Disney just bought everything from ‘The Simpsons’ to ‘X-Men’

Rupert Murdoch… er… Mr. Burns with the Simpsons, who are now Disney property.
Image: FOX via Getty Images

It’s an arms race, and every media company is involved.

Disney announced its much-anticipated acquisition of a big piece of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion in stock. 

The move gives Disney four important assets as the Mickey Mouse operation moves to compete with rivals including Netflix and Amazon. 

Here’s what Disney is buying:

  • 21st Century Fox movie studio

  • FX and National geographic cable channels and some regional sports channels

  • Fox’s stake in Hulu

  • Fox’s stake in European cable company Sky

What Disney is not buying: the FOX broadcast channel, Fox News, and some other smaller stuff like newspapers. Those pieces are being spun off into a separate company that will be focused on news and sports.

The massive acquisition is the clearest sign yet that Disney is working to transform itself into a modern entertainment juggernaut, with the content and technology necessary to deliver the kind of on-demand experience that Netflix has pioneered. 

Content and technology make up the two big parts of this deal. On the content side, Disney is bolstering its already-deep library of movies and TV, while also acquiring the rights to major franchises for future production. That means popular characters like the X-Men and the Simpsons are now owned by Disney, which already has Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and plenty more.

On the technology and distribution side, Disney’s acquisition of Sky is a major move into the international market. Disney noted in its press release that the expectation is for Fox’s move to acquire complete ownership of the cable company to go through before Disney’s acquisition goes through finalization and regulatory approval. 

This gives Disney a major distribution source outside the U.S., something it didn’t have before and a piece that will help it hold off Netflix and Amazon, which are growing internationally.

The end game here is a Netflix-style service from Disney that will be so chock full of great content that people won’t be able to say no. Disney will control the entire pipeline of the business from conception to production to release to distribution. 

Here’s where Hulu becomes an interesting part of this deal. Disney is now majority owner, but that doesn’t mean it can do whatever it wants with Hulu. BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfield noted that Comcast still owns a chunk of Hulu and has the ability to block Disney from turning that service into its own version of Netflix. Disney could buy out Comcast, though Comcast might want to hang on so that it can block Disney from transforming Hulu.

Disney’s vertical integration — in this case adding distribution to content — follows on similar moves by other massive media companies in recent years. Comcast bought NBCUniversal. AT&T is buying Time Warner. All of these deals fused a distribution company with a content company. The only thing particularly different about the Disney-Fox deal is that it’s a content company buying into distribution, as opposed to the other way around. 

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