In 1998, an episode of The Simpsons predicted that The Walt Disney Company would buy Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. That prediction is now a US$52.4bn reality.
The deal, Disney’s largest, includes the 20th Century Fox movie and TV studios, most of its cable channels (like National Geographic) and its international assets.
Plainly put, the deal means two things: Rupert Murdoch has cashed out, and Fox’s assets give impetus to Disney’s own streaming ambitions.
Allow me to explain: the all-stock deal results in the Murdoch family trading control of 21st Century Fox for a 4.25% stake in Disney. After mutual fund Vanguard, they become the largest House of Mouse shareholder.
Rupert Murdoch (86) will be left unencumbered to focus on what he’s always has a soft spot for: the news industry. The Fox network and Fox News are not included in the deal. There is some speculation that the Murdochs might reunite Fox with News Corp, which holds the family’s publishing assets, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and The Times of London.
For Murdoch, who has long felt that the market undervalued his assets, the deal makes him richer, as his stake will be in a stronger Disney.
Globally, people are consuming entertainment differently. Paid TV and movie-streaming services have been siphoning audiences away from traditional pay-TV subscriptions.
Disney wants Fox to create more movies and shows to show on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO.
The reality is that major studios, as well as cable and subscription companies, are struggling to compete with Netflix. This year alone, Netflix (which has 109m subscribers) spent $6bn on creating original content. By comparison, Amazon dropped $4.5bn. That Amazon, essentially a technology company, won three Oscars this year is, I guess, vindication of this strategy.
Iger’s Disney dream
The Disney mega-deal is expected to take at least a year to close, assuming regulators give it the all-clear (unlike AT&T’s bid for Time Warner, which has faced stiff resistance).
Disney boss Bob Iger, who has deferred retirement four times already, has made it his mission to reposition Disney. He’s a guy that one would unashamedly call ballsy. Three months after taking the helm at Disney, he engineered the $7.4bn takeover of Pixar Animation Studios.
At the time, most thought Iger was bonkers. I’ll tell you what happened: Frozen, the highest-grossing animated film yet. Bagging Pixar was transformative for Disney, and the subsequent slew of box-office home runs restored the company’s standing to its 1990s The Lion King heyday. Everyone assumed the Pixar deal would be the hallmark of Iger’s tenure. The Fox deal, however, is his boldest move yet.
By the way, The Simpsons accurately predicted the future at least 13 times. Here are just three of them:
Greece’s debt default: when Homer appears as a guest commentator on a news show, a ticker runs across the screen that reads: "Europe puts Greece on eBay." This was in 2012, three years before Greece became the first developed country to default on a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
FaceTime: in 1995, Lisa has a conversation with Marge using a phone’s video-chat function — predating the iPhone FaceTime feature by 15 years.
Donald Trump’s presidency: Bart flashes forward into adulthood and viewers learn that Lisa is president. Her predecessor is Trump — 16 years before he beat Hillary Clinton.