Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Monday, August 31, 2009

things comickal

-- things comickal -- the mouse and the spider

My word. Will wonders never cease?

Disney to Pay $4 Billion for Comic Giant Marvel -- nytimes.com
By BROOKS BARNES
September 1, 2009 [sic]

LOS ANGELES — Spider-Man and his Marvel Entertainment cohorts will join the Walt Disney Company in a $4 billion deal announced early Monday.

Disney said in a statement that it would pay a combination of about 60 percent cash and 40 percent stock to acquire Marvel, which has a stable of some 5,000 characters that includes the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.

Marvel has aggressively exploited its most popular characters through motion pictures and consumer products, and has a thicket of deals with various studios that will stay in place. Twentieth Century Fox will continue with the “X-Men” franchise, for instance, while Sony Pictures Entertainment will keep “Spider-Man.”

And Paramount Pictures will continue to release Marvel’s “Iron Man” films — at least until that deal expires. So essentially Disney is in business with a trio of rival studios.

Disney sees a deep opportunity to immediately patch the Marvel characters into its other businesses, however. Marvel characters will be added to Disney’s theme parks, while consumer products will be a huge component, particularly internationally where Marvel has made fewer inroads.

Marvel’s intellectual property tends to be more popular with boys — an area where Disney could use the help. While the likes of “Hannah Montana” and the blockbuster Princesses merchandising line have solidified Disney’s hold on little girls, franchises for boys have recently been harder to come by. Disney XD, a new cable channel aimed at boys, could be an immediate home for Marvel characters....

Disney keeps growing and growing and growing. One wonders what the debt load of this company is these days. (And there's something that people never thought about before recent years. I wonder if it's possible for a media company like this to hit the official "too big to fail" point. But I digress.)

The puzzling thing about this transaction is that Disney just licensed several of its characters to Boom Studios. You'd think that if this was in process for a while -- and given the sheer size of the transaction, it must have been -- that they'd have held off and given the license to Marvel. Though, that said, the puzzling thing about giving the license to Boom in the first place is that Gemstone Publishing has long held the rights to most of the Disney characters. Given Gemstone's recent struggles, Disney may have been thinking of pulling the licenses, or at least was understandably reluctant to give them new business. Even on Gemstone's own site, there's an ad for an all-ages title that Disney gave to Dark Horse.

In any event, as the story notes, this is going to allow Disney access to expertise to reconnect with the young male market. In theory, at least. It is interesting to see that Marvel's movies -- as opposed to their comics -- really do connect to that young audience, while the superhero comics audience is aging and shrinking. You'd think that the film success would indicate that Marvel could connect with the younger audience in its comics, but strangely, that doesn't happen. The youth audience seems profoundly disinterested in the source material for the films.

It's worth noting that the Times is a bit ... well, behind the times in noting that Disney can use the characters in animated shows on Disney XD, a channel designed to appeal to younger males. Old Marvel cartoons are already running on XD -- albeit mostly at hours where, unless they're older teens, the desired youth audience won't be able to stay up to watch them. (And older teen males might not be caught dead watching something called "Disney", a brand associated in their mind not only with girls, but with kiddies, at that.) "X-Men Evolution", the last incarnation of the Spiderman cartoon -- the one originated on MTV -- old Incredible Hulk and Fantastic Four cartaoons can be seen there at odd hours. They lost the newest Fantastic Four cartoon to Nickelodeon's Nicktoons, but now that they're responsible for producing it, if it does well, they can always yank it away. It depends, I suppose, on whether the combination of expenditures and incomes works better with it farmed out to another channel.

It's going to be interesting to see what Disney does with Marvel. The House of Mouse is not generally known for letting its subdivisions go on their merry ways without a very firm guiding hand. That said, Pixar does seem to have a relatively free rein with Disney's animation division -- which, after all, had been wildly inconsistent in recent years, despite being the original core of Disney's business -- so maybe it's possible that Marvel will get to do what it wants. Though, frankly, I just have this feeling that Disney will look askance at Icon, Marvel's creator-owned division. The idea that there are characters to which it does not own the rights and which it cannot exploit as it chooses may make it terribly twitchy, never mind the explicitly adult (as in grownups, not as in porn) orientation of Icon and Max, Marvel's own adult-content label. They did, after all, decide to pull back on the Touchstone and Hollywood film labels, created explicitly so that they could produce more adult content not on the Disney label.

Disney's acquisition of Marvel is probably not going to make a lot of difference overall in what people see on the Marvel label itself. I do suspect that there will eventually be a Marvel Kids label, with the Pixar/Muppets license eventually pulled from Boom and possibly the Marvel Adventures line consolidated therein. And I think that Icon, at least, is low performing enough that there may be some pressure to let it go.

Marvel is in for some interesting times ahead.

Questions? Comments? Cigars, cigarettes, Cigarillos?

Posted by iain at 01:25 PM in category things comickal