If Disney's purchase of Marvel earlier this week highlights the company's desire to expand through buyouts instead of new ideas, should we be wondering who could be next on their shopping list?
One of the first questions that's worth asking is "Is anyone left?" It's hard to top the much-stated 5000+ characters contained in Marvel's IP, and it'd be a tough argument to suggest that there are any other comic publishers available who could offer anything even vaguely similar, especially considering that the larger companies that aren't DC or Marvel don't own the majority of their IP (Dark Horse, Image, and IDW all predominantly offer creator owned or licensed material); although purchasing one of those publishers may offer existing relationships with creators, it doesn't necessarily translate into anything that Disney (or any other company with large pockets) could immediately take advantage of.
(That said, if I were looking for a publisher purely for the IP rights and wasn't specifically looking for superheroes, I'd probably see if either Boom! Studios or Tokyopop were looking to be bought out; neither has an IP farm anywhere close to the size of Marvel's, but both have had some success coming up with new series and concepts that could easily be adapted into movies or television - at least, until Tokyopop's cutback "restructuring" last year, on their side. Or, of course, Rebellion, who own the 2000AD rights, which could definitely use some exploiting.)
If IP is really what's being looked for, Disney might want to follow Hollywood and go for toy and game companies; Hasbro has been positioning itself as more of a intellectual property generator than toy company since their deal with Universal Studios last year, after all, and with already successful properties like Transformers and GI Joe, they must be looking pretty tempting to any company wanting to buy an immediate in to existing markets right about now. Perhaps not as obvious, but arguably more worthwhile, a videogame publisher like Electronic Arts - owner of The Sims and Dead Space, amongst others - or Valve may not bring the instant brand awareness of Hasbro or Marvel, but unlike both, is currently creating new properties as successful as their Greatest Hits, which might be a better investment in the long run.
All of this conjecture, however, ignores the Bantha in the middle of the room: Lucasfilm.
The privately-owned Lucasfilm may not own have as many separate franchises as Marvel, but it has Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and there's definitely an argument to be made that Star Wars alone is worth as much as the entire Marvel Universe (Containing almost as many characters, and with the ability to spin out as many sub-franchises as it has, after all). More to the point, unlike Marvel, Lucasfilm is much more than an IP factory; alongside the movie studio, publishing arm, online division and animation department - all of which a self-respecting media juggernaut like Disney also has - it includes industry leaders Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light & Magic, making them almost unique in terms of value add (Yes, Marvel may be the industry leader in comic book publishing, but how important is that to Disney's core business?).
It's extremely unlikely that Lucas would sell Lucasfilm, especially as he seems to have become interested in the possibilities television offers to him and the company. But everyone has their price, as the saying goes. The question is just how high Lucas' price would be - and whether anyone could afford it.