No, it’s not a hoax, not an imaginary story — media giant the Walt Disney Company, no slouch itself in the comics publication department, shook US comics publishing to the core late last week with the news that it had agreed to acquire Marvel Entertainment, in a stock and cash transaction.
The news sent shockwaves through the industry and became a key debating topic among fans over the weekend, with both the future of Marvel Comics and its many film projects both matters of discussion.
What impact the deal will have on Marvel’s licensing deals in the UK – where Panini has long reprinted many of its titles after buying Marvel UK’s assets in the 1990s — is, as yet, unknown. However, Panini publishing rival Egmont is Disney’s European licensee, so there may be some major changes ahead when licensing deals for Marvel material come up for renewal.
The Marvel-Disney merger is described as a “hands off” arrangement, in the style of Disney’s arrangement with animation giant Pixar, meaning Disney would not necessarily take a role in day-to-day editorial decision making at Marvel Comics. However, over on Bleeding Cool, which also features a collection of creator reaction to the news, Rich Johnston pondered the impact the deal would have not just on Marvel’s more adult brands such as the Punisher, but the wider commercial ramifications, such as Disney’s own distribution deal for its printed products which might mean, ultimately, that Marvel Comics might no longer be distributed by Diamond.
Former Marvel head and creator of many of its most enduring characters Stan Lee has welcomed the news. “To me, becoming ‘Disneyfied’ is not a bad thing,” he told Reuters. “I mean, look at movies like Pirates of the Caribbean… Disney knows how to do movies.
“They know how to do colourful characters and I think the fans, if they think about it, they’re going to love it.”
“This transaction combines Marvel’s strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney’s creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories,” said Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company.
“[Marvel CEO] Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney.”
As Kim Masters points out on The Daily Beast, Disney’s $4 billion acquisition of Marvel made $1.5 billion for its eccentric CEO Ike Perlmutter, so he’s unlikely to see problems with any aspect of the deal, and for the most part, many fans have reacted positively.
The merger means Marvel will also see its profile raised in emerging markets where Disney has already gained wide exposure, such as India and the Far East – more than compensating for the billion dollar price tag. Appointments to Marvel’s board earlier in the year already indicated this was one of the company’s aims.
“We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation,” Iger continued.
“Disney is the perfect home for Marvel’s fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses,” said Ike Perlmutter, Marvel’s Chief Executive Officer. “This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney’s tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world.”
Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Marvel including its more than 5,000 Marvel characters. Perlmutter will oversee the Marvel properties, and will work directly with Disney’s global lines of business to build and further integrate Marvel’s properties.
Reaction to the merger from finance pundits has been mixed. The Wall Street Journal, for example, notes that on the face of it, Marvel should be an ideal fit for Disney with its array of assets — movie studio, theme parks, cable channels and consumer-product business — and long experience exploiting characters.
But investors may want to ask what return on investment Disney hopes to achieve from the $4 billion it is paying for Marvel.
“The problem is Disney’s ability to take control of some of the best-known characters quickly is limited,” notes Martin Peers for the newspaper. “Many already are licensed to other companies for use in film, television, DVD animated features, theme parks, publishers and even promotions for other companies.”
The Guardian argues the tie-up unites two companies with similar business models. They both take characters which capture the popular imagination and promote them vigorously around the world on every possible media platform and through third-party licensing deals.
While Disney has traditionally been known for its wholesome family creations ranging from the Little Mermaid to Lion King, Hannah Montana and Pocahontas, the purchase of Marvel adds an edgier, more violent element since Marvel’s characters tend to chime particularly well with teenage boys and young men, while Disney has been stronger in appealing to a female audience.
While the move has been seen as positive by many, some comics professionals also have words of caution. “A Pixar-like hands-off deal?” challenged former Comics International editor Dez Skinn. “Sure, and Disney will really love The Punisher, et al!
“[This is a little] like when Egmont (the European Disney licencee) was seriously embarrassed by having Judge Dredd in its portfolio,” he notes, worrying how some characters may be affected by the new arrangement that will have a major impact on western comics for years to come.”
“I see a wonderful symmetry between old animation studio rivals Warner Bros and Disney each controlling the old comic company rivals DC and Marvel,” counters comics journalist Alan Woollcombe. “Plus, it settles once and for all any question who will be producing American Disney comics once whatever current deal there is runs out or who will be distributing future Marvel studio films once the Paramount deal (currently five films to go) ends.
“And, in cultural terms, there is an argument to be made that Stan is the nearest contemporary equivalent to Uncle Walt. The house that Stan (and Jack) built joins the House of Mouse (and Walt)? Seems a good match to me.”
“The acquisition hands Disney a treasure trove of pop culture figures, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor and the Fantastic Four, among a roster of 5,000 that it hopes will inspire countless movies, television shows and video games.”
“Disney has always wanted strong boys properties. They rule the pink world with their princesses, but have had a historic weakness with older boys that they’ve tried to bridge. This is obviously a slam dunk for that…”
“It feels like Christmas morning,” Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada ‘tweeted’ Monday morning, “I haven’t seen this much excitement in the Marvel halls since… well, ever! … If you’re familiar with the Disney/Pixar relationship, then you’ll understand why this is a new dawn for Marvel and the comics industry.”
“Long term, it’s a brilliant move for Disney that will be worth every penny,” feels Industry insider Jeff Katz. “It makes a ton of sense for them at a corporate level, especially once some of the current Marvel deals expire and can then be exploited through the larger Disney pipeline. I think this is indicative of the general shrinking of the entertainment marketplace. There will be more consolidation along these lines.”
“… Disney can certainly help Marvel in terms of distribution, awareness and sales. They can get Marvel Comics into the parks and over the net better than Marvel can. Disney’s Internet presence is much greater than Marvel’s. They have resources Marvel does not, and I expect in a year or two we’ll start seeing the results of the sale. I think Disney will be a major plus on that side…”
“Disney gets Marvel for just north of 20 times earnings. That sounds expensive, I know. Here’s why it isn’t: Long before Iron Man was a box-office blockbuster, Marvel was boosting operating income by 28% a year. Yes, you read that right: 28% a year, without a contribution from Marvel Studios.”
“Both companies would do well to invest themselves more fully in the digital space, as print media continues to decline. While most diehard Marvel fans are no doubt frightened at the concept interference that might result at the hands of a company like Disney (the term “Disneyfication” was not coined in a vacuum), Marvel could work such an acquisition in its favor…”
“Disney isn’t just buying into the Marvel business. It’s reinventing its future, which has become increasingly cloudy as family entertainment, especially in the movie end of the business, has been inexorably evolving from old-fashioned squeaky-clean Disney fare to the edgier, more unsettling PG-13 universe populated by Marvel’s potent arsenal of comic superheroes…”
This is a really good round up by Joe Gordon analyzing what the e buy out means, cutting through the kerfuffle out there. Highly recommended.