Who can contain the likes of Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk? Disney is up to the task. The company announced this morning that it is acquiring comic book publisher turned multimedia giant Marvel Entertainment for around $4 billion. The deal, which is still pending regulatory and shareholder approval, adds Marvel's 5,000-character to Disney's extensive library of franchise figures.
What does it mean? For one, it marries Marvel's licensing know-how with Disney's massive distribution. There are other possible outcomes: Spider Man 4 by Pixar? Miley Cyrus cameos in the next Iron Man spectacular? Let's hope not, but the possibilities for Marvel's vast collection of characters and storylines paired with Disney's financial resources and distribution network are limitless. For genre film lovers, not to mention Marvel shareholders, its something to be excited about.
Update: The conference call between top brass at Disney and Marvel was void of bombshell announcements, but heavy on talk of synergies and the advantages of bringing Marvel's character portfolio under the control of Disney's proven model for creating multimedia franchises.
First and foremost: Disney's international reach. A Marvel television channel targeting young boys and extending Disney's marketing reach could create brand value around the globe, and removing overseas licensing deals from Marvel's books could boost its bottom line. Disney also wants to leverage many of Marvel's more obscure characters by taking advantage of multi-platform approaches (read: lots of Web-oriented media and video games) to create more visibility for these characters. Disney execs noted that less than 50% of Marvel's revenue comes from overseas. Disney can change that.
For Disney's part, making family-oriented blockbuster films is nothing new. But Disney knows better than anyone that when it comes to owning a film—that is, purchasing a DVD for home viewing—children are the key. Adults like to own films their kids like, and Marvel makes those films. Disney's ability to produce and distribute DVDs, not just at home but globally, makes Marvel's portfolio of creative work a nice fit for Disney.
But the most important concession made by Disney brass during the call was the question of creative control. With Spidey 4 and Iron Man 2 in the works, the biggest concern is that Disney might clumsily come charging in with a list of desired changes for Marvel's franchises. But Disney is adamant that it is impressed with Marvel's creative work and business acumen. Control of Marvel franchises will remain with the Marvel teams already in place on existing projects. Or, as one exec quipped, "if it ain't broke . . ."
Oh, and as for a Pixar-Marvel mind-meld, it has been discussed internally, and both sides are very excited. None of the execs on the call could be coaxed into leaking any specifics, but as one exec at Disney put it "if you put a bunch of very creative, very enthusiastic people in a room, sparks will fly." We're not the only ones eager to see what those sparks will look like.