of possibilities for animation, but there are some things which won’t fit either Disney Animation or Pixar. For example Comic book adaptations. Yes, I know, both of them have dabbled in superheroes, but there is a difference between disneyfying an extremely obscure property or doing an original take on Superhero tropes and actually adapting a comic book. Or a comic strip. Remember, Blue Sky was also the studio which successfully adapted The Peanuts and it is currently working on Nimona. Now that Into the Spiderverse has been highly successful, Disney might want to get in on the action, and Blue Skye would be way more suited to tackle a project like this than the Disney Animation Studios or Pixar are. They know how to respect an art-style and how to capture the core of an IP.

They are also more suited to movies which are more, well, contemporary. Both Disney and Pixar prefer a time-less style, which is part of the reason why their movies tent to be pretty much classics the moment they are created. Blue Sky is more connected to pop culture, which is one of the reasons why their movies often veer into “disposable” territory, but, well, there is a market for those middle-tier movies which don’t shoot for the stars. Plus, while Blue Sky has so far mostly targeted a demographic which is roughly in Disney’s wheelhouse, they are not above to do something which is clearly addressing a younger audience – see Ferdinand – or to target nostalgic about a specific period of time more so than specifically families. And since Blue Sky’s target demographic isn’t quite as defined as Disney’s, they can easily do something specifically aimed at teenagers if they wanted to.

Plus, Disney will need a lot of content for its streaming service, including animated content. Not that I think that any of the movie studios will start to produce exclusively for streaming service, at least not as long cinemas are still a profitable revenue stream. Alan Horn said as much at CinemaCon.

“The theatre is and will always be in our minds. It is the cornerstone of the theatrical business, period. It is really where it all started…it’s where Disney and Fox will continue to move forward as one united company.”

Thus said, Disney’s strategy seems to be clear. They seem to be focussed on blockbusters and popular franchises, the kind of movies which makes people feel that they really should see them in theatres because they belong on a big screen, or which make for a good outing. The smaller production seem to fall by the wayside, with the exception of Searchlight’s output, since the only kind of smaller movies which do well on the big screen tend to be the ones which get award buzz.

In the long run this means that the low to middle budget dramas will most likely be squeezed out of the market and only turn up on streaming, but I admit, I am not sure if I am too bummed about that. Mostly because I myself feel that they don’t really utilize the big screen anyway, so why not making them for streaming from the get go?

Well, so much about the movie studios. Let’s move to the television studios. Here is what Disney has acquired and will keep (there are a few assets they need to sell to avoid anti-trust issues and naturally Fox didn’t sell it’s broadcast network):

  • Fox Television Group
    • 20th Century Fox Television
    • Fox 21 Television Studios
    • FX Networks
    • FX Productions
    • National Geographic Partners (73%)
  • Fox Networks Group International
    • Fox Networks Group Asia
    • Fox Networks Group Europe
    • Fox Networks Group Latin America

There is also the Endemol Shine Group (50%), Hulu (30% which raises Disney’s share to 60%), Star India and Tata Sky (30%), but I’ll address those properties when I cover the international future of Disney as well as their plans for the streaming market. Though I need to point out that with the Endemol Shine Group (which is seated in the Netherlands) Disney also gets its hand on a couple of very interesting international IPs, including Big Brother, MasterChef, Peaky Blinders and Black Mirror.

Now Disney made an announcement regarding the future leadership and structure of the Networks on October 8, 2018. Now, this was a few months ago, and it is possible that there haven been or will be changes, but back then, it was supposed to look like this:

  • Peter Rice – Chairman, Walt Disney Television and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks
    • Dana Walden – Chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment
      • Channing Dungey, President, ABC Entertainment
      • Patrick Moran, President, ABC Studios
      • Jonathan Davis and Howard Kurtzman, Presidents of Twentieth Century Fox Television
      • Bert Salke, President, Fox 21 Television Studios
      • Tom Ascheim, President, Freeform
      • Wendy McMahon, President, ABC Owned Television Stations Group
    • Gary E. Knell, Chairman of National Geographic Partners
    • John Landgraf, Chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions
    • Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer, Disney Channels Worldwide
    • James Goldston, President, ABC News

Notable about this structure is that for now mostly that Disney has apparently no intention whatsoever to disrupt the work of FX. Not only will it stay under the same leadership, it will report directly to Peter Rice. Also notable is the fact that Disney plans to keep ABC Studios and Fox Television Studios as separate entities for now. It doesn’t really look like there will be much of a change for any of the entities other than maybe in terms of programming. We will know more about than on May 14. For this day ABC’s upfront presentation is scheduled, and this year it is expanding to include it’s new corporate siblings. Not that I expect huge changes.

In a way it might make more sense to wait until this date to write this article, but let’s talk about the IP’s Disney acquired. Small disclaimer here: Television rights are waaaaay more complicated than movie rights. With movies, you have a production company and a distributor, which often belongs to the same entity as the production company. With TV shows, you have a production company, a network which buys and airs the show, someone who buys the syndication rights – and all of those can belong to a different company.  Basically, even if you know who originally produced a show that doesn’t necessarily mean that said entity has currently the control over said show. It all depends on the contracts.

Thus said, this deal is actually streamlining some of the rights, since Fox produced a lot of shows which aired of ABC – a kind of famous example is the Adam West Batman show which is now owned by Disney. And once you put all this together, well the Library is huge.

