Wednesday 21 August 2019

Could talks between Fox and Disney be reignited? A deal makes all kinds of sense

Could this be the perfect union?
Could this be the perfect union?

James Moore

Disney and Fox? The market’s reaction to the news of talks between the two speaks volumes: Both companies’ shares rose as opposed to the rumoured buyer (Disney) taking a fall.

The logic of combining Fox's entertainment assets with Disney is seen as compelling. They're the business equivalent of (Fox's) Homer & Marge Simpson. A marriage made in heaven. Well, maybe not quite in heaven given it's the Simpsons we're talking about. But you know what I mean.

Price is assumed to have been the stumbling block to bringing the Simpsons into Mickey Mouse's house. But there’s an feeling that the talks could be re-heated, or that another media giant could enter the fray, which would concentrate minds at Disney.

In one respect the fact that Fox is now apparently in play comes as a surprise: To cut ties with the entertainment assets they have  built up would seem counter to the psychology of the empire building Rupert Murdoch and his sons.

But that misses the tough business questions they face. The entertainment industry is changing at a speed that even Disney's Millennium Falcon would struggle to match, with paid for streaming replacing advertising funded broadcasting, and having scale to cope with that, and other challenges on the horizon, assuming ever greater importance.

Disney has that. Fox, at a third of its size, might not.

The two companies already have links through their joint stakes in streaming service Hulu, the maker of the Handmaid’s Tale, while Fox has the broadcasting rights to the X Men, part of the Disney owned Marvel Comics universe. In geekdom, bringing the X Men on board with the Avengers is the stuff dreams - and a very, very big film - are made of.

However, this isn't about film. That's just a nice spin off. With Disney set to launch it’s own Netflix style streaming service, it’s Fox’s TV content that looks really interesting.

Shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Buffy, New Girl, and more besides.

They are “any time” comfort blankets which people put on on a Friday night when they’re exhausted. They’re very handy to have to bulk up your offer if you’re going to try and persuade people they need to either replace Netflix, or add another subscription to the portfolio they already have.

Of course, with the talks off the table it's all speculation. But that could change.

Britain's regulators will be hoping it does. Fox’s stake in Sky, which has also built up a nice stable of content, would reportedly be part of the deal.

The Competition & Markets Authority currently has the hot potato of Fox's attempt to buy the part of the company it doesn't own in its lap, with the Department for Culture Media & Sport, and OfCom having indulged in an unlovely game of pass the buck.

Its life would be a lot easier if family friendly Disney were on the scene.

As for the rump Fox? Be afraid. A Fox shorn of its entertainment assets would be transformed into a focussed sports and news beast. Right wing, male, and capable of exploiting new channels Disney, and the struggling Disney owned sports network ESPN, would fight shy of.

The latter's attempt to tap into the popularity of Barstool Sports, a mouthy sports and lifestyle blog focussed on young men, by screening a show with a pair of its presenters and its branding, recently floundered. One of ESPN’s female stars, the subject of a nasty sexist attack by the outfit, had called out out the tie up on Twitter. There were credible reports of still louder protests behind closed doors.

A Fox news and sports network without anything really holding it back? The logo could be a raised middle finger. It’s enough to make you shudder.

It could be on the way.

Independent News Service

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