After more than a year of working to get final approval, Disney’s lengthy process of acquiring 21st Century Fox is finally done.
The merger went through at 12:02 am ET, giving Disney full control over a number of 21st Century Fox entities including the company’s entire movie studio division, its 30 percent stake in streaming service Hulu, and the Fox Television Group. The acquisition received final approval from antitrust regulators around the world in recent months. Despite the acquisition, Fox Corp. will retain its independence, and entities like Fox News and Fox Sports in the United States.
“This is an extraordinary and historic moment for us — one that will create significant long-term value for our company and our shareholders,” CEO Bob Iger said in a press release. “Combining Disney’s and 21st Century Fox’s wealth of creative content and proven talent creates the preeminent global entertainment company, well positioned to lead in an incredibly dynamic and transformative era.”
Still, Disney’s main focus is on 20th Century Fox’s film assets, its catalogue of film and television shows, and its stake in Hulu. Disney CEO Bob Iger has previously spoken about the company’s plans to incorporate Fox content into its own business plans, including possibly integrating franchises like Deadpool and the X-Men into its own Marvel universe and bringing Hulu to an international audience. The deal now gives Disney control of nearly 40 percent of today’s marketshare, according to Vanity Fair. Perhaps the biggest addition to Disney’s portfolio, and the most important as it prepares for a direct-to-consumer business model, is becoming a majority stakeholder in Hulu.
Disney now has a controlling 60 percent stake in Hulu, and analysts predict that Iger will try to gain even more ownership over the streaming service. He’s told investors numerous times that he has no plans to abandon ship, even in light of Disney gearing up to launch its own streaming service, Disney+. Iger wants to increase spending on Hulu’s programming side, and bring it international. It would make Hulu, which already boasts 25 million subscribers in the United States, more of a competitor to Netflix. And if Disney does expand Hulu into the European market, it means more original content and licensing of European series as new impositions have made it mandatory for streaming services.
On the film franchise side, it might be a while before the Fantastic Four or the X-Men show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iger has said there is a place for films like Fox’s superhero films (which are currently under the Marvel Entertainment umbrella, but not produced by Disney’s Marvel Studios), but it might not be within the PG-13 universe that Disney has cultivated. R-rated movies like Deadpool “will continue,” Iger told investors in February, but noted they had to be kept separate. It’s the same mentality Iger has suggested will apply to series and films either on Disney+ or Hulu; those on the former must abide by Disney’s family-friendly status quo, while Hulu could carry more adult titles.
Kevin Feige, co-president of Marvel Studios, also doesn’t have much more to offer fans finally hoping to see some of the Avengers team up with the X-Men. Feige spoke about the deal on Variety’s Playback podcast in December, and noted that while the “notion of the characters coming back is great,” they haven’t started planning anything yet.
It’s not just content and streaming that will be affected by the acquisition. On the corporate end, both Disney and Fox employees are expected to be hit by the acquisition, which will see an estimated 4,000 employees laid off. Most of these jobs are expected to be roles that now find themselves duplicated. Analyst Rich Greenfield told The Hollywood Reporter that it could be closer to 8,000 employees, calling the merger “bloodshed.”
“This is virgin territory for Disney, which has never done a mass integration,” he said.