Creative Monopolies: Disney & Fox

Happy Holidays! Let's talk about MONOPOLIES! As in, I am about to MONOPOLIZE your time with this excellently crafted blog post. 

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There’s been a lot of talk about corporations this week, particularly about the current administration’s quest to reward them. Whether with tax breaks (which just passed) or the repeal of net neutrality, monopolies and conglomerates in the digital sphere are here to stay, with another, perhaps, joining their ranks.

One other notable headline? Disney’s official bid for Fox – and they bid big. To be clear, some analysts deem this the second-biggest merger ever. Disney’s $52.4 billion all-stock transaction (side note: learn what an all-stock transaction actually is) includes 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000, Fox Searchlight movie and television studios, majority control of Hulu, and rites to Fox’s most successful franchises: X-Men, Marvel in general, Alien, Planet of the Apes, Avatar (including Cameron’s contacted two sequels and plans for two more), ALL of Star Wars, even JLaw’s upcoming deadly-sexy Red Sparrow. Let’s not forget National Geographic is in this mix too, and hey, Anastasia is officially a Disney Princess now! (The list is endless, tbh, so look at this list because my fingers are getting tired).  If you want to read more on the specifics of the deal, as well as projections and social stats, Dana Feldman wrote a great article for Forbes. TLDR; according to analysts, this merger brings almost no benefit to the consumer. But at the billion-dollar level, of course, there wouldn’t be.

Maybe I’m the only one, but it can be hard for the average viewer to associate mass media conglomerates with corporate greed – I mean, the ones that focus on entertainment. Disney makes movies about princesses! And apparently, Nutcracker’s too!  There is singing! And if it’s animated, you already know tears are involved!  Entertainment corporations acquire distinct brand loyalty by taking a back seat to their well-branded, social savvy stars and employ expertly tailored PR when that’s not enough. However, Disney is showing its teeth. Remember when they barred L.A. Times coverage for a month because their reporters called out Disney’s business dealings in Anaheim? News about that died down pretty quick, however disconcerting it may be. Remember how I mentioned this is the second largest merger of all time? Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) called for the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee to host a hearing about all this. At the time of this writing, no hearing has been scheduled, but it also has not been ruled out. When something garners federal attention, especially with *everything else* going on, we should all pay attention.

 Look at you and your sarcastic clapping, Snow, you stop that. This is serious. 

Look at you and your sarcastic clapping, Snow, you stop that. This is serious. 

So. Now what? What does Disney’s deal mean for us? What does it mean for our culture, we who binge series and spend the majority of our precious resources on entertainment? What will happen to our brand of escapism, or our form of protest, or whatever digital media means to you? Well, here are some thoughts, in no particular order because orders are stupid:

 Sourced from qz.com 

Sourced from qz.com 

1)   This is a move towards international markets. International movie markets make up more of the industry’s gross than ever before, so it’s easy to assume Disney will continue producing work with a global focus.  Just this week: Last Jedi earned $220 million domestically, $230 million internationally; Coco earned $10 million domestically, $27.4 million internationally; Daddy’s Home 2 earned $3.8 million domestically (somehow), $5.8 million internationally. Some movies do even better in markets like China than they do in the US, and especially when Silicon Valley has an aggressively hold on the streaming market (luv u 5evr, Netflix) it’s easy to see why Disney would want to keep international markets in play. Those acquisitions of Star India and 39% of Sky make more sense? And Disney’s new 60% majority of Hulu? Ah, yes, back to streaming for a quick sec…

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2)   Don’t Cross the Streams: A Fragmented Marketplace. There’s already a plethora of streaming options for consumers. The fact Disney will now own a huge portion of popular properties means that they will also control distribution, and could deal their franchises in a way that encourages consumers to pay for multiple services … that is, until Disney creates their own. Which, apparently, we can expect circa 2019. With their buffed out portfolio, heavy hitters in EVERY genre, there isn’t much out there to stop them. Getting on board with direct-to-consumer entertainment is a smart move, especially when uber expensive cable used to be the only way to access Disney titles and ESPN (oh yeah, Disney owns 80% of that, too).  And what happens when they make this streaming service? Can they pay to throttle other services? Can they prevent certain people from their viewing their content? Not to be hyperbolic, but we are headed towards a dystopian future where we end up paying the same price for cable, except for multiple services (almost like countries without net neutrality do, riiiiiight?) with, I’m guessing, content that continues to play it safe …  which is terrible because …

 Not one of these stock photo adults will be happy when they realize their fun adult movie options are about to be seriously curtailed. 

Not one of these stock photo adults will be happy when they realize their fun adult movie options are about to be seriously curtailed. 

3)   Films for adults are up for grabs. Todd VanDerWerff brought up this excellent point in his excellent Vox article: Disney is almost entirely focused on blockbusters, while Fox subsidiaries (Fox Searchlight in particular) produce annual Oscar bait. Not even bait, like, fully prepared Oscar fillets. In the classic profit vs. prize schema, Disney has clearly favored formulaic hits. Seriously, read Mr. VanDerWerff’s article. It’s brilliant. But this doesn’t just concern original content, let’s think about the franchises. Most talked about, perhaps, is what’s going to happen to Deadpool. Great, less red tape between franchises means more potential crossover, but Deadpool by nature is an R rated series. It’s also the highest earning R-rated movie of all time. Disney has a rule about NOT making R-Rated movies. You see the problem here. In a battle of rebranding, who do we think is going to be the one to cave? Will Deadpool become some milquetoast, Comic-Con version of himself? No one knows, but Disney’s recent trend of turning animated hits into live-action “hmm”s doesn’t instill a TON of confidence. So maybe …

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4)   Independent creators may, ironically, get more play. Here’s the thing. A lot of people love Disney for sentimental reasons. 90’s kids grew up with them. However, of late, the movies they release on the whole (when they do) all share shades of the same well-storied narrative. Disney’s brand loyalty depends on viewers knowing what to expect. Now, when we don’t really know how large their market share is going to be, maybe this means we are going to see a large number of franchises play into that same trustworthy Disney arc. And maybe, if we play our cards right, viewers are going to get really fricken tired of it and turn to independent creators for some respite and original, innovative work. (P.S. If someone could give me more stuff like Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, that’d be great).  Maybe this is too-far a long ball view, but call me a cock-eyed optimist. In the short term, sure, maybe some of our greatest franchises will become a little more generic. Maybe there will be fewer of them. But maybe this could start something cool. Maybe the political groundswell is seeping into our creative domain, and maybe we need to rise to meet it like we have every time before.

 

Well. Some thoughts. Sound off on Twitter/Instagram/ anywhere with your thoughts! You know I’d love to hear them.

Keep on keepin’ on. And hey! Happy Holidays.

- A. K. Young