What's on Tap for Walt Disney in 2018?
Disney had a big year in 2017. The media and entertainment behemoth announced plans to keep CEO Bob Iger around quite a bit longer and made a huge push into the streaming market, all while dealing with slumping ad revenue from television properties like ESPN.
But, Disney saved its biggest splash for the end of the year. After weeks of major deal rumors, the company announced an industry-shifting acquisition of most of rival 21st Century Fox’s assets. With the storylines swirling faster than Thor’s hammer, Fortune took a look at what to expect from Disney in 2018—from a potential mega-deal to the next big Disney blockbuster movies.
The aftermath of an historic deal
Disney’s acquisition of a major chunk of 21st Century Fox is the only place to start because it could alter the face of the entertainment industry. The all-stock deal is worth more than $52 billion, plus another $13.7 billion in assume debt. Of course, if the deal is to be finalized, the companies need to appease federal antitrust regulators, which is far from certain now that the Justice Department is suing to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger. The deal excludes Fox’s broadcast network (under FCC rules, Disney could not own ABC and Fox), as well as Fox News, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network.
However, the deal brings Disney even more cable networks (FX and National Geographic) to add to its existing stable of cable assets while also giving its movie studio a market share unmatched in Hollywood. The deal dwarfs other recent acquisitions that expanded Disney’s portfolio of movie franchises—like Marvel, in 2009, and Lucasfilm, three years later—adding Fox-owned franchises such as James Cameron’s Avatar film series and the X-Men movie rights (the latter of which has Marvel fans excited). Disney will also acquire long-running TV franchises like The Simpsons and Family Guy.
The seemingly endless possible combinations are exactly why there is concern that this megadeal may hit a snag with federal regulators, who may be loath to allow one company to control so much of the media and entertainment landscape. President Trump is said to be in favor of the deal (unlike the AT&T-Time Warner merger), which could be a big help, though at least one high-ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s antitrust subcommittee has called for a hearing on the deal.
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Betting big on streaming
In addition to handing Disney larger slices of the Hollywood and cable TV, a tie-up with Fox also gives Disney even better footing as it steps into the subscription streaming market. Disney said in August that it would launch two standalone subscription streaming services over the next few years, starting in the spring of 2018 with ESPN Plus, which is expected to provide more than 10,000 hours annually of live sporting events. Adding Fox’s cache of regional sports networks should make that service much more attractive to potential subscribers.
The same goes for Disney’s planned Netflix competitor that is planned for 2019. The subscription streaming market is already crowded, but combining Disney’s vast library of movies and TV shows with Fox’s would help the yet-to-be-launched service compete against Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. And, speaking of Hulu, like Disney, Fox also owns a 30% stake in Hulu, which makes Disney the majority owner after the acquisition. That gives Disney another, larger foothold in the battle for streaming viewers.
Disney CEO Bob Iger had planned to retire this coming summer, but the company’s board extended his contract twice more in 2017. After saying in March that Iger would wrap up his long tenure atop Disney (he took over as CEO a dozen years ago) in July 2019, the 21st Century Fox acquisition convinced Disney’s board to extend that retirement party yet again. Now, Disney says that Iger will remain at the helm of the company through 2021 as a result of the Fox acquisition. The challenge of finding Iger’s successor is the primary reason that he’s been asked, repeatedly, to delay retiring. There is some speculation that Fox’s James Murdoch can fill that role eventually, even if Iger is sticking around longer following the major acquisition. Either way, Iger’s latest extension seems to put to rest the presidential rumors that had him looking to make jump from the Mouse House to the White House in 2020.
Milking Star Wars
With The Last Jedi already looking like a massive blockbuster, Disney will enter 2018 on a Star Wars-themed wave of money, with box office receipts and various ancillary businesses like merchandise, sponsorships, and licensing churning profits well after the New Year. That will tide over Disney and Lucasfilm until their next Star Wars film, Solo, the Han Solo spinoff/origin story in theaters in May 2018. Beyond that, the film franchise will yield one more installment of the current trilogy (Episode IX, due in Dec. 2019) and possibly another spinoff film within the next few years.
Meanwhile, Iger announced last month that the company would develop an entirely new Star Wars trilogy after the current one is finished, with the new films that “introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored.” Disney also plans to create a live-action television show based on the movie franchise, which will be part of the company’s planned streaming service. (A Fox deal could even open new avenues for Disney with the earlier Star Wars films, as Fox financed and owns the rights to the original Star Wars movie, 1977’s A New Hope.)
And, in 2019, Disney is set to open its Star Wars theme parks, called “Star Wars Land,” at the Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland.
Marvel and more
Next year won’t only be about Star Wars for Disney, which has been regularly striking box office gold with a variety of successful franchises from across the company’s studio units. Marvel has a big year ahead of it, with the standalone superhero films Black Panther (February) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (July), as well as the third Avengers film, Infinity War (May). There’s also director Ava DuVernay’s big-budget adaptation of the young-adult novel A Wrinkle in Time in March, Pixar’s animated The Incredibles 2 in June, and a live-action version of the Disney cartoon Mulan set for November.