If you went by the buzz among superhero movie fans, the main takeaway from Disney’s $52.4 billion purchase of 21st Century FOX is that the X-Men and Fantastic Four will now be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And sure, it’s reasonable to get excited over the possibilities in regards to an X-Men versus Avengers brawl or an actually good Fantastic Four movie. Disney’s FOX purchase, however, covers a lot more than just superhero movies, however, and when you look beyond that narrow cause for excitement, there’s suddenly a lot of causes to worry.
This is Disney’s biggest media purchase yet. It’s not just buying back a few superheroes, it’s buying multiple movie studios, cable networks, streaming sites and some of the biggest shows on television (the actual FOX network — as well as FOX News and FOX Sports — isn’t included in the purchase). This deal will take 12 to 18 months to complete, and it’s possible it gets shut down entirely. There would be good reason to, under antitrust laws. Sure, the Disney-FOX deal might mean some good superhero movies. It also means a whole lot of bad things. Some of the entries on this list are more speculative, while others are more concrete facts, but all are reason for concern.
15. IT JUST FEELS WEIRD
Here’s a space for the pettiest of complaints. This doesn’t affect consumers or employees or future movies and TV shows like the other entries on this list. But so much of the FOX purchase just feels… wrong. It’s not necessarily an issue of Disney owning properties that are decidedly “un-Disney” (remember, it once owned Sin City!) so much as an issue of owning ones which are explicitly ANTI-Disney.
The “evil corporation” jokes on The Simpsons and the anti-Semitic Walt jokes on Family Guy certainly feel weird as properties of Disney. To be fair, Simpsons and Family Guy also mock FOX frequently as well, but there’s a difference between “biting the hand that feeds” and “please don’t sue us” framing. And what about Don Bluth? He spent his career trying to stay far away from Disney, and now his Anastasia is technically a Disney princess!
14. DO WE REALLY WANT THE X-MEN IN THE MCU?
Even the supposed upside of this deal for superhero fans might come with problems. Okay, the Fantastic Four in the MCU would be amazing, even if Disney has its own “Fantastic Four” series with The Incredibles. But the X-Men? FOX was handling them fine without Marvel Studios’ help. Sure, the mainline series had troubles, but spin-offs like Deadpool and Logan were both great and unlike anything in the MCU.
It’s not impossible that the X-Men could work in the MCU, but there are problems that brings. The MCU is already starting to get “too many characters” criticisms, and even if Infinity War‘s a bloodbath, throwing in dozens of new characters could really make things crowded. Also crowded: the release schedule. FOX has three X-Men films a year scheduled through 2021. Do a bunch of these get canceled? Does Marvel Studios have to handle twice as many films a year?
13. AVATAR OVERLOAD WILL GET SO MUCH WORSE
In retrospect, the most obvious hint Disney had its sights on buying FOX was its “World of Avatar.” It made a big investment in the theme park rights to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster. Now it’s announced the four (!?!) Avatar sequels James Cameron’s been spending the decade making will be released under the Walt Disney Pictures brand rather than the 20th Century FOX one.
Avatar domination was coming whether you wanted it or not. Given how the most anyone talks about Avatar these days is to talk about why nobody talks about Avatar these days, not many fans (at least vocally) seem to want it. With Disney’s marketing muscle behind the sequels, though, the franchise no one’s cared about since 2010 is about to be shoved down your throats even more!
12. EMBOLDENS MORE QUESTIONABLE MOVES FROM DISNEY
As a corporation, Disney can be problematic sometimes. In November 2017, Disney shut out the LA Times from screenings of Thor: Ragnarok in response to the paper’s expose on the company’s dealings with the city of Anaheim. Critics groups united in solidarity with the LA Times, leading Disney to back off from its original position. Disney did not back off on its intense terms for theatrical distribution of The Last Jedi, demanding a higher cut of the ticket sales than any studio has ever demanded previously.
Any powerful corporation will make greedy or vindictive decisions like these from time to time. Buying out FOX, however, makes Disney significantly more powerful, and power can embolden more jerk moves. Theater owners are especially likely to be screwed over now that Disney controls an even greater percentage of movies being released.
