Perspectives: Opinions from our network of advisors, investors, operators and analysts on the risks and opportunities they see.
On Wednesday, The Walt Disney Co. finally completed its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. This concludes a nearly year-and-a-half long M&A soap opera and leaves the media landscape a little less diverse.
Undoubtedly, this deal will have significant effects on the film, television, and even theme park industries. But Disney’s most interesting opportunity here is being overlooked by the deal’s price tag. What we should be paying more attention to is the fiery cannon blast the hands of Mickey Mouse just launched into the intensifying streaming wars.
Disney now owns 60% of the streaming service Hulu — the first time the service has had a majority owner ever. Prior to this acquisition, Hulu was 90% owned by Disney, Comcast, and Fox in an even three-way split, with the remaining 10% in the hands of Warner Media (the result of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, another Oscar-worthy M&A deal).
Following Wednesday’s announcement, the Big Mouse now has three streaming services in its gloved grasp. On top of its share of Hulu, Disney also owns ESPN’s streaming service ESPN+, which just passed 2 million subscribers in less than a year, and it’s slated to drop its own family-friendly product, Disney+, in late 2019.
Purely based on the intellectual property that Disney just inherited, the company is in an unprecedented position to decide which streaming service gets the market share crown. Disney’s own iconic lineup of characters will now welcome everyone from Homer Simpson and Deadpool to Modern Family’s Dunphy clan and the Pearson “Big Three” of This Is Us into Cinderella’s castle. The acquisition reunites the entire Marvel family with the addition of previously Fox-owned franchises X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Disney also now owns the dystopian anthology favorite Black Mirror and the U.K.’s version of the reality show Big Brother, as Dutch media company Endemol Shine Group was part of 21st Century Fox’s assets. Even National Geographic and FX Networks and all of their programming just earned their ears, joining ABC, Freeform, and Disney Channel on Disney’s TV channel lineup.
That cannonball of content is bound to find a new home on a small screen near you soon — and that’s where the power lies. Because of the enhanced IP firepower it now wields, Disney will likely do to the streaming space what it has already done to the box office. Before Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2012, the top movie of the year hailed from a mixed bag of studios. Warner Bros. Sony. Fox. Universal. Even New Line got one in there with 2003’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. But over the last 10 years, after buying a number of franchises backed by terrifyingly rabid fanbases like Star Wars and Marvel, Disney has claimed 7 of the top films (including 2019 so far with Captain Marvel). Compare that to the decade prior, when Disney’s only #1 movie of the year was 2006’s Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest.
If Disney begins to dominate the internet like it has theaters, competitors like Netflix and Amazon, who forced Disney to seek Fox’s assets in the first place, might be forced to adapt to Disney’s high-concept, high-budget productions in order to hold onto subscribers. We’re already seeing this happen with Apple, which is expected to release its own streaming service on Monday, March 25 with a star-studded slate of originals from power players such as Reese Witherspoon, J.J. Abrams, and even Oprah.
Steep competition could squash the reputations of Netflix and Amazon as being creator-friendly as they are forced to churn out multi-million dollar productions that get the hype necessary to rake in the money. Just look at Netflix, which has already upped its content budget for 2019 to $15 billion, an increase of $3 billion from the prior year. And even with increased content budgets, it might be difficult to successfully woo audiences, as Disney’s projects will be filled with money-making characters and IP that have already been validated by audiences, so get ready for the 405th Captain America movie.
Smaller services and independent studios simply won’t be able to compete with Disney’s deep pockets. We’ll likely soon see a mirroring of what has happened in the box office. It’s why the top movie of the year over the last decade has tended toward action-packed superhero flicks rather than the heartwarming, cheaper to make favorites of the previous decade like Universal’s The Grinch and DreamWorks’ Shrek 2 or the Fox’s Home Alone and Paramount’s Forrest Gump from the ‘90s. The guys in spandex get the money. A cute animated film or a lighthearted family comedy simply won’t cut it when audiences are constantly being assaulted with other more exciting options.
Newer entrants will also likely struggle to enter the market in this Post-Fox era. Without high investment and the ability to make an Avengers-esque movie or show, we’ll likely start to see more productions from traditional studios that can afford to do so rather than the independent studios that have found a footing in the streaming world over the last couple of years.
With most of the largest franchises in entertainment now under one roof, coupled with its extremely fat wallet (reminder that Disney beat out Comcast for 21CF after upping its original bid by a whopping $18.9 billion) and one of the top ten most valuable brands on the planet, the Big Mouse’s hands are in prime puppeteer position to control the next act of the streaming saga.