The on-again, off-again negotiations between The Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox are reportedly back on again, with an announcement of an agreement worth north of $60 billion expected as soon as next week. If approved by U.S. government regulators, the deal would represent a seismic shift in film and television, with global media giant Disney adding more production studios to a stable that already includes Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and ABC Entertainment. It would also grant the company access to the full film and TV rights to some beloved (and lucrative) Marvel Comics characters.
The agreement would see the Murdoch family-controlled 21st Century Fox shed most of its assets while retaining Fox News Group, Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting Company (that is, its broadcast TV network Fox). Disney would walk away with Fox’s film and television production studios (including Blue Sky Studios, FX Productions and Fox Searchlight), FX Networks, National Geographic Channels and a 30-percent stake in streaming service Hulu.
Let’s break down some of the key elements of the sale:
Film & Television Production Studios
The most significant portions of this potential $60 billion deal are Fox’s film and television production studios, 2oth Century Fox and 20th Century Fox Television, along with their multiple divisions. That would give the Walt Disney Co. ownership of one-third of the “Big Six” major film studios (Walt Disney Pictures and 20th Century Fox) as well as Pixar competitor Blue Sky Studios.
In addition to the X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four, Fox co-produces and distributes such major film franchises as Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels, James Cameron’s Avatar and its sequels, Planet of the Apes, Kingsman and Maze Runner.
It’s important to keep in mind that, under the deal, 21st Century Fox would retain its commercial broadcast network, Fox. However Disney would own the company that produces, co-produces or distributes many of the series many of the series that now air on Fox, including The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, The Gifted, The Exorcist and The Orville, as well as some shows that appear on other networks, such as NBC’s This Is Us, ABC’s Modern Family, and FX’s Legion, American Horror Story and American Crime Story (with FX Productions, also part of the sale).
X-Men & Fantastic Four Rights
Of course, the parts of the deal that most interest comic book fans are the film rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four and related characters, which have been held in effective perpetuity by 20th Century Fox for more than two decades. The purchase of Fox’s movie production division by would bring with it those rights, which would permit Disney-owned Marvel Studios to integrate Wolverine, Johnny Storm, Deadpool and other beloved characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if it so chooses. That’s certainly a longtime dream of many fans.
While the X-Men characters have been off-limits on film to Marvel, the company has had a somewhat-cozier relationship with Fox on television, where the two companies co-produce FX’s Legion and Fox’s The Gifted, as well as FXX’s upcoming Deadpool animated series. (It’s an arrangement reached in 2003 after Fox, which has exclusive TV rights to the X-Men, sued Marvel over Mutant X, the early-2000s syndicated series.) The purchase of most of Fox’s assets would enable Disney, and Marvel, to freely use the X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four across television and film.
Disney, through the Disney-ABC Television Group, already owns a 30 percent stake in Hulu; the deal with 21st Century Fox would add another 30 percent, giving the House of Mouse controlling ownership of the streaming service (Time Warner and Comcast hold the rest). That would mean Disney would be able to call the shots at Hulu even as it prepares to remove all of its movie from Netflix and launch its own branded streaming service.
The entertainment giant could sell its controlling stake to the remaining members of the Hulu joint venture, or, presumably, to an outside interest. Or the company could hold on to Hulu, which now streams Marvel’s Runaways, as a buffer against new competing services springing up, and as a home for programming that doesn’t fit into the plan for the Disney-branded platform.
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