Fox, Disney close transformative $71.3 billion deal
The Walt Disney Company’s $71.3 billion purchase of key 21st Century Fox properties closed on Wednesday, expanding Disney’s Hollywood holdings while creating a new Fox Corporation featuring a streamlined media portfolio focused on television and news assets.
For Fox, the sale ushers in a new era for Rupert Murdoch, whose son Lachlan is poised to take the reins of the slimmed-down company -- known as Fox Corporation -- that will include Fox News, national Fox Sports channels and the Fox broadcast network. It's also a return to the company's roots: From a small Australian newspaper, Murdoch built a journalistic juggernaut that now includes The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Sun, The Australian and dozens of other newspapers.
For Disney, the purchase bolsters one of Hollywood’s most lucrative catalogs of intellectual property and caps off a pricey wave of purchases under the leadership of CEO Bob Iger, who could leave the media conglomerate in 2021 with the envious portfolio of Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar -- all combined with 20th Century Fox’s decades of content.
It also serves as a centerpiece of Disney’s newest offering: a streaming platform packed with what analysts call an unrivaled TV and film library poised to differentiate it from the slew of other rivals in a fiercely competitive new market. Alongside its own plans, the deal will give the Burbank-based company a majority stake in Hulu -- which Iger wants to expand internationally with a stronger slate of original content.
Disney “spends more on content than anyone else globally, it has decades of experience in making excellent content, it has a huge balance sheet with low leverage and it’s a brand that’s known the world over,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Steven Cahall wrote in a December note.
Announced in December 2017, the acquisition shocked the news and entertainment industries and left insiders questioning why Murdoch was opting to dismantle a Hollywood juggernaut built over the last 34 years.
Analysts and others rushed to figure out how the separation of the 20th Century Fox studio and other possessions would reshape the sector, while competitor Comcast scrambled to put in its own offer for the sprawling production empire – setting off a bidding war that would last well into the next year. Disney ultimately prevailed after increasing its offer from the original $52.8 billion.
While the companies sought global regulatory approval for the deal, they each acted quickly to lay the groundwork for their soon-to-be revamped operating structures. A slew of former Fox executives are poised to make the transition to the new company, but potentially thousands of layoffs are expected at Disney as it works to eliminate redundancies and integrate the new members of its portfolio.
Fox began trading on Wall Street on Tuesday as the new entity and the company rolled out its revamped board of directors, which now includes former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Formula One Group CEO Chase Carey.
The new Fox entity will focus on advertising revenue and earnings from pay TV providers to drive growth, but some analysts warn it could be slow initially.
“While we continue to believe new Fox’s TV network portfolio has pricing power and may prove to be a better positioned portfolio than the larger [21st Century Fox’s], revenue growth will be lumpy,” Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne wrote in a note.
The firm heads into its new chapter after a strong February for its FOX News Digital division, which topped CNN with 1.5 billion total multi-platform views – a 9 percent year-over-year growth. Lachlan Murdoch is expected to address employees at a town hall address on Thursday.
A Fox Corp. spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.
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For Disney, the company is poised to end 2019 a significantly different company. And key to the strategy is streaming – though it is also spending billions on updates to its theme parks.
It will soon end a licensing deal with Netflix and the newly released “Captain Marvel” will be the first recent Disney film to not be offered on the service. Instead, the firm is expected to spend hundreds of millions on new content to populate the soon-to-be launched Disney+ streaming site. The entire vault of Disney animated films that are rotated out every few years are expected to be added “fairly soon” after launch, Iger said recently.
Customers will still have access to Hulu and ESPN+ -- the home for its sports content that on Monday inked an exclusive deal to distribute pay-per-view events for the Ultimate Fighting Championship – but as separate subscriptions housed on the same platform. Disney+ will include most of the family-friendly content, while Hulu will have edgier original programming and content from the broadcast networks.
Disney is also working to divest Fox’s 22 regional sports networks (RSNs) and has found potential buyers in the New York Yankees, Sinclair Broadcasting Group and Amazon and Major League Baseball, though interest has been lackluster to-date, FOX Business reported previously.
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The company has 90 days after the close of the Fox deal to sell the RSNs.