What does Disney buying Fox mean for theme parks?

July 19, 2018, 11:55 AM · 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.

Replies (19)

July 19, 2018 at 12:27 PM

Isn't the film division referred to as 20th Century Fox instead of just Fox? Fox isn't always about Fox News. The fear is rather ridiculous. No one is really worried about it.

Comcast should seriously consider buying out Warner Bros so it can own Harry Potter outright and gain additional valuable franchise rights. This is especially necessary since Universal seems incapable of exploiting family friendly franchises it currently owns and it's film slate deviates to adult fare.

The competition between Disney and Comcast will intensify. That's good for theme park customers, but prices continue to go up as a major side effect.

July 19, 2018 at 12:45 PM

Isn't the rights to The Simpsons held by the Fox television network and not 20th Century Fox Studios? And FCC rules mean that Disney can't own the Fox television network since they already own ABC. Doesn't that mean that Disney won't own the rights to any of Fox's non-cable TV shows, including The Simpsons, as those rights will be retained by the remaining Fox company? Either way, Universal shouldn't have any difficulty with licensing The Simpsons.

July 19, 2018 at 1:11 PM

@Anon: AT&T just bought Warner for $84 billion. So Comcast would have to pay significantly more for that than they were willing to for Fox, which isn’t gonna happen.

If Disney Springs gets a Bob’s Burgers restaurant, I’d be down with finally calling that a theme park,

July 19, 2018 at 1:28 PM

Comcast, the bride was never into you. The happy couple are registered at the SEC and still have control of Sky available.
Only impact on theme park industry is that the 20th Century Fox World theme park overdue to finally open at Resorts World Genting is set to be an orphaned only child. Kind of the Jon Snow of theme parks.

July 19, 2018 at 4:48 PM

@James: That's correct. Universal actually has few options.

Paramount is owned by Viacom.
Columbia is owned by Sony.

The issue is if Comcast can make good offers to Viacom or Sony to sell their film studios assets. Universal already bought DreamWorks Animation from Paramount. Paramount would be a long shot with it's link to CBS, but Paramount distributed Indiana Jones. Sony had success, but not always, however, if Comcast got the rights to Spider-Man, it'll be the most unlikely partnership with Disney. Either property will be hit on Disney.

Comcast would be wise to put out unsolicited offers to Viacom and Sony.

"Shari Redstone’s endgame for CBS and Viacom is clear in a new complaint

Combine the two and sell to the highest bidder. Verizon had flagged interest in Viacom as well as CBS, according to sources."

July 20, 2018 at 3:37 PM

If Comcast gets control of Sky they maintain their second place "we try harder" status. If Disney wins Sky, Comcast is squarely in its rearview mirror.

July 19, 2018 at 7:07 PM

FWIW, the Fox TV network is distinct from the 20th Century Fox Television production company. Disney gets the Fox production assets outside the news and sports cable nets.

July 19, 2018 at 7:24 PM

Everybody has interesting comments and insights into the business dealings involved, and the complexities inherrent to the division of rights of intellectual properties, and the monopolization of media assets. All I'm thinking is: Alien VS Predator ride!!! That would be SOOOO awesome!

July 19, 2018 at 8:57 PM

I'm not 100% sure but I don't think Disney is getting the Fox Studio lot, right? But if they did what a great, Great Movie Ride that would be. Rival Universal.

July 19, 2018 at 10:05 PM

The author of this blog post is right, the FOX brand is tarnished by FOX News. The film and television side recently had to endure FOX talent trashing the FOX News brand Query the web for the facts.

AT&T just closed their acquisition of Time Warner. Query the web for the facts and their statements on the value AT&T sees in Warner Bros. Query the web for the facts.

NBC U bought DreamWorks from its shareholders NOT Paramount. Query the web for the facts.

I agree with @Anton that a SONY Studios acquisition by Comcast would be a direct hit as Comcast would seek to damage the Marvel brand through Spider-Man.

That said, Disney could offer SONY billions for ONLY the Spider-Man feature film rights the hold. Again, film rights NOT ownership.


July 20, 2018 at 6:02 AM

What we will see in the Disney theme parks?
They pay $67 billion and add an additional $14 billion in depth from Fox to their company. I think we see more corner cutting, penny pinching and price raising if the past is anything to go by. Add a mediocre stage show in Epcot and some wraps on the monorail to keep that heap of trash together and to promote the upcoming 5 Avatar movies and we have a magical package.

July 20, 2018 at 7:59 AM


If Comcast’s ALL CA$H offer for Sky succeeds will the Universal Resorts worldwide continue to see the expansion of screen based attractions to save $$$?

And, the continual annual price increases for such rides?

July 20, 2018 at 10:44 AM

Why do I get the feeling that Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures will be put into play now.

Remember the Japanese Owners of Sony Pictures have been looking for an Exit strategy for years.

This maybe a good time for them to cash out

July 21, 2018 at 6:16 AM

Where is the "good old" Antitrust legislation now ??....

July 21, 2018 at 10:57 PM

Netflix,amazon and facebook going in entertainment and film production made antitrust not a concern. Netflix is frankly the anti trust concern (if disney and fox does not combine) at the moment. I also find it funny, that the one person complaining about the fox brand being tanished (complete nonsense) does not have the guts to put a name under their comments.

July 22, 2018 at 4:22 AM

Antitrust concerns have always been focussed on industries producing material products or financial products... until now. The media scene however is in great danger over the whole line. People have not been aware of fatal growing (near) monopolies.
The US law & court is handling everything around media with too much exemptions/facilities/immunity. How lobbying is even influencing judges...

July 22, 2018 at 8:06 AM

I don't think the Fox news brand would really hurt theme parks much. Comcast is the most hated company in America, yet people continue to go to Universal, watch NBC etc.
I personally refuse to give Comcast any of my business, but I am a small minority.

July 22, 2018 at 10:50 PM

as a political junkie, I have always thought that a high quality political theme park. One. that made fun of both liberals and conservative excesses about equally, would be tons of fun and also be very funny.

July 25, 2018 at 9:54 PM

I am a little upset about Disney getting Fox, because that means not only do they get more properties, it means that they can sit on them for years without really doing anything to bring into their theme parks. Comcast buying out Fox would have made them a much stronger second contender and force Disney to invest in the vast properties it already owns and give them reason to really pull out the big guns when it came to their parks.

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