Tag Archives: Fox

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.

 

 


Disney and Fox: What’s the Deal? Part 1

Honestly, when I did my little article about the possibility of a deal between Disney and Fox, I didn’t quite expect that we would get definitive news that fast. What I said back then still stands, though, in that it will take some time before the deal comes in full effect. Still, time to discuss what Disney has actually bought. But not in one article, that would be a way too long read. So I will start with movies today, then go into Live Action TV, then into TV animation and finally into everything else in later articles.

Keep in mind though that I am not an expert in this sort of thing. I did basic research, but I can hardly fly to the US in order to look up the relevant sources personally. I need to trust into what is available on the internet. I am basically just laying out information for you other people have researched, and there might be mistakes in my assessment of them. Also, a lot of what I’ll write is pure speculation. There is no way to predict exactly what Disney will do, just some movements which would make more sense than others.

This in mind, what are we actually talking about when it comes to the movies side of things? Well, 20th Century Fox naturally, but not just that. There are also sister companies and subsidiaries. Though some of them are more important than others, and not all of them equal Disney getting their hands on a bunch of properties.


Let’s put three of them aside for the moment: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is simply the home video distribution arm of 20th Century Fox studio, meaning they are not in the business of creating content themselves. Honestly, their whole business will most likely be simply folded into the Disney company. One home video distribution company is enough.  So, if you are wondering if this merger will lead to job losses, this is where most of them will most likely happening. It is mostly the distribution companies which will be hit hard by this.

A second subsidiary I don’t plan to discuss in detail is Fox Studios Australia.  This studio has been involved in a number of movie productions, but that tended to be productions by other companies. Ie the studio worked on the Lego movies, but those are naturally property of Warner Bros. They were also involved in Mad Max Fury Road, but again, not their property. How much what they do translates in revenue and if Disney is interested in keeping them going, I can’t tell. I would need to see the books to make a definitive judgement about it. But considering how much of a hassle it was to lease the former Sydney Showground for the studio, as well as the sheer size of it, my money is on Disney continuing to use the studio one way or another.

And finally there is Fox Star Studios, which actually does produce a lot of content, but for the Indian market. I will get to it when I discuss the acquisition of Star India in a later article. In terms of Hollywood movies, this studio is irrelevant.


That leaves Fox Searchlight Pictures, 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios. Meaning the “Oscar bait” and the animation branch of the company.

Let’s be honest here: The whole animation branch is nothing Disney cares about. When it comes to animation they are way ahead of Fox. I am not even sure how to categorize 20th Century Fox Animation, considering that it has only two movies on its name, Anastasia (1997) and Titan A.E (2000), both being Don Bluth movies. As far as I can tell the studio isn’t defunct though, so I assume that it does some sort of animation for Fox. They apparently work with Blue Sky on the regular basis.

And Blue Sky – honestly, this studio might be the biggest question mark in that merger, and of all the production companies it might be in most danger to get shut down. But I have somehow the feeling that Disney will try to resell it instead. Animation has become a huge market – some of the biggest grossing movies in the last years were animated – and while Blue Sky doesn’t have the pedigree Pixar or even DreamWorks has, it has a recognizable mascot in Scrat, and in Ice Age a worldwide successful franchise. Yes, I know, most people feel that this franchise has really overstayed its welcome, and I would agree (hell, I was over it when the first sequel hit the theatres), but studio executives tend to look at the bottom line, and the bottom line is that this franchise made a ton of money, with two instalments easily passing the 850 million mark worldwide. In addition, Blue Sky just managed to produce its first academy award nominated movie with “The Peanuts”.

This in mind both Paramount and Sony might be interesting in purchasing Blue Sky. Paramount because it is the only major studio which doesn’t have its own animation department. Though they used to distribute for DreamWorks and still own the rights to – you know, what, let’s not go into the complicated history of DreamWorks distribution and ownership. Let’s just say that nearly every major studio distributed at one point for DreamWorks and leave it with that. Currently the company is owned by Comcast which also happens to own Universal and Illumination, and whatever rights Paramount has, they are hardly replacing the ownership over an established Animation Studio. If they can afford it and/or plan to branch out in this direction.

