Well, it's finally happening: Barring any antitrust objections from the U.S. government, the Walt Disney Company is acquiring a huge chunk of Twentieth Century Fox – including its core TV and film assets – for $52.4-billion (all figures U.S.). The long-rumoured deal will combine two of the biggest players in the entertainment industry and marks the largest landscape shakeup in recent memory. The aftershocks will be felt not only across Hollywood, but Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Main Street and any inch of the globe that consumes content.
All I can think about, though, is a classic Han Solo line: "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Solo and his various Star Wars chums, by the way, will now be housed under the same roof as the X-Men, the xenomorphs at the heart of the Alien franchise, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, any and all Pixar cuties, Homer Simpson, the blue-skinned Na'vi who inhabit the Avatar universe, the suave spies from the Kingsman films, Caesar and his talking-ape buddies, those lovable Ice Age critters, Deadpool and FBI agents Mulder and Scully. Oh, and Jack Sparrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fry and Bender from Futurama, Kermit the Frog, Peter Griffin and his crude cartoon family, Die Hard's John McClane, Bob Belcher and his burger-serving clan, Alvin and the Chipmunks, the extraterrestrial fighters from Independence Day and, of course, Mickey Mouse and all the Disney princesses.
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For certain corners of fanboy culture, the prospect of being able to watch adamantium-clawed mutant Wolverine (previously the property of Fox) slug it out with Groot the talking tree (a Disney staple, thanks to its ownership of Marvel Studios) is a dream come true. Maybe Wreck-It Ralph (Disney) will cross paths with Baby Stewie Griffin (Fox) and Boba Fett (Disney's Lucasfilm)! Hey, it's all one big happy family now, right? Sure, if you don't mind entertainment being completely synonymous with cross-brand synergy, fuelled by misplaced nostalgia and driven by a corporate agenda with no regard for artistic autonomy.
Absolutely everyone else should be concerned.
Last year, Disney set a record by grossing $7-billion at the global box office thanks to its arsenal of intellectual property (2016's hits included Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jungle Book and Finding Dory). With Fox's library at its disposal, a supersized Disney would dominate the market, drowning out any competitors. Last week, an analyst estimated that a Disney-Fox merger would mean that one studio controlled 39 per cent of the marketplace. "Disney is already using its box-office muscle to bully movie domestic exhibitors, extracting financial terms far beyond their studio peers," wrote BTIG's Richard Greenfield. "Adding Fox, which controls portions of the Marvel universe and the Avatar franchise, would enable Disney to gain unprecedented market power."
In turn, expect the remaining major studios – Sony, Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal – to double down on their franchise efforts in order to compete with the Disney behemoth. That means yet more exploitation of whatever weak intellectual property the remaining players control. For example, Universal will probably try to resurrect its "Dark Universe" series of monster movies, it's a good bet there will be a Fast and the Furious movie every other year for the next decade, Warner will look for new ways into its Harry Potter brand and Paramount will give us so many Transformers films we'll forget why we even liked Optimus Prime in the first place. If you thought there was a dearth of mid-budget films aimed at discerning adults in 2017, the future is going to look even more bleak.
Meanwhile, the larger the corporation, the more impenetrable its walls will be. Disney has already shown open disdain for members of the press via its feud with the Los Angeles Times, which saw the studio temporarily bar the newspaper's writers from its screenings over what it deemed unfavourable coverage of its activities in Anaheim, Calif. What happens if the Mouse House decides to engage in a new battle with another publication? Not only would audiences lose out on critical analysis and reportage on the Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar products, it could be shut out of almost half of all multiplex offerings.
Also, if you are currently enjoying all that Netflix has to offer, be prepared to invest in yet another streaming service. Disney has longed to create a rival to the streaming giant, and this deal gives the company a 30-per-cent majority stake in Netflix rival Hulu. Consumers may soon be forced to decide whether they want to subsist solely on Netflix's original content or if they'd rather have access to a treasure chest of the franchises under Disney's control.
None of these points even touch on the usual depressing ricochets of a massive merger: layoffs, belt-tightening across the industry and the various gatekeepers of power only further concentrating that power.
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But sure, the next Avengers movie might also feature wise-cracking Deadpool, the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm and maybe even one of those Na'vi aliens. (I cannot recall any of their names, and frankly, I don't want to.) The culture will shrink to one studio's footprint, and we will all wonder when the The Fast and the Furious's Dom Toretto can join the X-Men, too.
The movie theatre will become the Happiest, and only, Place on Earth.