11. THE DEATH OF A GOLDEN AGE STUDIO
Before this deal, there were six major Hollywood studios: Disney, FOX, Warner Bros, Universal, Columbia/Sony and Paramount. All of these studios have been making films since the 1930s or earlier (founded in 1935, FOX is the youngest of the bunch). Only three major Hollywood Golden Age studios have fallen. RKO dismantled in 1960, but in a way the Disney studio served to replace them as RKO was Disney’s original distributor. MGM went bankrupt but lives on as a smaller production company. United Artists, the smallest of the major studios, merged with MGM.
If this deal goes through, FOX becomes mere branding and a few extra facilities for Disney. The current big six becomes five, and one of the Golden Age studios essentially dies. More and more of film history becomes absorbed under the ownership of the Mouse House, and it feels like a loss.
10. STREAMING PLANS A RIP-OFF
One thing you’d think this deal would make convenient for consumers would be in regards to streaming. It’s been reported that Disney’s main interest in FOX’s library of movies and TV was for streaming. Having that whole library plus the preexisting Disney library on one service might be an appealing subscription. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s being reported as happening.
Instead, Disney will now have two streaming services. It now owns the majority of Hulu, yet it’s being reported Disney is still going to develop its own streaming service. Perhaps there’s a branding method in Disney having two streaming sites, putting adult content on Hulu and family franchises on the new service. It’s still a rip-off, especially when Hulu already contains content for multiple demographics.
9. PROBABLE REALITY TV DOMINATION ON FOX NETWORK
This deal does not give Disney ownership of the national FOX networks. Given Disney already owns ABC, the bosses know it would be too much legal trouble to control two of the Big Four broadcast networks. What Disney does get from the deal is all of the FOX television studios, which means it owns all of the scripted television programming currently airing on FOX.
What this means for the network’s future is unclear. While some of the newly Disney-owned programs are contracted to continue, according to Deadline, industry insiders are expecting a clearing out of scripted programming on FOX primetime. The expectation to replace these scripted shows: more news, more sports, and a lot more reality TV shows. Much can be said about the effects reality TV has had on American culture, but if this is the case, expect those effects to get even more severe.
8. POSSIBLY LESS RISK-TAKING
FOX has been notable in recent years for taking risks on blockbusters for adults. Deadpool and Logan were daring not just as R-rated superhero movies, but as a fourth wall breaking meta-comedy and a depressing meditation on death, respectively. The Planet of the Apes series got audiences rooting for their species’ own destruction. The studio gave Alejandro G. Innarritu $135 million to torture Leonardo DiCaprio to an Oscar and gave Ridley Scott multiple chances to do whatever the hell he wanted to in the Alien series (not all risks pay off).
FOX will still be making adult-oriented movies under Disney, but will there be the same risk-taking spirit? Disney’s own live-action studio is content with bland remakes, Pixar’s became more cautious and sequel-heavy, Marvel’s risks occur within limited bounds. Yes, Disney will green-light more Deadpool movies, but would Disney have green-lit that first Deadpool to begin with?
7. DISNEY’S OVERWHELMING FRANCHISE OBSESSION
More than any other studio, Disney is overwhelmingly in the franchise business. Star Wars, Marvel and remakes dominate its live-action release schedule; stand-alone family blockbusters like A Wrinkle in Time are an increasing rarity. Its animation studios can sell original concepts, but even those have become extra reliant on sequels. FOX has franchises which attracted Disney, its X-Mens and Avatars. But does Disney have any interest in the likes of The Martian or Hidden Figures or The Post?
Disney used to have a brand for non-franchise films aimed at adults. Touchstone Pictures had a number of hits over the years from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to The Sixth Sense to The Prestige. Under Bob Iger, Disney’s focus on franchises killed Touchstone. Some films by Dreamworks were released under the Touchstone banner in the 2010s, but that deal ended. Does Disney have any interest in non-franchise films anymore?