Sony naturally already owns an animation studio, but one with a terrible reputation which last year managed the seemingly impossible to get even more tarnished by the Emoji movie. Just like Comcast owns both DreamWorks and Illumination and Disney owns both Pixar and the Disney Animation studios, Sony might have room for an additional studio. Thinking about it, Warner Bros might too. After all their CGI movies are currently still co-productions involving multiple companies. Hell, even Netflix might be interested. They want to produce their own content after all. I just doubt that they have currently access to this kind of money.

But let’s assume that Disney sells Blue Sky with all its IPs (to sweeten the deal). That would leave Anastasia and Titan A.E. with Disney. And no, that doesn’t mean that Anastasia is now a Disney princess. Technically not even Anna or Moana are Disney princesses yet, because there was no coronation ceremony for them. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Disney just buries both properties.


Which means we are now getting to the part Disney was actually interested in, the big movie properties. Let’s discuss Fox Searchlight first though.

A lot of people seem to work under the assumption that Fox searchlight is a production company. That isn’t quite correct. It is a distributer specialised in independent and foreign film productions, with a focus on dramedy, horror and especially art-house movies. But it is the kind of distributor which is also often involved in the financing of said movies.

Currently it releases ten movies every year and the track record is frankly impressive. Part of the catalogue are three best picture winners (Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman), as well as eleven movies which got nominated (The Full Monty, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Tree of Life, The Descendants, Beast of the Southern Wild, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Brooklyn). In 2017 it released A United Kingdom, Table 19, Wilson, Gifted, My Cousin Rachel, STEP, Patti Cake$, Battle of the Sexes, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. I am not in the business of predicting the award season, but as far as I can tell, there is some buzz around the last two movies.

And this track record is the reason that even though Fox Searchlight is mainly a distribution company, I do think that Disney will not only keep it running, but capitalize on its ability to pick projects which resonate with the critics. Disney has its share of academy awards (in fact, Walt Disney alone won 26, more than anyone else in history), but only four best picture nominations (Mary Poppins, Beauty and Beast, Up and Toy Story 3) and not one single win. Being the only animation studio which ever got nominated in this category at all is a huge deal, but if Disney wants to appeal to the film fan demographic with its streaming service, it needs to drop a share of academy award nominees and winners on a regular basis. Fox turns up on the nomination list nearly every year, often with multiple productions, and in the last ten years it was especially Fox Searchlight which provided the Oscar bait. Disney would be a fool not to capitalize on this.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney mostly keeps the company as it is, except for the marketing. If there is something Disney does really, really well, it is convincing their audience that their name (or Pixar or Marvel) stands for a particular kind of movie in a specific quality. Rebrand the whole business as “Searchlight” or even “Disney Searchlight”, and market it as THE studio/distributor of sophisticated movies, and they might be able to get the target group into the habit of at least checking out a movie released under the “Searchlight”  label, the same way animation fans automatically check out Disney and Pixar movies and Comic book fans won’t ever miss out on a Marvel Studios movie. Simultaneously to letting “Searchlight” be on the look-out for worthwhile productions and perhaps giving it a bigger budget to finance more or the projects they are interested in themselves, they could release all Fox studios productions which seem academy award worthy under this label.

If they do manage to establish “Searchlight” as a brand, they would have the additional advantage of being able to release Oscar bait movie the whole year. Currently most movies of this kind are released close to award season, because the studios expect to make more money if the movie gets award buzz. This results in a shortage of more serious-minded movies for the majority of the year. If Disney manages to convince the audience that a critically acclaimed “Searchlight” movie is a Oscar contender by default, they could start to release those movies whenever they want and, at least regarding this particular demographic, without any direct competition.

