Disney announced today that they’ve acquired a majority of 21st Century Fox. The $66.1 billion deal moves the 21st film studio/library and television studio/library under Disney’s purview, as well as FX/FXX, Fox’s stake in Hulu, National Geographic, regional FOX sports networks, and its 39% stake in international networks Sky and Star India. Remaining in 21st’s possession are FOX News, the FOX broadcasting network, FOX local stations, FOX Business Channel, and sports networks FS1 and FS2.
The deal should take 12 to 18 months to gain necessary approvals (which might be difficult considering the recent AT&T-Time Warner merger was blocked by the DOJ), culminating in Disney owning the rights to the likes of The Simpsons, Family Guy, Modern Family, and This Is Us. The FOX broadcasting network will go on for the time being, but where they won’t have the non-linear income that has become vital for the survival of expensive broadcast shows, and where vertical integration has softened the impact that lower television ratings have had on the broadcasters, it seems likely that the FOX we know today will no longer be in existence within the next few years. Instead, despite 21st Century President Rupert Murdoch’s insistence that the FOX broadcasting network could buy programming from the likes of Warner Bros. and Sony, it seems likelier that the network will become a hub of cheap reality shows, live content, and sports, with the very real possibility of FOX utilizing its strong FOX News brand in some form or fashion on its broadcast network.
As far as what this means for shows currently airing on FOX, the safest would presumably be those owned by 21st Century that generate off-network income (that would go to Disney) or have strong enough ratings to survive on a current (e.g. ABC, Freeform, Lifetime, etc.) or future (e.g. FX, FXX, etc.) Disney property. Interestingly, there are now more places for FOX shows but the landscape of what an FX or FXX will look like post-merger remains murky. We simply don’t know how Disney will be using the FOX properties that it’ll be acquiring (i.e. how many FOX shows do they even want to save, will they keep FX as a prestige hub, what purpose does FXX serve outside of its Simpsons reruns) or how it’ll handle the sudden emergence of Hulu as a challenger to Netflix. Since Disney will own a majority of Hulu now, will they attempt to bulldoze (or buy out) Comcast and essentially turn Hulu into their streaming service? Will Hulu’s original programming strategy now solely consist of intellectual property honed from Disney and 21st’s libraries?
Elsewhere on the television side of a vast issue that will also have a major impact on the 21st Century film franchises and offshoot studios, this merger will be good news for Speechless and Fresh Off the Boat, modestly rated ABC comedies that are produced by 21st. Prior to talk of the merger, both were likely leaning toward being renewed but weren’t sure things, but after the merger, both should have no trouble finding a place on the ABC schedule for next season.
UPDATE: Per Deadline, the FOX broadcast network will continue with scripted series, at least for the near future, while some of the money from the Disney sale might be used to set up a studio to replace 20th.