21st Century FOX May Sell Itself To Disney & Here's Why You Should Care

by Ani Bundel
21st Century FOX

In the world of entertainment, very few major conglomerate companies hold most of our major franchises. Alphabet is the largest, consisting of Google, YouTube, Android. Next in line is Disney, which owns not only most of the fairy tales in the world, but ABC, ESPN, Pixar, LucasFilm and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No. 3 is Comcast, which owns NBC as well as most of our cable boxes. No. 4 is 21st Century FOX, home of FOX Broadcasting, Sky and FOX News. So, it's a big deal when stories surfaced today that 21st Century FOX may sell to Disney. The No. 2 and No. 4 entertainment companies in the world merging together is a major shift in the landscape.

Perhaps this seems like an odd thing to worry about, in a world where ice caps are melting, Trump is president, Brexit is about to splinter Europe, and an errant tweet could cause a nuclear holocaust, but this is a major deal, and one that everyone should sit up and take notice of.

CNBC, who first broke the story, assures us that talks are not happening this instant. In fact, they've stalled out at the moment. But that doesn't mean they're dead.

The fact that someone spilled the beans is important. (It's not clear if it was FOX or Disney who slipped the word in the ear of a channel owned by Comcast.) When the news hit, 21st Century's shares on the stock market spiked in price, a sign that investors who have their money in FOX like the idea and approve of selling to Disney, which could open talks again.

So, what happens if 21st Century FOX was bought by Disney? It doesn't mean that FOX network on your dial would disappear. There are laws against one company owning two broadcast networks. Since Disney owns ABC, that's out.

Nor would Disney suddenly own FOX News or FOX Sports. Though all of these things are currently under one umbrella, it's only the "entertainment" portion of Fox that's up for sale. That means the movie studio, some of the television programs owned by 21st Century Fox, and some of the channels, which include the Sky channels in the UK (which broadcast, among other things, HBO fare like Game of Thrones) and the Star channels in Asia would be up for grabs.

Disney would also get the franchises that the movie studio owns. That includes the Ice Age franchise, the Kingsman movies, Planet of the Apes, The Maze Runner series and oh... a little segment of a large comic franchise that was hurting for cash in the late 1990s, Marvel's The X-Men and The Fantastic Four.

You can see why this would be a big deal.

Did you ever wonder why The X-Men and The Avengers never seemed to cross over? Did it seem strange that there were all these Spider-Man reboots before he finally turned up in Captain America: Civil War? That's because, in order to avoid bankruptcy in the late 1990s, those characters were contracted out to FOX and Sony, respectively. When Marvel saw the sheer amount of money their characters were making for someone else, it started the MCU and produced Iron Man, a hit so large that Disney came calling within weeks and brought the nascent studio under their wing. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the MCU was working with one hand tied behind their back. It was making movies about what are actually their secondary characters, though most forget that now. Their primary ones were all owned by other people.

Disney was patient, though. The contract, which seemed totally logical when Sony and FOX signed it, said if it didn't have a movie in production every 18 months using those characters, the right would revert back. Well, if the movies make no money, the studios reasoned, we'll stop producing them, and won't have to pay for the rights anymore!

No one foresaw that a decade later, letting those rights revert back would basically become tantamount to handing license to print money to their biggest rival studio.

Sony broke first, after all but running Spider-Man into the ground. Disney hoped FOX would break, too. But the discovery of genre-izing their X-Men films with raunchy comedies like Deadpool, noir films like Logan and horror movies like The New Mutants, it seemed to be holding firm.

...until this news broke. Will FOX decide it needs to reorganize enough to sell itself off to Disney? Will Disney, seeing the excitement on the stock market, give its assets a second look? Will the X-Men finally team up with the Avengers in Phase IV?

Time will only tell.