Granted, the downside of those more high-minded movies is that they are rarely franchise fodder. Fox has a long library of critically acclaimed movies, many of them seen as true movie classics. They are great to bolster up the library of your streaming service, but they will hardly be enough of an incentive to get people to subscribe in the first place. For that you need the big money makers, the movies everyone wants to see.


Fox has its share of blockbuster movies. Ignoring DreamWorks releases, Star Wars and their more successful Marvel movies, the highest grossing movies include Avatar, Titanic, Independence Day, The Martian, Life of Pie, Night at the Museum, The Day After Tomorrow, The Revenant,  Home Alone, Castaway and Mrs. Doubtfire. Notable Franchises include Alien, Predator, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, The Omen Film Series and The Kingsman movies. The latter is interesting because Kingsman is a release of Icon Comics, an imprint of Marvel for creator owned work.  But then, I don’t think that there will be another sequel anyway. The last one already made considerable less than the first movie.

Which is something to keep in mind. A few of those Franchises aren’t exactly posed to make profit through additional instalments in the future. Die Hard, Alien and Predator are all pretty much on their last leg, and I am not sure how much the audience is still interested in Planet of the Apes after the last movie underperformed. Home Alone and its sequel will always be holyday classics, but the later instalments better stay forgotten. The Omen series seems to be pretty much dead already, while the remake was a modest success, there was no follow up and the TV show Fox launched based on the franchise was cancelled after one season. Independence Day thoroughly botched its attempt at becoming a franchise with the sequel.

That doesn’t mean that Disney won’t find a way to squeeze money of those franchises down the line, maybe through a remake or by exploring a new angle, but currently the only ones of those properties which look like they could produce a string of blockbusters down the line are Avatar and the Marvel IPs. And I am not even sure about Avatar. Maybe I shouldn’t doubt James Cameron after topping the highest grossing movie of all time list twice, but I am not quite sure if the interest in Avatar is really that big anymore. Avatar is the kind of movie people saw for the spectacle, not for the characters or even overall quality. But then, that is exactly what Jurassic World was about, too, the spectacle. If Cameron can dib into the concept again, Avatar could become a huge deal. And, to be honest, I believe that Avatar has a bigger chance of impressing the audience if Cameron has the experts at Disney to back him up. Which they will, they didn’t invest in theme park rights for Avatar to see the franchise fail.

But then, how many blockbusters can Disney actually release each year? Currently they do two, rarely three animated movies (ideally one Pixar and one from the animation studio, but the schedule got kind of messed up by the delay of The Good Dinosaur and Zootopia), one live action remake, one Star War movie and the schedule for Marvel is currently up to three movies a year (counting the Sony releases in the MCU). There is the possibility that they step it up to four Marvel movies each year and I guess they will squeeze in Avatar for the years in which they don’t have a live action remake scheduled. Meaning we end up with at least eight nearly sure money makers each year.

Is there still room for other blockbusters? Sure there is. The good thing about those truly big franchises, at least from a scheduling point of view, is that they tend to make most of their money within the first two weeks. Plus, those animated movies aren’t quite addressing the same demographic. Nor does the majority of Fox other productions. This is exactly why Disney bought the company in the first place, to cover the kind of movies they aren’t known for already.


Which includes r-rated material. To be very clear about this, even though it ended badly in the case of Miramax, Disney has dabbled in r-rated material before. Even in some X-rated stuff. And they could easily continue to do so and just release it under some brand name which allows Disney to stay invisible. But I don’t think that this is in Disney’s interest. They want everyone to know that they are the master of all possible movie genres, not just of family entertainment. And while the so called “edgy” approach of Miramax (as well as some other aspects of the company) were a bad fit for Disney, Fox’s kind of risk taking is more up the alley of what Disney has tested out with Touchstone.

