It appears that the Walt Disney Co. has cleared its last real hurdle to obtain rival Fox. Comcast, the owner of Universal Studios, announced this morning that it has dropped its competing bid for Fox to concentrate instead on obtaining Sky, a Fox-controlled UK-based pay-TV service that is tied up in this deal.
Theme Park Insider reader TH Creative has been tracking each step in this long takeover battle, in comments on our Discussion Board. Disney has been going after Fox to build its library as Disney looks to start its own Netflix-style streaming service. Getting control of Fox and its movie studios also would increase Disney's lead as the film industry's box office champion... as well as bolster the Marvel Cinematic Universe by giving Disney the film rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four, which now could be brought into the MCU.
But that's not what we are here to talk about. We are all about theme parks, so let's consider how Disney's acquisition might affect them.
First, nothing will change right away. As we learned from Disney's acquisition of Marvel, a buyout doesn't automatically cancel contracts that either party had with others before the deal. Disney buying Marvel didn't take the Orlando-area theme park rights from Universal... so Disney buying Fox won't mean the end of Springfield and The Simpsons Ride at Universal, either. It just means that Disney will be collecting one more licensing check from Universal Parks and Resorts.
And because of those existing deals, the acquisition of X-Men and Fantastic Four into the MCU won't help Disney on the theme park front, either, as those were two character families established in Universal Orlando's Marvel Super Hero Island, meaning that they remain off-limits for Disney's use at the Walt Disney World Resort.
The Fox deal does mean that Pandora: The World of Avatar will be outside IP no longer, as Fox had licensed Disney the rights to that property. It also means that Disney will be licensing IP under its control to one more theme park, as Fox had been licensing its name and IP to the upcoming 20th Century Fox World Malaysia, now under construction at Resorts World Genting. Fox's partner in Dubai recently backed out of a deal to build another Fox World theme park in the United Arab Emirates, citing an oversupply of parks in the region.
(Speaking of the UAE, keep watching Theme Park Insider next week, as I am flying to Abu Dhabi this weekend to cover the opening of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. I'll also be visiting its sister park, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, next door.)
In addition to Fox World and Universal, Disney now is licensing its IP to IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai, which includes a Marvel-themed land and attractions. If Disney ultimately continues Fox as a brand within the Disney portfolio, licensing deals might provide the fastest path to getting Fox-owned IP such as Planet of the Apes and Ice Age into theme parks, as Disney already has more IP than it can fit into its existing parks.
If we're in the mood to speculate (and aren't we always?), the Fox-controlled IP that most intrigues me as a potential theme park attraction is FXX's Archer. Adam Reed has done an amazing job with world-building in that franchise, which, ultimately, provides the foundation for success in developing a franchise as a theme park attraction. Yeah, it's sharply adult-focused, but the population of theme park visitors is aging, so the demographics might work here. But that ain't happening in a Disney-branded park, so it would have to be licensed. Discuss.
Under the deal, Fox isn't selling everything to Disney. What remains of Fox will retain control of Fox News, Fox Business, and Fox Sports, and sell its regional sports channels. That creates some potential branding issues for Disney, as Fox News is one of the most divisive brands in the world right now, either beloved or reviled by Americans. I wouldn't be surprised if Disney chose to distance itself from the remaining Fox assets by retiring the Fox brand within its portfolio at some point. Maybe it keeps Searchlight as a brand for Oscar bait.
Bringing this back to theme parks, I don't expect to see this deal changing anything within the current Disney theme parks for some time. How long did it take after the Marvel deal to see any sign of a Marvel character at Disneyland, for example? But the deal does provide Disney — and its fans — a lot more to think about as Disney continues to expand its entertainment empire.Tweet
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