Over the past decade or so Disney, under the leadership of CEO Bob Iger, has acquired a host of major entertainment companies. In 2006 the corporation brought Pixar, whose films they been distributing since 1995, under their wing. Then in 2009 Disney bought up Marvel Entertainment, which was then just embarking on the record-breaking cinematic universe. In 2012 Disney made another big move by purchasing Lucasfilm (and with it Star Wars, Indiana Jones and more) from founder George Lucas for $4.05 billion. This has seen the company grow a bigger and bigger market share, with the four highest grossing films of 2016 all coming from the studio (and, with Moana and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story still to hit, that number could climb further).
Of course, owning the content is only half of it. Although their empire covers Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, The Muppets and all its home-grown franchises, a key element of entertainment is distribution, something that has shifted greatly in the past five years. While the company owns the ABC TV network, it’s yet to get a real foothold on the lucrative streaming market. However, recent reports suggest that could all be about to change in a very big way.
As reported by Tech Crunch, rumours are swirling that the Mouse House is angling to purchase online streaming service Netflix. If true, this would be a major shift in the industry. Last month AT&T bought up Time Warner, and Disney getting the primo streaming client would go some way to redressing the balance between these two behemoths.
Originally a DVD mail service, since focusing on streaming Netflix has changed how we en masse consume media, giving us more choice than ever and helping niche shows find an audience (it’s widely believed people catching up on the service kept Breaking Bad going). Now, Netflix Original movies and TV shows are dominating cultural discussion, despite (or perhaps because of) their bypassing of conventional release means.
House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Making a Murderer, Stranger Things and the inter-connected series that make up Marvel’s The Defenders were all major releases that regularly place in Best Of lists, and with the recent mission statement of making over half of its content original that pace doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing. With all that in mind, Disney setting its sights on the company, which posted excellent numbers for 2016’s third quarter, is pretty logical, especially when you factor in the fact that it comes with a proven content algorithim for assessing how audiences watch content. And, as the source points out, while high subscriber count is a good headline, Netflix could do with a mother company to aid it in competition with the likes of Amazon Prime.
From a consumer perspective, it’d take time to tell what, if anything, would change. You could definitely expect more Disney-related co-productions and increased presence of all their owned properties once current VOD deals have expired (we know from the “vault” release structure for their animated classics that Disney is a big fan of maintaining exclusivity), but otherwise it’s unclear how much the company would want to mess with success. The worry would of course be new owners would be push the long-expected price hike for subscriptions, something that we already got a taste of earlier this year.
It’s worth repeating that these are just rumours for now and that nothing close to official has been said, but their consistency and veracity seems to have increased since the AT&T/Time Warner deal, meaning this probably won’t be the last we hear of this.