Thus said, a lot depends on if the deal includes the Fox name. If Disney purchased the studio including name, fanfare and everything else, and it will be the Fox TV channels which will change their name eventually, Disney will most likely just allow Fox Studios to continue on its path with a few adjustments to improve revenue. Honestly, after all the scandals in the last year which resulted in Fox news getting hit hard in advertising revenue, they might want a fresh start anyway, and 20th Century Fox is certainly more worth with the tradition-laden name, even if the association to Rupert Murdoch has tarnished it. Otherwise though, Disney will have to rebrand in a way which clarifies “this is our level of quality but in a different style than you are used to”. Maybe by reviving the Touchstone brand, maybe by coming up with something new.


To summon up what I said so far: I think that once the deal has gone through properly, Disney will do some serious rebranding. In the end, the movie division of Disney will look like this:

  1. The Disney Animation Studios and Disney Pixar will cover family friendly animation, with Pixar continuing to create originals and franchises based on said originals, while Disney Animation focusses on loose adaptations and the Disney Princess Franchise, with an occasional original along the line of Zootopia or Wreck-it Ralph thrown in. I hope though that with Disney Animation sequels will become the exception, not the rule.
  2. Walt Disney Pictures for family friendly entertainment. That covers the live action remakes, the Park Ride based movies and the occasional children’s book adaptation.
  3. Lucasfilm for Star Wars. And maybe Indiana Jones. Let’s be honest here, outside of those two franchises Lucasfilm is responsible for maybe a dozen movies, and it doesn’t look like they intend to do anything original anytime soon. It is worth to keep it as a separate entity, not just because of Star Wars but also because of the technical expertise assembled at Lucasfilm
  4. Marvel Studios for Comic book movies. Maybe even comic book movies in general, but I’ll address the future of Marvel in another article once we know a little bit more about their plans.
  5. Searchlight for Oscar Bait.
  6. Fox studios as a big umbrella for everything else, from more adult themed movies to some more experimental stuff.
  7. Maybe – just maybe – they will also take Fox’s various horror franchises and built a brand around them. Recently horror movies have proofed to be low-risk money makers, so it might be worth to establish a horror brand or franchise. Maybe something along the line of what Paramount is currently doing with the Cloverfield movies, doing movies under a familiar label without them necessarily having to connect too tightly with each other aside from a familiar theme.

The Bottom line here is: I don’t think that 20th Century Fox has much to worry about when it comes to the production division of the company. Disney didn’t buy the movie studio to shut it down, but because it was honestly interested in the kind of content it produces, the kind of content which is a perfect addition to what Disney is already doing. There might be a little bit reshuffling and renaming in the future, but at the end of the day, Disney isn’t in the habit of meddling in a working concept. With one exception: Disney will most likely put the Marvel rights under the control of Marvel Studios. This means that 20th Century Fox will loose some of their most reliable franchises. But this might actually a win for the audience in the end, because (even if Comic book movie fans don’t like to hear it) it will ensure that the Comic book movie market doesn’t end too oversaturated each year, and it will push Fox to look for other alternatives instead of focussing on a Gambit movie next to nobody cares about or a Fantastic 4 movie nobody wants to see outside of the MCU.

There is also the possibility that Disney will release the Avatar Franchise under the proper Disney name. After all, there will be a park ride based on it and Disney has earned a reputation of providing great blockbusters in a way Fox does not. Fox on the other hand has a reputation of providing great low to middle budget movies, making it the perfect match for Disney.

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Disney and Fox merger?

I usually don’t comment on Hollywood politics, but the rumour that Disney tried to acquire some of Fox’s assets has put the internet in a state of, well, that:

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And I honestly have the feeling that most of the discussion is either totally overblown “Disney takes over the world” talk, or full of unrealistic expectations. So maybe it is time for a huge step back and examine the situation rationally.

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Just follow my reasoning step by step.

Let’s first talk about the assets in question, because some talk about this as if Disney intends to buy the whole of Fox. That isn’t quite correct. They are interested in the movie studios and in part of the Television division. To clarify, they are interested in the part which is not News (*cough* propaganda *cough*) or sport related, instead they have their eye on the entertainment side of things. And this is not about having another studio lot, this is about the IPs connected to the studios and the Fox TV productions.

