It might be the most unexpected, and biggest, news story of the year: Disney have bought Marvel Comics for $4 billion in stock and cash. Good news for shareholders, perhaps, but what does this mean for everyone else?
News broke early this morning that the Walt Disney Co. have acquired Marvel Entertainment in a move that, according to the official press release on the subject, "highlights Disney's strategic focus on quality branded content, technological innovation and international expansion to build long-term shareholder value."
The deal will give the House of Mouse the rights to all of Marvel's characters, but current licensing deals with movie studios like Fox (X-Men) and Sony (Spider-Man) will stay in place, according to this morning's investor conference call to discuss the sale. Despite reassurances on the call that the deal wasn't about acquiring the characters or stories but bringing in Marvel's talent pool ("No one knows their characters and stories better than the folks at Marvel" it was said at one point), Disney President Bob Iger sure made it sound like Disney was looking to take a firmer control Marvel's IP in this morning's statement:
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.
Marvel's current management structure will stay in place despite the acquisition, and the company is expected to maintain its two main bases in New York and LA in a similar fashion to Pixar continuing to operate in Emeryville, CA, following their own acquisition by Disney in 2006. However, the goal of the sale, it was said on today's call, is
not to rebrand Marvel as Disney but to shine a spotlight on the Marvel brand.
When asked about this changing Marvel's movie plans, it was said that Marvel Studios would make decisions about 3D or co-branding autonomously, although "sparks will fly" following meetings between Marvel and Disney/Pixar CCO John Lasseter because everyone was so excited about collaborative opportunities: "Exciting product may come from that," it was said.
The sale, while approved by both Disney and Marvel, is not necessarily a done deal. Before being finalized, the sale has to be approved by Marvel stockholders (who'll received an estimated $30 per share plus Disney shares, if it goes through) and approved by antitrust committees.
Additional Reporting by Meredith Woerner.