But on top of all the IPs which are owned/have been produced by either ABC or Fox, there are also a long list of IPs by now defunct production companies Fox bought at one point (or which were operating under the Fox umbrella until Fox decided to stop production). So, before I get to 20th Century Fox Television and FX, I’ll briefly cover some of the other production studios.

Regency Television seems to have been mostly active between 1999 and 2008. It’s most notable shows included Roswell and Malcom in the Middle. Foxstar Productions had a lot of success with Biography and some with Alien Nation, but otherwise there is nothing really remarkable in its small line-up. Genesis Entertainment was active in the 1980s and early 1990s and is responsible for hit shows like Highway to Heaven and Tales from the Crypt. Then there is Blair Entertainment and Storer Broadcasting, whose TV-show line-up is so small, it is barely worth mentioning. Four Star has a little bit more to offer, but since that studio was active from roughly the 1950s to the 1980s, with most of their titles being from the first two decades, a lot of those shows are a little bit dated. A lot of westerns and shows which stars celebrity X overall. Speaking of which, the list of defunct studios also includes MTM Enterprises – Mary Tyler More Enterprises – which naturally includes the Mary Tyler Moore Show but also a few other classics, like Remington Steele. And New World Television, whose most relevant programming included a bunch of Marvel based shows, including The Incredible Hulk. And Sledge Hammer.

I think the most valuable of those acquisitions is the Metromedia Producers Corporation., which has produced a number of quite interesting IPs,  including Charlie’s Angels, Hart to Hart, Starsky and Hutch and a number of other shows which can be called “classics”.

And finally there is Stephen J. Cannell Productions. Now apparently in this case the library is owned by Cannell’s family, but Fox still retains a few rights. Like the right to do remakes. We are talking here about shows like The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Hunter, Riptide, Stingray and 21 Jump Street.  Though for Disney those rights aren’t that interesting. Nice to have, but what they really want are IPs to put on their streaming service.

Which is a little bit a problem with FX. Oh, there is certainly a place for FX in the company, but I think it is save to say that if Disney decides to stream certain FX shows, it will happen via Hulu, and not Disney+.  Between shows like JustifiedNip/Tuck, Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Archer, American Horror Story, Anger Management, The Americans, Better Things, Louie, You’re the Worst, Fargo, American Crime Story, Legion, and Atlanta there aren’t really many who would tonally fit the tone subscriber would expect from Disney.

There is one sub-division which is currently active nobody talks about, but which might not have much of a future under Disney: Animation Domination High-Def. They have produced animated shows since 2013, but frankly, there is nothing in their line-up which I actually know except for Neo Yokio, which is a hot contender for the most tone-deaf series I have encountered in the last years. Any, I am mostly putting a question mark beside this particular studio due to its animation veering more to an older audience, and Disney will be automatically more interested into shows which fit Disney+ one way or another.

But let’s talk about the big one, the long list of shows Fox produced and aired in the last decades. Those shows include M*A*S*H, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Bones, Empire, Family Guy, 24, Modern Family, This Is Us, American Dad!, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Futurama, New Girl,  The X-Files and, maybe the biggest property, The Simpsons.

Or let’s just talk about The Simpsons, because apparently The Simpsons is seen by some people as some sort of litmus test. I am not quite sure why, though. I mean, realistically speaking The Simpsons has been a zombie show for at least a decade. Those who still watch it seem to do it more out of some sort of habit than out of true excitement. There have been videos about when exactly the downfall of The Simpsons began and what was the cause of it for years. So…what exactly can Disney do to “ruin” The Simpsons?

From my point of view, if Disney had decided to cancel The Simpsons it would be totally understandable. Yes, the ratings for the show have been relatively stable for a long, long time, but sometimes it might be a good idea to stop beating a dead horse. At the same time, I never expected them to actually do it either. Because The Simpsons are still a reliable cash cow and it would have been stupid for Disney to not milk it. And that is exactly what they did.

So, for those who don’t know already, The Simpsons was renewed for a thirty-first and thirty-second season on February 6, 2019. The latter season will contain the 700th episode. In addition, Disney is moving the first thirty seasons of the show to their streaming service, so that they will be Disney+ exclusives. Well played, Disney, well played.

But I am slipping into discussing the streaming service, so let’s close this for now with a pretty obvious observation: Regarding the merger the different Fox channels will most likely be fine for now. Some shows will be renewed, others won’t, and overall it will be business as usual. For the broadcaster the rise of streaming is the far bigger threat. They will never be completely replaced, because there will always been events which are more fun to watch live, there will always be the news segment, there will always be shows and there will always be people who prefer to flip through their channels in order to eventually settle something which happens to be on instead of having to search through some sort of catalogue. But especially the cable channels will come more and more under pressure in the future. And this might lead to Disney shutting down specific channels, both on the ABC and the Fox side of things. But if that happens, it will be more about the overall shift to streaming. It is on the various channels to keep the audience interested in their programming.

Meanwhile Disney has acquired a ton of content. Now, I don’t expect them to put all of this on their streaming platform, and not just because a lot of them are still tied up in a deal or another. But this is a lot with which they can do whatever they want. And that includes creating remakes or making movies out of them. The possibilities are kind of endless there.

And that’s for now. Next time I will examine the streaming plans of Disney in more detail – both nationally and internationally, the latter maybe being the more interesting topic.

 

 

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