 

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So why is Disney interested?

This is only conjuncture, but let’s consider this from Disney’s perspective: When Disney initially made the distribution deal with Netflix, I fully expected that the deal would end up in a merger. Even when they announced that they would go ahead and start their own streaming service in 2019, I still thought that this might be a negotiation tactic, pressuring Netflix to sell for a lower price by threatening the company with serious competition. After all, Netflix doesn’t just own a streaming service in the US, it is the only one so far which has taken serious steps to be a world-wide provider. But now it looks like Disney will go ahead with building up a Netflix rival at least for the US market. And in order to do that, there is something Disney needs above everything else: Content.

Yes, Disney has a huge library of movies and TV shows, both animated and live action (don’t forget that Disney doesn’t just own the Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel, but also Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Disneynature and ABC, just to mention the most relevant ones). But at the end of the day, Disney is mostly known for family entertainment. A streaming service can’t succeed when it only appeals to one group, even if it is a particularly broad group. Disney needs more content for “grown ups”, and I am not necessarily talking about r-rated movies and TV shows, I am talking about genres which Disney only covers from time to time under its Touchstone label, like heavy drama, horror, dystopian science fiction aso. They also could use some classic movies. Disney is far from being one of the oldest studios out there and it started to produce live action movies fairly late.

Consequently there is a huge gap Disney has to fill, and the easiest and most substantial way to do it, is to acquire those rights through a huge buy-out. Under the other studios, there are two possible candidates for a buy-out like this, Sony and Fox, and while it seems like Sony is the easier option, due to the well-known financial troubles of the studio, Fox might actually be the better one. It has a larger and more diverse library which would match what Disney already owns perfectly, and it has some incentives to sell to a reasonable price.

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But why should Fox agree?

 

Fox is currently owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is well known for aggressive expansion. Selling anything seems to be counterintuitive. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Disney successfully brokered a deal, considering that it acquired what is now Freeform from Fox a few years ago.  In addition, there is currently a generation change going on in the Murdoch empire. The two sons are taking on more and more responsibilities, and their view on the future of the company might be somewhat different.

Let’s take a look at this aggressive expansion strategy: It has lead to Rupert Murdoch practically owning the British media and having considerable influence on public opinion in the US. I do wonder about the financial situation overall, though. Again, this is just conjuncture, but here are a few things one should consider: Murdoch trying to spread his influence over the European continent by buying Sky might have been a huge misstep. Sky is a pay-tv channel and was frankly a financial mess when Murdoch got his fingers on it. Then there are all the newspapers the company owns in the UK. I wonder how many of them are still creating a decent revenue now that more and more people are looking up the news on the internet. And finally there is Fox studios itself which overall hasn’t really done all that well in the last years either.

The Media is currently in a state of flux, due to the rise of the streaming services. The live viewing numbers for TV shows are constantly falling, because more and more people prefer to watch on their own time. The exceptions are sport events, news, live-shows, everything which looses relevance directly after airing. Soon every media company out there will have to decide if it wants to jump in with its own streaming service or if it wants to retool its programming accordingly. For Disney it makes totally sense to do the former, since it is a brand people recognize as a sign of quality. For the Murdoch group it might actually better to focus on its core business – which is the newsroom – and get rid of everything else. They have a vast library which would match Disney perfectly, but it is not vast enough that Fox could built a streaming service on it, the way Warner Bros, Disney or Universal could. Avoiding to the competition might be the better move, even if that means to give up some IPs which currently stand to make a lot of more money in the future. I say currently, because we have seen in the past how a studio can destroy an IP thoroughly (see Fantastic 4 as prime example). And Disney might actually do better than Fox with some of those IPs.

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Oh, which IP’s we are talking about?

