The investors call was short and sweet regarding the announced acquisition of Marvel Entertainment by Disney earlier this morning. With both Disney and Marvel execs on the line, Marvel remained mostly quiet as President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company Robert Iger and Disney CFO Tom Staggs held the conference call down.
For the most part, Iger and Staggs iterated time and time again that there is no intent to meddle in the affairs of Marvel Enterprises as a member of the Disney family. Iger said they respect what Marvel has and has accomplished and the intent is to shine a ‘brighter spotlight’ on Marvel and not to re-brand it as a Disney product. Both Staggs and Iger acknowledged existing licensing and distribution agreements for Marvel and their intent to not attempt to change anything. With Paramount already lined up to distribute the next five Marvel-produced films which include Iron Man 2 and 3, Iger acknowledges that the acquisition will be an immediate loss for the company but feels that over time, both companies will be able to benefit with Disney’s ability to market the properties that Marvel brings to the table in a way that Marvel has been unable to do on its own.
There have been inevitable comparisons to the acquisition of Pixar by Disney (which Staggs tried to avoid doing during the call) and some question as to whether Marvel’s integrity will be compromised being under the Disney banner. Some also wonder what bringing a comic book publisher to a company that already has its own strong publishing arms (including comic books) will mean to either company.
With respect to comic books, while it’s true Disney does have the ability to publish comic books (and most recently started its own Kingdom Comics publishing house), many of Disney’s properties are licensed out to publishers. In the case of comics, the real winner would be BOOM! Studios who after having an incredibly succesful start with Pixar and Muppets branded comics have also been awarded Mickey Mouse and friends with other potential properties lined up. So in that respect, the acquisition of Marvel doesn’t appear to have any impact unless Disney decides along the line that it’s in their best interest to license/outsource Marvel comics as well, but with a successful machine already in place, this doesn’t seem too likely in the near future.
Disney really also hasn’t appeared to interfere with Pixar too much either since its acquisition, so it lends credibility to the notion that the only effect Disney will have on Marvel’s operations are perceived and emotional effects, for better or for worse.
The theories get most interesting when it comes to the theme parks. Universal Studios Orlando for example has Islands of Adventure which contains a whole land themed around Marvel properties. Would Disney allow arch-nemesis Universal to continue to operate and profit using Disney properties? In a word, yes. Barring the existing licensing agreements which Disney execs promise to honor, it’s simply money in Disney’s pocket no matter who’s licensing the product, so although Disney may spitefully decide it wants a larger residual from Universal, the decision is most likely to be Universal’s as to whether their relationship with Marvel would continue. It’s hard to forget that Hollywood is a very incestuous town and that it’s really about the bottom line. If you look at a property like the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise for example, remember that while they are produced and distributed by Disney, they are filmed and produced in part at other studios’ facilities such as Universal and Sony.
It’s not about integrity, it’s about money. It’s about making the most while spending the least.