6. FOX SEARCHLIGHT’S FUTURE IN DOUBT
Bob Iger claims FOX Searchlight Pictures is safe for now. For how long, we’ll see, but Disney’s record with specialty divisions isn’t promising. For a while, Miramax served as Disney’s arthouse division, yet Disney sold it off in 2009, just a year after the studio won a Best Picture Oscar for No Country For Old Men. Why did it kill a successful branch? Bob Iger wanted to focus on the merchandisable brands like Pixar and Marvel.
FOX Searchlight is one of the most successful studios in the arthouse distribution world. Its 2017 releases include Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water, both expected to be hugely successful at the Oscars. If Disney fails to preserve FOX Searchlight, it’ll be one of the saddest victims of its franchise obsession.
5. TERRIBLE FOR THE ANIMATION INDUSTRY
What will become of Blue Sky and Fox Animation? The options don’t look good. If Disney decides to keep FOX’s in-house animation studios open, then Disney controls four major theatrical animation studios and threatens a monopoly on the industry. But how much does Disney even want Blue Sky and Fox Animation when Disney Animation and Pixar are already doing so well for them?
There’s precedent for Disney shutting down animation studios that come into its grasp. LucasFilm and ILM’s fledgling animation division was downgraded from theatrical features to only handling Star Wars TV cartoons. Following a number of box office disappointments including Ferdinand and the recent Ice Age movies, Blue Sky might very well be destroyed. Fox Animation’s number of promising in-development projects may never see the light of day.
4. MAJOR JOB LOSSES
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, claimed the Disney-FOX deal “could be a great thing for jobs.” Rich Greenfield, an analyst from the BTIG financial services firm, calls this “#FakeNews.” Greenfield’s estimates expect at least 5,000 jobs to be lost as a result of this merger. At most, 10,000 jobs could be lost.
Rupert Murdoch’s memo the day of deal, which mentioned, “ensuring that anyone impacted is well taken care of,” all but confirmed there will be significant layoffs. When two giant movie studios merge into one, there are going to be a lot of people with identical jobs, and someone’s going to get laid off for “redundancy.” An anonymous FOX employee told Deadline, “People seemed to be drinking more heavily this season, many people wondered whether this will be the last Fox holiday party.”
3. THE EXPANSION OF FOX NEWS
So what’s Rupert Murdoch planning to do with that $52.4 billion? It’s going back into the media properties he still owns: FOX Sports, FOX Business and, most significantly, FOX News. There’s talk of expanding FOX News’ international presence. NYU marketing professor Paul Hardart told AdWeek to expect FOX News’ conservative commentators to hold more influence over local news programs as a result.
Opinions on FOX News are… contentious, let’s put it that way. Even FOX News’ own reporters, however, would be inclined to agree that the network’s a heavily biased source and nowhere near as “Fair and Balanced” as its slogan claims. In such politically divisive times, the growth of such a hyper-partisan news source is something that gives many people reason to be nervous.
2. ONE STEP CLOSER TO CLOUD ATLAS DYSTOPIA
In David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas and Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ film of the same name, the world in 2144 has fallen into a dystopia. Most of the world’s nations got destroyed in “the Skirmishes.” Seoul, South Korea has been rebuilt as an oppressive corporate state. Clones are used as expendable slave labor and fed their dead siblings’ remains. And all films are called “Disneys.”
At least one part of that dystopia just became all the more plausible if Disney’s purchase of FOX goes through. If they’re able to make such a huge purchase, what’s to stop them from trying to take over more movie studios? What percentage of movies will end up being Disney movies? Obviously, the Cloud Atlas example is an extreme exaggeration, but one that emphasizes an important point.
1. MONOPOLIES ARE BAD!
Even if everything else about the Disney Fox deal excites you, even if the other worst case scenarios don’t come to pass, it should still worry you because monopolies are bad. They’re bad for the competitive free market economy. They’re more easily able to fleece consumers. Media monopolies are particularly scary for free speech because the monopolist power gets to control which voices are being heard.
There’s only so much that one corporation can control before it becomes too powerful for its own good. That’s why antitrust laws exist. Over the 12 to 18 month period of examining the Disney Fox deal, the government will investigate if the deal violates any antitrust laws. There’s a significant chance the Disney Fox deal might not even be legal!
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