 

That is the question. I’ll be frank here: rights issues at Fox are incredible complicated. With Disney it is usually fairly easy: Disney makes the movie, distributes said movie, gets the revenue and owns the rights to said movie. Sometimes there might be issues considering the property on which their movie is based, but since Disney has a tendency to go for either public domain properties or original stories, in most cases they are the sole owner of at the very least the particular incarnation of a character. There are some movies Disney released under their alternative labels which are co-productions, but as a thumb rule Disney is the owner of its own productions and distributes them worldwide. It took a few decades, but nowadays they are really good in keeping control over every aspect of their creations (sometimes too good – trying to trademark a foreign holiday was not cool, Disney).

With Fox it is a little bit more complicated. Take White Collar. White Collar is a television series which originally run on USA Network, which belongs to NBC. But it was produced by the Fox Television studios. Though they apparently don’t control any of the relevant rights. White Collar was syndicated in the US by Ion Media, while the distribution rights in other countries are an entirely different matter. I suspect in Germany, Disney has those rights, based on the channels on which White Collar was shown (currently Netflix and the Disney Channel).

Bottom line: regarding the TV shows, it is sometimes difficult to tell which ones are actually Fox properties, and even those which are might be caught up in some sort of distribution deal, which is lowering their worth for a prospective buyer. It is a little bit easier to figure out regarding the movies, but again, there are a number of co-productions or distribution only deals in the mix. In addition, Disney is already owning a number of Fox IP’s, acquired during the aforementioned deal to buy the Fox Family channel (which turned into ABC family which turned into Freeform). Which is the point at which I am pressing the alert bottom.

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DANGER! DANGER!

 

Remember Peter Pan and the Pirates? Nice little TV show you won’t see on DVD anytime soon, because it, along with a lot of other shows which originally run on Fox Family have vanished in the Disney vault. And of all those shows which ended up in there, it has the smallest chance to ever see the light of day again, because Disney has its own version of Peter Pan and wants it to be the ultimate one.

Naturally not all IP’s which were acquired back then ended up in the vault. The Power Rangers have found a home at Disney and the X-men, being a particular popular series, has gotten its dues, too. And, as I pointed out above, this is about having more content, so Disney starting its own streaming service might lead to some of those properties being pulled from the vault for additional content. But between all the assets Disney would purchase from Fox there might be IP’s Disney is simply not interested in or actually wants to bury because they are rivalling their favoured product.

And no matter what property, don’t expect a DVD set anytime soon. Disney doesn’t even manage to release their own productions properly, something has to be particularly successful for them to even consider that move. And even then you end up with some oddities. For example Disney released the first two season of The Tick on DVD, but from each season one episode is missing because Disney feared that the parodies in it would lead to them being sued by Marvel. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Thus said, Disney is by far not the only company with a spotty record regarding the release of shows or a tendency to self-censorship. It might therefore be premature to sound the alarm. Having a all the rights which are relevant for one property under the control of one company has a number of advantages. To just mention the most obvious example (no, not Marvel): Fox owns the distribution rights to the first Star Wars movies. Disney purchasing those rights might lead to nifty collector boxes, maybe – just maybe – even containing the original version of the movies. The more rights Disney has, the more freedom the company has to use them.

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Disney is taking over the world!!!

 

Not quite. Disney would add to more of the media to its market share and this would certainly change the media landscape, but those changes are way more relevant on the TV than the movie side of things.

Oh, before someone brings up the story of Disney squeezing more and more money out of theatre owners: That is pretty much an unrelated matter. For one, this is nothing new, the smaller theatres in Germany have already stopped running the Disney blockbusters if they can help it. Just recently the German comedy movie Fack ju Göhte 3 placed on top of the German box office, ahead of Thor: Ragnarok. You can guess which movie the smaller theatres decided to run.

