Is Comcast About to Torpedo the Big Disney-Fox Deal?

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Just as fans were imagining a Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Deadpool, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four share the screen with Iron Man, Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Comcast certainly appears poised to ruin that fantasy by derailing Disney's planned purchase of key assets of 21st Century Fox. But do the telecommunications giant's overtures really spell doom for any hopes for virtually all of the Marvel Comics characters to unite under one studio umbrella?

No, not necessarily. But before we draw any conclusions, let's break down what little we know about this potential new development: The world's largest broadcasting and cable television company, Comcast is reportedly trying to secure financing so it can make an all-cash bid to Fox, in the process potentially upending Disney's $52.4 billion all-stock deal. That's pretty much all the information there is at this point.

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The move comes five months after Disney announced it had finalized a long-rumored deal with Fox, expected to be approved by federal regulators by summer 2019. Under the terms of the agreement, Disney would acquire FX Networks, National Geographic, and the 20th Century Fox film and television production studios, and have the “opportunity to reunite the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool with the Marvel family under one roof.” At long last, the dream of countless fans and studio executives was about to come true.

Or so it seemed, until Comcast came knocking, again. Yes, Comcast courted Fox once before, in November, with an all-stock proposal that was actually more generous than Disney's. However, Comcast reportedly refused to sweeten the pot with a fee that would go to Fox should federal regulators reject the deal; Disney, however, agreed to pony up $2.5 billion should everything fall apart.

Those antitrust concerns still loom, with Comcast reportedly planning to submit its offer only if AT&T's planned acquisition of Time Warner emerges victorious next month from the Justice Department's legal challenge.

It's easy to see why Comcast would want the 21st Century Fox assets, particularly the film and TV studios (including Pixar competitor Blue Sky). Comcast owns Universal Pictures and NBC, and a slew of cable channels. Adding franchises like the X-Men, Deadpool, Fantastic Four, Planet of the Apes, Alien and Avatar to its portfolio would be a no-brainer, particularly after its long-brewing plan to launch a Marvel-esque shared cinematic universe -- Dark Universe, featuring new versions of its classic movie monsters -- was dead on arrival last year with The Mummy.

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However, there are still plenty of hurdles between Comcast and what it wants. The first is securing the necessary financing for its cash offer: The news report indicates the company is asking investment banks to add as much as $60 billion to what it's requested to buy a 61-percent stake in European pay-TV group Sky. So, yeah, there's that. And while a cash offer will undoubtedly be appealing to Rupert Murdoch & Co., they'll also likely want that same financial guarantee against the deal falling apart that Comcast refused to offer last time.

Of course, if that federal judge sides with the Justice Department against AT&T, thereby sinking the Time Warner deal, Comcast will back away slowly, and Fox and Disney will be able to resume their dance with few interruptions.

But even if all would go smoothly for Comcast, in terms of financing and antitrust laws, and it could reach an agreement with 21st Century Fox, there still might be an opening for Disney to make a side deal for the X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four film rights; the entertainment giant surely has the money. And, hey, maybe Comcast could even be convinced to throw in those distribution rights that have stood in the way of Marvel Studios making a Hulk solo film.

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