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13th December 2017

Why Disney’s potential acquisition of 20th Century Fox is a dangerous idea

Pass go, collect $200 and use that for two tickets and a small popcorn for Avengers Vs X-Men

In early November the New York Times reported that Disney was in talks to buy 21st Century Fox. No deal could be reached however and it seemed that was the end of that. A month later that deal, said to be worth over $60 billion, is back on the table and we may even see an announcement before Christmas.

If the acquisition takes place Disney would be able to expand their reach of the film and television industry from just simply Star Wars, Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, ESPN, the Disney Channel and ABC. They would absorb all of Fox’s film production companies such as Fox Searchlight and Blue Sky Studios as well as Fox’s non-news and sport networks like FX, FXX, and National Geographic.

On this side of the Atlantic Fox’s 39.14 per cent share Sky plc may also be included. Sky is Europe’s largest media company as well as the largest pay-TV broadcaster. In total they have over 21 million subscribers and it would be a fantastic pre-existing platform for Disney to put their films and shows front and centre.

For fans of superhero films they would also acquire the rights to the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Deadpool, The Silver Surfer and Galactus. The only other competitors would be Warner Bros with their DC universe, although after the failure that was Justice League there may not be much life left there, and Universal, who recently announced a reboot of Hellboy, but again that will hardly dent Disney’s monopoly of the genre.

At this late stage of the Marvel universe I can’t see an organic way that the X-Men could be integrated into the pre-existing world. Up till now even the word mutant was owned by Fox so the groundwork for an eventual inclusion couldn’t be laid. On the other hand the Fantastic Four will be very easy to add to the already massive superhero list. Their origin story is independent of other superhero events and therefore, if the deal goes through, will most likely be seen after Phase Three has finished.

The deal would have wider and more severe implications for the film industry as a whole. In 2016 Disney and Fox were the first and third biggest studios with a combined 39.2 per cent of the entire market share, almost $4.5 billion total gross. It would not be unthinkable that with Disney’s vision that market share could not rise to 50 per cent on a given, block-buster heavy, year. The Federal Trade Commission could block a deal for this very reason.

The only other major studios that broke $1 billion gross in 2016 and could put up a fight are Warner Bros and Universal. There is a danger that Disney will lose the incentive to innovate. With fewer rival studios to battle with and the top spot in yearly gross assured every year from their mass of blockbuster properties, complacency will undoubtedly seep in. Diminishing returns from diminishing quality will be an issue Disney will aim to steer clear of.

Already we’ve seen Disney’s blockbuster franchises become formulaic, following the same blueprint to success that has worked time and time again, most notably in the Marvel films but also in the Pirates of the Caribbean and to an extend Star Wars too. Every Marvel instalment sees the hero or heroes come up against a devastating villain, whose motivations are difficult to understand. The villain wins the first confrontation but ultimately succumbs to our hero(es) as they pull together/believe in themselves/train harder.

The cause of this is the lack of creative control Disney likes to give it’s directors. Thor: Ragnorok saw the first sign that they were loosening the reigns as Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi managed to put his own stamp of the formula. A lot more loosening is required though for any long term viability in these intellectual properties.

With the independant film arm of Fox, Fox Searchlight, in the deal too, the danger would be that the same complacency would creep in and fester. Searchlight has won the Academy Award for Best Picture three times with Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman, and has a long running partnership with Wes Anderson.

The films making the biggest impact with audiences aren’t the triple A blockbusters, they are the smaller, often independent films. Bored of the stale and repetitive nature of the big releases, moviegoers are looking elsewhere, finding smaller films that shatter their expectations. The Big Sick, Get Out and Call Me By Your Name have been three of the highest rated films of the year and are all independent releases.

Disney’s acquisition of Fox may not happen, but what is certainly happening is a slow shift in what audiences want to see. With rising costs of going to the cinema, who wants to spend an extortionate amount of money to go see the same movie they saw last time just recast and reskinned?

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