And two, what puts Disney into the position to raise the prizes is not the number of IPs they own, but the desire of the audience to see those movies. What they pull with the Star Wars or the Marvel movies would never work with a number of their lesser properties. Be assured though, that there is a breaking point in all this. After all theatre owners have to make their money somehow, meaning the ones who have to eventually pay for Disney’s additional revenue is the audience. In short, sooner or later the market will regulate itself. Or it won’t, but then it will be our own fault.

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So no reason to panic!

 

The truth is, even if Disney merged with Fox studios, it would still produce less movies every year than either Warner Bros. or Universal. In fact, Disney is pretty much the only studio small enough that it could buy Fox Studios without outright violating current anti-trust laws but also rich enough that it can afford the price-tag on a sale like this.

Television is another matter though. Not only would Disney double its presence, with those IPs Disney can easily run a streaming service containing only properties over which it has full ownership. Which is considerably cheaper than having to buy distribution rights. Netflix has started its own productions for exactly that reason, but it will take time to replace its library with them. Disney on the other hand can easily fill a streaming service with its properties, especially if it also has control over the Fox IPs. This would mean that Disney (and other studios which might follow) can easily undercut Netflix and perhaps even force it out of the market in the long run. After all, Netflix is known to have huge debts due to the various investments it made into infrastructure and TV-productions. In the end, this could be a bad thing if Netflix doesn’t manage to hold its ground, but also a good thing for the audience, because some healthy competition would have a positive impact on the fees and the effort made to produce compelling content.

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But what about those IP’s?

The biggest fear some people seem to have is that Disney takes over and then “ruin” franchises left and right with their family friendly approach. I honestly don’t get where this fear is coming from. We had those discussions in the past, when Disney took over Marvel and Lucasfilm. And what happened? Both companies thrived under Disney’s tutelage. Marvel Studios does better than ever since Disney removed it from the influence of Perlmutter, and Lucasfilm goes from one success to the next. Honestly, I never understood what Disney was supposed to ruin in terms of the Star Wars franchise anyway. After the Prequels, the Ewok movies, the Ewok animated series and the Star Wars Holyday special, there was nothing Disney could do to make it worse.

Precedence shows  that Disney is not in the habit of micromanaging its subsidiaries. Granted, a lot of Fox’s IPs are further removed from what Disney stands for than Marvel, Lucasfilm or Pixar. Especially the Alien Franchise, the Predator series and the whole McFarlan verse comes to mind. But remember what I said in the beginning about Disney’s motivations? This is about variety! Meaning that it isn’t actually in Disney’s interest to just ignore or sanitise the IPs in question.

In the end this is not a question of who owns what, it is a question of branding. All Disney has to do is to present the Fox properties in a way that clarifies to the audience that those are their own thing. Disney has done this in the past by releasing projects under the Touchstone label. Even the streaming service can be set up in a way that the general audience has a clear cut between the different Disney branches. The same way Netflix has a “Netflix originals” category in its streaming service, Disney could sort their movies not based on content, but based on brand.

And the same is true for the TV properties. The question is if Disney can set up an environment in which the creative minds can thrive and create even more content for their service under the Fox brand (or however it will be named under Disney). But again, this has rarely been Disney’s problem, unlike Fox they aren’t exactly known for excessive studio interference.

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What about the Marvel IP’s?

 

To all those who are either salivating or complaining about the prospect of Marvel studios getting the X-men and the Fantastic 4 rights back: Calm down. Keep in mind that even if this deal becomes reality, it won’t happen from one day to the other. It could take years to figure all this stuff out, and by this point the MCU might be at least in the midst of Phase 4 if not Phase 5, Deadpool will have had so many sequels that we might already be tired of the character and the X-men, well, who knows. Hell, there is a real possibility that the Fantastic 4 rights revert back before the merger happens.

On the other hand, this might be the perfect time to push the merger through because thanks to Trump anti-trust laws have never been as weak. Just to be on the safe side it would be better to act before a new administration cleans up house. So let’s assume that the deal happens within the next years. It stands to suspect that Disney would shuffle the Marvel rights over to Marvel studios. And I actually see only advantages in this.

