As of now, there are currently six major film studios: Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Entertainment, NBCUniversal, Fox Entertainment Group, Sony Pictures, and Paramount Motion Pictures Group. These studios form the “Big Six” and are holdovers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. However, this number will be most likely reduced from six to five due to Disney’s recent announcement that it intends to purchase Fox’s entertainment division.
It is currently unknown if the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division will allow Disney to acquire Fox, but the potential of this deal has already sent shockwaves through the media landscape. Given how much control this purchase – if approved – would give Disney over entertainment production in the United States, I wanted to get a sense of what entertainment scholars think of this deal. As such, I have reached out to academics whom professionally study popular culture and mass entertainment, and asked them to share their thoughts on Disney buying Fox.
So please take a moment to take in what these amazing scholars have shared with us.
“This acquisition mirrors a long history of comics publishers, mostly DC Comics to be fair, acquiring their rivals and incorporating those characters into their “universe.” In this case, Marvel Studios gets Marvel properties back—the X-Men and the Fantastic Four—but the business practice is the same: buy weak/weakened opponents rather than continue to compete with them. The result, of course, is the construction of monopolies. Kids could now watch, read, and play only Disney-owned products, and those products can now, potentially, all cross-over with each other. Monopolies are, of course, inherently bad for a whole lot of reasons, but let’s probe the ideology that dominants our present moment: authoritarianism. Most action/adventure stories are basically authoritarian. Protagonists are defined by the ability to commit violence with moral authority, hence endless stories of “good” soldiers ignoring “bad” politicians and scientists, for example.
Disney’s stories are no different. Despite having many fine qualities, Marvel and Star Wars are basically stories of violence being used to enforce morality, and even though pseudo-fascists are the villains in both universes—the Empire/First Order and Hydra, respectively—our heroes are often not much better. They’re merely dubbed by the logic of the film as “good guys.” The violent enforcement remains. What we have, then, is yet more concentration of authoritarian stories, being produced with yet more frequency, by an inherently authoritarian structure: the corporation. Given the situation America presently finds itself in, with a bigoted would-be strongman currently occupying its highest office, this acquisition by Disney of yet more of Marvel is a development that we should all be wary of.”
Simon Fraser University
This represents an important business success for Disney and the powerful transformation for how the X-Men characters will be seen on screen. While recent Fox X-Men films have borrowed from the shared universe template offered by the MCU, the reality is that they were a distinct cinematic experience. The recent films have effectively leveraged a historic framing to make the X-Men narrative coherent and accessible for a broad audience. Darker and more adult than the MCU, the tone of the X-Men movies mirror the tone of the X-Men books. While many will argue that this merger will diminish those films, the reality is that, with a few exceptions, the X-Men films have been PG-13 like their MCU counterparts. We should consider how Disney’s control of the major pop culture properties may narrow the bandwidth of what can be done and forestall experimentation around race and gender representation.
Julian C. Chambliss
While there are many aspects of this deal that will impact and massively reshape the media landscape (consolidation is a big factor—think about how this infographic will now have to shift), I’m keeping a corner of my mind open for deeper considerations of how fan work will be impacted. As Disney picks up more and more properties for its IP stables, the ways the company manages its participatory culture abuts against how their new subsidiaries have handled things in the past. Disney is well known for its draconian attitudes towards fan interventions with its core properties, but seems to have taken a lighter hand with the LucasFilm works. For the most part, the company seems to silo properties off from one another, expect in the places where disparate narratives come together: namely, the retail space and the theme park. Obviously, the purchase may shortly see the Fantastic Four and X-Men joining the MCU, but what about The Simpsons and Aliens? How long before we see xenomorph plushies in the Disney store and Homer Simpson wandering around the Magic Kingdom? I’m as fascinated for the interpretations these collisions open up as I am concerned about the winnowing down of openings for fan interventions in such heavily consolidated transmedia complexes.
Kalervo A. Sinervo
Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox is yet another ripple effect of how Netflix has completely changed the dynamics and landscape of the entertainment industry. With movie audiences and traditional television audiences continuing to shrink, Disney’s move acknowledges that the future is streaming. Netflix is primarily responsible for the mass exodus from traditional cable tv watching, and their original model was predicated on offering consumers a wide base of content. Interestingly, in preparation for two of their own streaming services by 2019, Disney has already announced that it won’t be renewing licensing agreements with Netflix for it’s and Pixar’s movies. Marvel tv shows will remain on Netflix, but with the announcement that Disney was pulling its movies, Netflix stock dropped 5%. On the other hand, Disney stock dipped 7% with the announcement of the merger as investors worried that Disney would be unable to keep up with the streaming leaders.
Netflix and Amazon are the two biggest challengers to traditional content creators. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is now the richest human in history, and Amazon is quickly becoming one of the leaders in streaming services, drawing on their success in the online environment. Netflix’s success has made it clear that consumers want good content at a reasonable price that they can access anywhere and at any time that they want. The question remains as to how much of that content people realistically have time for. How many different services are people willing to pay for? There is also the question of whether having content consolidated under a few huge players will actually stimulate creativity or make it increasingly difficult to fund independent, non-mainstream projects.
Lisa Macklem, PhD Candidate
University of Western Ontario
Thirty years ago, I edited a comic book for Fantagraphics, itchy PLANET #2, which included two stories against concentration of economic power in the comic book industry: Nick Thorkelson’s “Duopoly,” about Marvel and DC, and Steve Lafler’s “Dog Jaw,” which focused on New World Pictures, Inc.’s recent acquisition of Marvel. I have also created my own comics against concentration of economic power in agriculture, in energy production, and in the media. As a participant in the underground comix movement and then the ground-level comics movement, I have seen for myself how competitive markets (as opposed to those dominated by just a few companies) led to greater freedom and creativity and eventually higher production-quality, which benefited both readers and cartoonists. My thoughts and attitudes about further media mergers may seem predictable, and yet, puzzling through, how I feel about the Disney-Fox deal still takes an effort.
If it came down to a choice between living in a “magical kingdom” or living in a raggedy-ass “cultural democracy,” who would choose democracy? In the case of journalism, the corrosive effects of media concentration on the preconditions of democracy have been clear. In the case of entertainment, the impacts of such concentration on the possibilities for self-government have been less obvious. Still, when the power to decide which stories will be widely circulated falls into a small number of hands, no matter how beautifully and spectacularly told those stories are, they will not be the countless, local, unpredictable stories that we will need for getting through the present, planetary crisis with minimal damage.
The decisions made by media monopolists shape the world we all live in. This remains true, even if we, personally, remain uninterested in their products and find our own cultural sustenance from independent, visionary artists,…like Walt Disney had been.
Thank you taking the time read what these scholars had to share. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.