Even if we don’t know yet how things will shake out, it’s not overstating things to say Disney’s proposed $52 billion-plus acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox is a really big deal.
It’s one that could potentially have huge effects on at least one broadcast network; plans for a couple of streaming-video services; and thousands of employees at the 20th Century Fox studio. For starters.
The deal as announced Thursday raises a lot more questions than it answers. TV by the Numbers doesn’t know the answer to them all, but here are some ways a few key parts of the deal may play out.
What happens to FOX?
In the immediate future, nothing. The two companies probably won’t start the integration process for at least a year, meaning FOX’s schedule as currently planned will play out through the remainder of the 2017-18 season.
After that, though? The network could look quite different.
As broadcast ratings have declined in the past decade or so, networks have increasingly aired shows that come from their partner studios as a way to keep profits from the show in-house. If an outside studio produces a show — a la 20th Century Fox making “This Is Us” for NBC — the network’s parent company won’t see any profits from syndication or streaming from that show down the line.
This season, more than half the scripted shows on every broadcast network are made by sibling studios. At FOX, fully 80 percent of of its shows — 16 of 20 — come from 20th Century Fox TV. (The outliers are “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” from Universal, and Warner Bros. productions “Gotham,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Lucifer.”) Separating the studio and network is not a path to continued solvency for FOX as it currently exists.
Fox head Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan (the company’s executive chairman), said Thursday they plan to focus the new FOX on “must-watch news and live sports,” as Lachlan Murdoch put it on a call with investors.
FOX’s current rights deal with the NFL runs through 2022, so that will stay in place. The network has renewed “The Simpsons” and “The Orville” for next season, but that’s it so far
in terms of commitment beyond 2017-18.
(Incidentally, “The Simpsons” made a cutaway joke about Disney buying Fox — way back in 1998. See the photo above.)
There’s been speculation that FOX will team up with another studio that doesn’t have a network partner, like Sony, to produce some programming for the network. Others believe a mix of lower-cost unscripted shows and news programs will fill airtime.
At a town hall meeting with employees Thursday, FOX executives said the network will keep producing entertainment series and presumably will honor renewal agreements it’s made already. Rupert Murdoch also told investors earlier in the day that “people like Warner Bros. and Sony will be looking to us to buy programs.”
What does Disney get out of it?
In announcing the deal, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger mentioned the company’s “direct to consumer” efforts more than once. A big component of the acquisition will be Disney’s ability to provide content for a couple of streaming services it plans to launch before the end of the decade.
The TV and film libraries of 20th Century Fox (plus those of FX Networks) could provide a huge amount of content for the Disney streaming service that’s planned for 2019. Disney will also have majority ownership of Hulu, and with that the ability to shape its future.
Just as important, Disney is getting 22 regional sports networks from Fox that have telecast rights to more than 40 Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL teams. Disney-owned ESPN is planning to launch its own direct-to-consumer service in 2018, and the broadcast rights to those franchises represent more than 5,000 live events per year — in addition to everything for which ESPN already has rights — to entice subscribers.
What about the people at both companies?
Again, with the transaction not expected to win approval and officially close for 12 to 18 months, the status quo will remain in place for now. Down the line, though, it’s very likely that layoffs will happen as the two companies combine operations.
For TV creatives and filmmakers, the consolidation will mean one fewer major studio to pitch ideas, and if FOX leans more heavily on news and sports programming, fewer hours devoted to primetime scripted series.
The Writers Guild of America West has already lined up against the deal, saying it “strongly opposes this merge and will work to ensure our nation’s antitrust laws are enforced.”