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NO! This will be horrible!!!!!

 

Oh, I know the arguments against it: We will get less movies every year, Disney will never go r-rated, the X-men don’t fit into the MCU…. let’s take those apart.

For one, I take quality over quantity any day, and I think that the majority of the Marvel movies are vastly superior to the Fox output. Plus, Fox isn’t that fast in churning out those movies either. On average, they barely do one per year. They want to step their game up now, but who knows which projects will actually happen in the end. Plus, keeping the number of comic book movies per year reasonable will ensure that every project will get the attention from the audience it deserves.

Two, Disney has been gone R-rated in the past, as I pointed out above, this is more about the right branding than about what Disney would or wouldn’t do. In this case the question is more what Marvel Studios would do. And Marvel Studios has already gone R-rated with its TV shows. Now the question is if they would do it in the movies. A R-rated movies seems to be a terrible fit for the MCU but then, who says that everything Marvel studios does has to be part of it? As I said beforehand: All a question of branding.

Which brings me to the last point, that the X-men are a bad fit for the MCU. I agree. Marvel kind of got away with it in the Comics, but I don’t think that it will work in the MCU. Comic book continuity has always been fluid, but the MCU is way more beholden to what came beforehand. Putting a society in which Mutants are systematically hunted in the same setting in which the Avengers are considered heroes just doesn’t jive. Even if the MCU starts the franchise with a clean slate – as it should, the X-men are overdue for a reboot anyway – the Mutants are one element which are better off out of the MCU. But that doesn’t mean that Marvel Studios can’t run a second Franchise parallel to the MCU.

Hell, they could even make it a proper parallel world from the get go, starting with the premise “What if the Kree had never played around with human DNA, but instead the Mutants developed down the line, and the world feared those strange powers?” Think about it, Hydra would have never been created, Captain America or the Hulk would have never been a thing because nobody would play around with a supersoldier serum when there are already powered people one could draft running around. Thor might have never been send to Earth because Odin wouldn’t want to put him seriously at risk in such a hostile environment. And once this universe is properly established, they could do a dimension hopping crossover event. Or they could just leave the whole X-men verse as its own thing, with the difference that Marvel, unlike Fox, would actually make X-men movies instead of action movies which happen to feature mutants.

Plus, there are the Fantastic 4 and all the other properties involved. I think most fans agree that Marvel really should get those rights back. Above all, though, they will soon be desperately needed. Let’s look at the MCU again. The current line-up will mostly bow out with Infinity war. Which leaves Ant-man, the Wasp, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel as the core of the next generation (just counting the characters which can headline a movie for sure). And then?

Well, Marvel can switch things a little bit up, for example by letting Bucky take over the mantle of Captain America, or by doing a team up movie involving supporting characters. They might finally do this Black Widow movie.  But they also need to introduce new characters, and in this area, they are slowly running out of options. There is Namor, provided that the Disney lawyers have managed to free him from legal limbo.  There is Blade, but I don’t see him fitting into the MCU at this point, especially not into the movies. There are various legacy and young characters, like Miss Marvel, Amadeus Cho aso which could build a version of the Young Avengers. And then there are some second tier characters and teams which might work the same way Guardians of the Galaxy did. But a lot of those are currently in the area of overlapping rights. Especially the whole British Pantheon of Marvel is fairly tightly connected to the X-men, and I have honestly no idea who is currently owning the rights to the Savage Lands.

Even if the MCU finishes eventually, Marvel can still really use those rights. Remember, this is a studio which exist for one reason alone, to produce comic book movies. They could branch out, I guess, but their safest option is a steady supply of new properties.

At the end of the day this is neither are reason to go all:

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Nor a reason to be all:

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Whatever will happen, won’t happen anytime soon, and the consequences will be partly good and partly bad – depending how much you care about Star Wars or Fox’s take on Marvel properties or any other IP. In the end we can just wait and see.