Yesterday, it was announced that the Walt Disney Company was going to buy a majority of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox in a massive cheese deal worth upwards of $66 billion. The deal also involved the Mouse buying $13.7 billion of the Fox’s debt.
Now, most people I follow on Twitter are nerds. They’re either politic nerds, culture nerds, or media nerds. And many of them have been discussing the potential of Marvel, which is owned by Disney, now owning the movie rights to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, which were sold to Fox long before Marvel was bought by Disney.
Personally, I don’t really care who owns X-Men, because I feel no matter where they go, that franchise and I will always have beef. Seriously, I hate the X-Men movies (Logan was alright, shut up).
More importantly to me is what this means for television/movies and our culture at large. And I don’t mean what does this mean for people who like to watch television and movies. I mean what does it mean for the role of media in our culture. Here’s the thing most people don’t like to talk about when it comes to TV and film: more people watch them than people who read books, and people watch more of them than they read books.
The way movies and television interpret history greatly impacts how their audiences interpret history. Most of us learn about other people and the world through film. It is that powerful.
To explain why this deal is worrisome, I first have to explain what is actually happening. Rupert Murdoch organizes his corporate holdings like I organize my sock drawers. A few years ago, Murdoch separated his conglomerate into two different holdings: one which consisted of mostly television and movie studios, and the other which consisted of mostly print and publishing.
The television and movie division is called 21st Century Fox while the rest of the holdings were held under the News Corps brand. 21st Century Fox included Fox News, 30% share of Hulu, FX, 20th Century Fox Studio, the UK’s Sky TV, and India’s Star TV among others. Yes, the studio is called 20th Century Fox and the holding company is called 21st Century Fox. Disney is buying most of them, but the main thing Disney will not be getting is Fox News. Murdoch is taking what is left of 20th Century Fox and spinning into another holding company!
There’s also some interesting anti-trust FCC things going on as well. Apparently, corporations can’t own more than one television producer in the same market. Disney owns ABC so it can’t also own FOX. Which confused me for a while because I thought “but Disney has the Disney Channel”.
However, ABC is a broadcaster, so is FOX, which means they broadcast to everyone who can receive TV signals over the air, while Disney Channel is cable. The most interesting thing about the deal is Disney getting majority control of Hulu. Disney owned 30% of Hulu and will now control 60%. Some have commented that this could result in CBS and NBC selling their minority shares to Disney rather than stay on a platform mostly controlled by Disney.
This is the most interesting development because Disney has been talking about building their own rival to Netflix. It would be much easier for them to just use Hulu. At this point the streaming market in North America is controlled by Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Hulu. I doubt there’ll be much of a change to that. But I can see NBC and CBS trying to cobble together another streaming service (CBS is trying its own thing right now but I doubt it’ll pan out in the long term).
To the New York Times, Robert A. Iger, the Disney’s CEO stated, “If they look at it from a consumer point of view they should quickly conclude that the aim of this combination is to create more high-quality product for consumers around the world and to deliver it in more innovative, more compelling ways”.
Yeah, I can smell the bullshit from across the Atlantic. There is no way this merger is going to change the quality of products to consumers. Both corporations were already immensely rich; getting more rich won’t help them be better writers or better cameramen.
According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, Disney, through its brand Buena Vista, owned 18.4% of the movie market share in 2017. This was only second to Warner Bros which came in at 20.1%. 20th Century Fox was 4th at 12.2% of the market. This deal will likely make Disney, depending on what they decide to do with Fox Studio, the largest single producer of films in North America (30.6%). In 2012, there were 6 companies that controlled 90% of the media in the United States. Now basically there are 5.
Vox media was among the few places I saw discuss what this actually meant to the movie industry as it relates to society. But I think Vox gets it wrong by assuming that 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight studios made “good” films simply because they didn’t make middle-of-the-road blockbusters like Disney.
Most of the Fox Searchlights productions, and for that matter 20th Century, cater to white people, and more specifically white men. Dee Rees, the director of Mudbound, which was bought by Netflix, told IndieWire: “I think the other studios were afraid of this film, they didn’t want to touch it”.
And I’m just thinking, considering how hard it is for new talent to get in the door right now, and how much harder will be when there’s only 5 players, or 4, or 3, or 1. The monopolisation of media is not a good thing. Just because you enjoy Disney movies doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Not to mention Rupert Murdoch now has over $50 billion to spend. You think that’s good? It ain’t.
20th Century Fox produced Spielberg’s 2012 film “Lincoln” — what distorted and comfortable renditions of history will we get from Disney?